Wade gets quick intro to Jones’ style

Published 9:22 pm Tuesday, July 24, 2007

SAN ANTONIO — Wade Phillips got a crash course Tuesday on why life is going to be drastically different as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys.

On the day when the Cowboys kicked off training camp 2007 with a press conference in a tent outside the Alamodome, Phillips must have wondered if he were ever going to get a chance to speak. He probably also wondered when owner Jerry Jones was going to break out the dancing bears.

Bands blared, cheerleaders strutted their stuff, Cowboys fans swarmed and Jones, true to his reputation as a shrewd business man, turned the press conference platform over to a spokesman for Ford Motor Company. Well, what you expect since this isn’t Cowboy training camp, it’s the “Built Ford Tough Training Camp.” And, as Jones proudly noted, it’s the first training camp ever to have a title sponsor.

Welcome to the business of the NFL.

The press conference started 25 minutes late and it was 24 minutes old before Wade finally got to clear his throat. That was after Jones, the Ford guy and Jones’ son, Stephen, all took a turn addressing an overflow throng of media types. To show he’s a team player, Phillips began by thanking the fellow from Ford for the company sponsoring a program to honor high school players with a weekly award this fall.

If he accomplished nothing else during the press conference, the one time Port Neches-Groves quarterback did an excellent job coming across as someone who believed he’s the right coach in the right place at the right time to return the Cowboys to glory. Considering the doubting Thomas’ who don’t seem to grasp what he’s accomplished in 31 years on NFL sidelines, and who believe Jones will be calling the shots, he did right by asserting himself.

“This is a unique opportunity for me,” he said, noting that he’s usually gone into losing situations. “I think I’m recognized as an outstanding NFL assistant coach, and I’m proud of my record, but I think I can make my mark as a head coach in this league. I’d like to be known as a great head coach and that’s what I’m striving to become with the Cowboys.”

Phillips, of course, is following a man, Bill Parcells, who was once considered one of the NFL’s greatest head coaches. But Parcells, in four years with the Cowboys, was 34-32 and failed to win a playoff game. His winning percentage (.515) in Dallas was nowhere near as good as Wade’s was (.604) in a much less desirable situation as head coach in Buffalo from 1998-2000. He’d inherited a 6-10 team from Marv Levy and went 10-6, 11-5, 8-8 before getting fired by an idiot owner.

The stats on Phillips don’t lie. In his last six NFL jobs as a head coach or an assistant, he’s walked into a losing situation and the team has gone to the playoffs in the very first season. It can’t be coincidence. Another interesting stat that he pointed out Tuesday is that he’s been part of over 200 victories as an assistant under coaches like Buddy Ryan, Dan Reeves, Marty Schottenheimer, Levy and some guy named Bum Phillips. There have been only four non-winning seasons in the last 18 years.

Jones, cornered after the nearly hour-long press conference, was asked when Phillips first got on his radar.

“A lot sooner that most people think,” he said. “I used to talk to him at NFL meetings and was always impressed with what he had to say. I had conversations with a lot of people around the league who felt like he was a great coach who would shine in the right situation. Wade really sold me and had me excited in our first interview when he talked about what he could do with our defense.

“He also told me he saw this as an opportunity to step in and accomplish what he’s always believed he could do as a head coach. I like it when someone feels strongly that they have something to prove. That gets my attention.”

Phillips’ first training camp shouldn’t have a lot of suspense. Parcells’ main positive was that he pretty much put together a team that is on the verge of being ready to win. The key, for sure, is whether Tony Romo can take the next step as a starting quarterback. If he doesn’t regress, and the Cowboys avoid injuries to key players, they should strongly challenge Philadelphia in the NFC East.

Unsettled in some minds, however, is how things will play out on the offensive side of the ball, since a somewhat inexperienced Jason Garrett is in his first year as an offensive coordinator. Garrett wasn’t a Phillips hire. Nor were several others on the offensive staff. Wade maintains that isn’t a problem for him, and was high in his praise of Garrett.

“I think he’s potentially a great coach,” Phillips said of the Princeton graduate. “What I like about him is that he’s got a lot of common sense. I’ve been around a lot of smart guys that didn’t have that.”

Meanwhile, both Jones, likely to be more hands-on than ever, and Phillips, insisted that they will not have problems co-existing.

Jones, who seemed to go out of his way to say nice things about Parcells, said Phillips will have the same input in key decisions that Parcells had. And that Jimmy Johnson had. “I will say that if it gets down to a tiebreaker, there’s never been a time when I didn’t make the final decision. That’s not going to change. But Wade will always have the chance to make his case.”

Phillips, whose greatest strength may well be his skills as a people person, said he’s not worried about being overruled.

“To tell you the truth, I like the way it is here,” he said. “With Jerry being the GM and the owner, I only have to deal with one person. In other places, you have to sell the GM, then the owner. Here, it’s the same guy. If I’m not convincing enough to get Jerry to go along with what I want, then I probably didn’t need it anyway.”

As of today, the best thing going for Phillips is that he’s the anti-Parcells and the players have really responded to him. Then, again, that’s the case everywhere he’s coached.

“I’ve always been able to go in and get a lot out of players,” Phillips said. “I think they’ve thought I knew what I was doing, or they had somebody tell them they would enjoy playing for me and that I would help them get better. It makes a big difference when the players buy into what you are asking them to do. I’ve been with several teams where players lobbied for me when the head coaching job opened up.

“That tells me I’ve been doing something right.”

Now if he can just learn to co-exist with the dancing bears and other aspects of the circus.

Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at rdwest@usa.net. His Sportsrap radio show airs Mondays at 7:05 p.m. on KLVI (560-AM)

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