- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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IRVING, Texas – Tony Romo got it right Monday when he chose OTA over PGA and treated the decision like a no-brainer.
Wade Phillips got it wrong while praising Romo for putting his profession over a high-profile hobby.
It’s fine that Phillips made sure everybody knew that Romo had never missed a workout or coaching session during the coach’s three-year tenure at Valley Ranch. Phillips just went too far when he mentioned that he wouldn’t have had a problem if Romo spent Monday morning at swinging golf clubs at the Byron Nelson qualifying tournament instead of throwing passes to his teammates during the first “voluntary” practice of the spring.
“Really, most guys with his stature and the way he’s played, it probably wouldn’t hurt him to miss a day here and have that opportunity,” Phillips said. “It was up to him to do what he wanted to do, and he chose to be here and practice, but I wouldn’t have minded if he wouldn’t have been here.”
That’s a foolish message to send for a head coach who wants to emphasize attention to detail and doing things “exactly right.” Fortunately, Romo seems to have grasped that part of the responsibilities for a franchise quarterback is setting the tone for the team.
It’s not about public perception, although the backlash would have been ferocious if Romo picked golf over football for the morning, with the infamous Simpson Family Bye Week Fiesta still fresh on the minds of a lot of folks.
It’s about reinforcing Romo’s mantra that every day at Valley Ranch is an opportunity to get better. He’s not a guy who rants and raves much, but when he does feel the need to raise his voice, his teammates will know it’s coming from a guy who has done everything possible to achieve his potential.
“There’s something to be said with your quarterback your leader being there on Day 1,” Pro Bowl tight end/travel companion Jason Witten said on ESPN 103.3’s Galloway and Company. “He needs to be there, and he was.”
That’s especially important with a coach like Wade, an X’s and O’s whiz who won’t have a career as a motivational speaker once he hangs up his whistle.
Phillips acknowledges that he isn’t much of an orator. He’ll definitely never remind anybody of Knute Rockne. (The funniest line from the Cowboys’ Hard Knocks series a couple of years ago was Phillips wrapping up a preseason pregame speech with this gem: “Let the Cowboys ride!”) He needs veteran leaders to fill that void, which is why the arrival of Keith Brooking was arguably the Cowboys’ most important signing in free agency since Deion Sanders.
It took some time for Romo to become comfortable with that role, which is a requirement for a quarterback on a Super Bowl contender. He has compared it to a kid who comes in as a sophomore and doesn’t want to step on upperclassmen’s toes, but that isn’t an issue anymore, not after he’s played in three Pro Bowls.
This is Tony’s team. He knows that. There’s no need for him to say it, and he won’t, but he’s acting the part.
Heck, it’s Romo that has served as the voice of reason with the Cowboys’ new lightning rod, first-round receiver Dez Bryant.
Bryant has been bathed in anointing oil since arriving at Valley Ranch. Phillips said he’s only seen a few rookies with so much talent in his three-plus decades in the NFL. Receivers coach Ray Sherman said the kid is in “a class of his own” after comparing him to other elite receivers he’s coached, a list that includes Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens, Randy Moss and Cris Carter.
Romo briefly acknowledged Bryant’s talent before reminding everybody that the rookie has a long way to go. He pretty much publicly challenged Bryant to keep his nose in the playbook and learn the intricacies of the playing receiver in the NFL, such as adjusting routes based on coverages.
“We’re just starting the process now,” said Romo, who never considered passing on his first chance to practice with Bryant.
That’s exactly right.