The Cowboys' Crappy New Year!
In 2009, I'm going to change. Totally change.
I know I'm 44 and have achieved moderate success by being set in my ways for two decades, but I think I can do it. I've got myself convinced I have to do it.
I'm going to develop an appreciation for sour cream, sushi, American Idol and Brett Favre. I'm going to start writing only positive, feel-good columns. I will embrace the art of two-stepping. I will be understanding of pickups that cut me off on the freeway because, after all, their time is indeed more valuable than mine. I will buy a Terrell Owens poster for my son and Rangers season tickets for myself. I'm going to start smoking, stop exercising and not pay my taxes. I will be completely and utterly truthful.
And if you believe that, any of that, you probably also believe Wade Phillips will change too.
Unfortunately, after the most disappointing season in the history of the Dallas Cowboys, that's what we're left with. False hope. Unrealistic transformations. Status woe.
Instead of a radical reconstruction in the wake of his Super Bowl favorite wilting into a 9-7 flop, owner Jerry Jones is stubbornly sticking with his head coach. He promises—and Phillips, of course, concurs—that a 61-year-old can change his stripes.
Phillips, too soft on his players this and every season, is charged with suddenly being strict next season.
Ignite eye-rolling, head-shaking, perplexed sighing and outright guffawing. Yes, it's preposterous.
Trust me, the day the Cowboys' coach performs an extreme self-makeover from dawdling, doting doofus into detail-demanding dictator is the day Larry Flynt will start publishing Gideons, Tom Cruise will look believable in an eye patch and Jones will volunteer to step into the shadows of his once-proud organization.
Nope, the next time the Cowboys play a game that counts they'll be in a new stadium and likely on a new radio station. But they'll have the same old coach.
How 'bout them Cowboys?
"If you're not going to change coaches, then the coach needs to change," Phillips said the day after his team's gutless non-effort in the season-ending 44-6 humiliation in Philadelphia. "I have to look at how I deal with everything, from how we have training camp to how we run practices."
Fans aren't that naïve. Players?
"If you know a person to be a certain way and they have an extreme change, I don't know how well that's going to be taken," said linebacker Bradie James. "Wade is Wade. He is tough, but he also has some softness."
Didn't think so.
Great, this is going to be a disaster.
Plenty of blame to lather around for 2008. The players enjoyed a debilitating sense of entitlement, fueled by the media's predictions and Hard Knocks' cameras. Phillips was too casual, from minimal contact in training camp, to unscheduled days off for players during the season, to no-tackling drills during practice. And the team was inherently flawed, doomed to be dysfunctional by the mere presence of Terrell Owens as a captain.
The Cowboys went 1-3 in December, missing the playoffs by surrendering two implausibly long touchdown runs in a Texas Stadium-closing loss to the Baltimore Ravens and by not showing up in Philly and absorbing the worst, most embarrassing loss of Jones' 20-year era.
Quarterback Tony Romo significantly regressed in ball security, body language and gritty leadership. Flozell Adams repeatedly forgot the snap count. Owens dropped passes. Roy Williams ran lazy routes. Ken Hamlin missed tackles. Andre Gurode lobbed mistimed snaps. DeMarcus Ware disappeared. The Cowboys led the league in penalties, almost led in turnovers and, in what amounted to a playoff game just before New Year's Eve, performed like a team lining up for its first scrimmage on Labor Day.
"This is a ridiculous embarrassment," said Cowboys radio voice Brad Sham during the 38-point ass-kicking from the Eagles. "There's not enough Maker's Mark in the world to take the sting out of this one."
Actually, the Cowboys have begun a productive off-season, firing special teams coach Bruce Read and cutting Pacman Jones, whose tiny tombstone will read: 1 suspension; 0 touchdowns. Jerry, however, is afraid to pull the trigger on the only transaction that really matters.
Though respected, credible candidates abound—Mike Shanahan, Bill Cowher, Marty Schottenheimer and, yes, even offensive coordinator Jason Garrett would represent significant upgrades in talent and temperament—the owner says he's keeping and tweaking Phillips for the sake of continuity.
I guess a continuity of clowns is continuity nonetheless. But retaining Phillips and trotting him out in the new stadium is akin to simply repainting the jalopy without addressing the busted fan belt or the tattered upholstery.
Shanahan is ruthless; Phillips is merely Ruth.
Besides, if Jones isn't going to fire Phillips now, why should he ever? No head coach in Cowboys history did less with more than Phillips this season.
I know Jerry the owner won't fire himself or axe Jerry the general manager, and I realize columns like this only calcify his resolve and load his chamber with spite-spiced ammunition. But Jones isn't stupid. He's just got to see that Phillips should've been fired immediately after the Eagles game.
"This is obviously very disappointing right now," Jones said in Philly, "but we won't have a head coaching change."
And with that, the Cowboys ruined next season with this season.
Phillips blew into town two years ago as a self-proclaimed "Mr. Fix It," but has deteriorated into the cartoonish Hank Hill who begins every answer with a wussified "Well," followed by a pregnant pause and a mealy-mouth meandering that detours through nowhere and eventually trails off into an indifferent ellipsis...
So, Wade, do you feel like you're still the right man for job?
Answered Phillips in Philly, "Well...sure..."
William Wallace he ain't.
What was left of Phillips' reputation crumbled—never to be restored—in the third quarter in Philadelphia. Trailing 27-3 and faced with fourth-and-1, he called a punt. A punt?! (He also ordered a field goal down 44-3 in the fourth quarter, so go figure.) Realizing the absurdity of the call, Romo insubordinately commandeered the reins and waved off the punt team. On the sideline, a befuddled Phillips was seen waddling along, muttering to himself "Aw, you can't do that."
Right then, right there, the Cowboys' head coach lost his credibility and his authority for next season.
When he parted ways with Jimmy Johnson in 1994, Jones boasted that any of 500 coaches could coach the Cowboys to a Super Bowl.
Five down, 495 to go.
Allow me to conclude this column exactly how I commenced one last July 24:
If the Dallas Cowboys don't win the Super Bowl on February 1 in Tampa, it will be a devastating disappointment impossible to ignore. If they don't at least make it to the title game, it will be an unmitigated disaster improbable to restore. Anything less and Wade Phillips will be fired, Tony Romo will be dethroned and Jerry Jones will next year be forced to sheepishly slink into his team's new Arlington coliseum amidst unprecedented failure.
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