Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Cowboys' Wade Phillips is Deteriorating into a Bad Coach and an Even Worse Leader

By Richie Whitt
Published on October 14, 2009 at 10:20am

I've called him Stumbledoofus. I've labeled him Dead Man Coaching. I've questioned his moves, his non-moves, his dumpy demeanor and his illogical explanations for everything in between.

But I am not calling for Dallas Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips to be fired before sundown. That will happen soon enough: As in the first week of January, after he again coaches a talented roster out of the NFL playoffs.

Sad thing is, we're getting from Phillips exactly what we desperately desired after three years of tyranny and brow-beating from Bill Parcells. More honesty. More humanity. More empathy. But, in the end, less results. File this in the folder tabbed "Be Careful What You Ask For," because this is officially an embarrassment.

Dear Jerry Jones,

For the love of Tom Landry, isn't there someone, anyone who can slide into the chasm of coaching styles between Parcells' Fidel Castro and Phillips' Andy Griffith?

Until we start seriously vetting possible successors like Bill Cowher, Mike Shanahan and Mike Holmgren, let me make a plea to our current coach. In the off-season—in the wake of a 44-6 loss in Philadelphia that ended the most disappointing season in franchise history—you promised to change. More discipline. Heightened accountability. Dare I say a tougher persona?

You teased us in training camp with consecutive two-a-day practices. I saw you with my own eyes pull players out of drills for pre-snap penalties. Coach Cupcake dissolved into...hardened hope.

But here we are five weeks into the season at 3-2, coming off one of the ugliest victories in the history of the franchise. After a 26-20 overtime escape in Kansas City against a Chiefs team that is 2-28 in its last 30 games and described by Fox analyst Troy Aikman as "pitiful," we see things a tad differently.

You: A win is a win is a win.

The rest of the world: 3-13, here we come.

While you meander about the sideline looking like a janitor who has misplaced his mop bucket, your reputation is crumbling. Your 3-4 defense allows late scoring drives against the New York Giants, Denver Broncos and Chiefs, and you have no answers. Your defensive backs can't tackle, and you inexplicably claim it's because your team doesn't practice full-speed tackling. Your No. 1 running back (Marion Barber) disappears in the second half at Denver, and you claim you didn't know why or even bother to ask. And your offensive coordinator designs last-second plays against the Broncos in which your most reliable receiver (Jason Witten) is used solely as a blocker, and you're fine with the design and the calls.

Which brings us to the real problem: The latest victory.

I've been a Cowboys fan since Dad gave me a better view of Don Meredith's Cotton Bowl bombs to Bob Hayes atop his shoulders, and I'm generally a glass-half-full optimist. But in Kansas City this is what I saw:

A defense called for five offside penalties, including four by four different players in the stretch of seven plays. Swear, volunteer dads at the Pop Warner level don't let that **** happen.

One returner who muffed a punt and another who let a kick bounce at the 15 and trickle down to the three.

A holder who inexplicably failed to turn the laces away from kicker Nick Folk, aiding in his missed 40-yard field goal.

Flozell Adams committing too many penalties to count.

On third-and-26, a safety who should know a simple tackle would force a punt, instead lowering his shoulder in search of a highlight hit and drawing a 15-yard penalty.

Thirteen penalties. 13! Even Jones admitted "we really stunk today relative to making mistakes."

Let's face it, entering the bye week, the Cowboys are a mirror of their head coach. Sloppy, undisciplined, aloof and undeniably mediocre. It's a stupid team that pays zero attention to detail. The Cowboys are talented, but not near good enough to overcome elementary mental blunders.

Then Phillips holds his weekly press conference, and it gets worse. Lather on the sunscreen, because this thing's headed to Hades in a wicker carry-on.

"We had a slow start," Phillips says of falling behind the wholly incompetent Chiefs 10-0 in the second quarter. "I don't know why."

This is the part where the ledge looks awfully inviting.

No anger. No frustration. No promise that heads will roll if it happens again. Just a shrug, a mumble and a head-scratchin' "beats me." Wade Phillips is a docile, doting grandpa who would rather serve up hot biscuits than criticism. Makes him a great neighbor and an incompetent head football coach.

Last Monday at Valley Ranch, while Cowboys fans agreed that performances like the one against the Chiefs would get their team's noggin' bashed in against the Giants or Atlanta Falcons or Philadelphia Eagles, a defiant—or perhaps just dumbfounded—Phillips actually contended "we're only a couple plays from being 5-0."

Yeah, and I'm only a couple lottery tickets from being debt-free.

Look, I'd rather ingest a Red Bull than dissect the Red Zone, but I know what Cowboys fans want to hear. And it sure the hell ain't "we're almost 5-0." Who is Phillips coaching, the Cowboys or Avis? We want Super Bowls, not second place.

At the risk of not cherishing Phillips' time-honored crutch of excuses and coddling, allow me to pen a bye-week speech for the Cowboys' head coach that might actually inject hope into the season's final 11 games. Goes something like this:

I realize there's a long-standing tradition in the NFL of not apologizing for wins. But screw that, I'm sorry for that pathetic display of football in Kansas City. It's inexcusable. It's unacceptable. I'll do everything in my power as the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys to never let it happen again.

We were fortunate to escape with a win, but you and I and my team realize that repeat performances will not only result in losses, but also in us missing the playoffs and me being out of work. Which is the way it should be. I'm ultimately accountable for my team and my players, and right now we're not playing at a satisfactory level.

We're better than this, and it will get better.

I could stand up here and claim we're close to being 5-0, but the reality is we're also just as close to being 1-4. We're 3-2, not exactly time to get out the hats 'n' horns. We've got some players—some veterans—who aren't performing. From here on out I demand hungry players. Players not only ready to win, but unwilling to accept losing. If not, I'm pretty sure we still have an asthma field out back.

Jerry Jones has provided this team the resources to win on and off the field. The fans have shown up and remained loyal through 13 years without a single playoff win.

At some point the onus is on the Dallas Cowboys—that's me through the assistants down to the 53 players—to stop making excuses and accepting mediocrity.

Now if you'll excuse me, my team has a hell of a lot of work to do, and it starts right here, right now.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled Wade Phillips nap.