By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
That's how long it took new Dallas Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips to accomplish what his predecessor couldn't in four years. Namely, make us all feel comfortable. Relaxed. Like we're somehow connected, if not on the same team.
"Feels good to have these cowboy boots back in Texas," Phillips said last week at Valley Ranch moments after being introduced as the seventh coach in franchise history. "I understand and appreciate how important football is to Texas, especially to Dallas."
Cornier than Fletcher's? You betcha. But for fans that endured being alienated and ignored by Bill Parcells, Phillips' folksy "Howdy, pardner!" press conference was invigorating, even therapeutic.
Remember, it wasn't until his last game as Cowboys coach that we learned—through Seattle reporters, no less—that Parcells owned a cat and, presumably, a pulse. During Phillips' first press conference he referenced Hank Williams Jr. by "Bocephus" and introduced us to his wife, son, mom, sisters, dad (83-year-old coaching legend, Bum), Internet addiction, Houston roots, ostrich-skin boots and cell phone number.
"Communication," Phillips says, "is a very important thang."
Despite a four-year contract worth $3 million a season, he owns humility. He's fluent in good ol' boy and isn't afraid to call Terrell Owens by name. During his first address, he didn't invoke the names of any former New York Giants or tell us all to go to hell or force us to kneel at the altar of sloppy seconds. In fact, you got the feeling that, if the session lingered a smidge longer, Wade was fixin' to share his thoughts on tractors and propane and barbecued brisket before signing off, "I love lamp!" But he had the audacity to cut it short to do something else Parcells never considered—one-on-one interviews with local media.
"I'll be available," Wade said.
Pardon me. I seemed to have dropped my pen. And my jaw.
Yes, it's part semantics and part superficial, but the Phillips philosophy has already melted a chilly culture into Happy Valley Ranch.
Fans can rest assured that Wade is one of "us," here to win a Super Bowl. Not one of "them," only here to stroke his ego and pad his legacy. Phillips considers coaching the Cowboys an honor; Parcells treated it like he was doing us a favor.
Media can rest assured that Cowboys business will no longer be conducted behind castle walls but around the campfire instead.
And, most important, players, scouts, secretaries and even janitors can rest. Period. Assistant coaches can again talk, birds can resume chirping and everyone can stop tiptoeing on eggshells at Cowboys Corp. Because while Parcells ruled by fear, Phillips leads a family.
"Family is about trust, loyalty and a common purpose," Phillips says. "The Cowboys family will be the same way."
Of course, none of the previous 16 paragraphs mean a freckle on Carrot Top's shoulder if Phillips doesn't win. We learned long ago that Cowboys fans would rather win with the sinners than tie with the saints. But here's the deal: Phillips may not be a better coach than Parcells. But he's a better communicator. A better person. A better fit.
Says owner Jerry Jones, "His fresh approach, his different style...it will be a positive here."
The Cowboys needed a change of personal, not personnel.
Applying the sophisticated theory of "Happy Players Make Better Players," I'm predicting 10 wins next season and the franchise's first playoff win in 11 years. Remember how lifting the toilet seat was such a pain in the ass when your high-maintenance ex-wife complained, but it's somehow no big deal now that your happy-go-lucky girlfriend brings it up? Yeah, it's like that.
None of this is to say Phillips is the perfect hire.
After a two-week, 10-candidate search, the news initially felt like a limp handshake. America's Team posts a job opening and the best we can come up with is a guy who looks similar to and has the same number of playoff wins as Jerry Falwell? And the coaching triumvirate for next season: Phillips as head coach, Jason Garrett as offensive coordinator and Todd Bowles as defensive coordinator? Underwhelming unless, like most, you believe Parcells' dictatorship constricted coaching input and minimized talent output.
Under Phillips, the Cowboys will play a more aggressive 3-4 defense featuring blitzes on first down and never, ever, ever forcing Pro Bowl rushers such as DeMarcus Ware to drop off the line and cover running backs like Reggie Bush.
"I can have an immediate impact on this team," Wade says. "I try to put my best players in position to make plays. Pretty simple."
Taking the reins of an offense that was a field goal from being the NFL's second-highest scoring team, Garrett will rely on his two years' experience coaching Dolphins quarterbacks to find ways to get the ball early and often to T.O.
Admits Jones, "We'll be somewhat working without a net."
But with a stable of high draft picks and lucrative free agents turned loose on defense combined with the maturation of quarterback Tony Romo, the Cowboys are certain to better last year's 9-7 team that came within a hold of advancing to the final eight. If the Chicago Bears and Wrecks Grossman can play in a Super Bowl, the Cowboys can't be far behind. Just how far, Wade?
"According to Jerry," Phillips says, "not very far."
Ah yes, strings attached. Not that Phillips will be anybody's puppet (or will he?), but the initial press conference had all the tenor of:
Introducing...Wade Phillips! And re-introducing...Jerry Jones!
"As general manager interacting with a new coach there'll probably be a different style, a different way of communicating," Jones says. "But I'm going to do an A-plus job of not undermining our head coach."
Make no mistake, after four years struggling with masks and muzzles in Parcells' hulking shadow, Jones is again the face and voice of the Cowboys. You can see it in his tear-filled eyes and hear it in his cracking voice. Love him or loathe him, you have to admit that Jones cares. He really, really cares.
"That's not fake stuff—the emotion," Jones says. "I just feel a real obligation beyond the ownership thing. I feel an obligation to do everything we can to have a winning team.
"We needed to get this right. In my mind, we got it right."
What we got, honestly, is a head coach no other team would hire, a GM every other team would've long ago fired and a talented roster that for years has underachieved. Relax, it's BTB—Better Than Bill.
Only took four minutes to figure that out.