NFC East: Barry Switzer


IRVING, Texas -- Wade Phillips has the second-best winning percentage of any coach in Dallas Cowboys' history. Better than Tom Landry's. I think Phillips might know that.

On Thursday, Phillips tweeted this:



And later followed up with this addendum:



Like most things with Phillips, he lacked context.

When Phillips took over in 2007 as head coach, he inherited a team from Bill Parcells that was ready to win. QB Tony Romo was going into his first year as a full-time starter. The defense had DE DeMarcus Ware at his best. WR Terrell Owens was putting up big numbers.

The Cowboys went 13-3 and had the best record in the NFC. Phillips was the perfect antidote to Parcells and the players responded. Well, they did to a point. The Cowboys were not the same after beating the Green Bay Packers to move to 11-1 and effectively clinch home-field advantage.

They got lucky to beat the Detroit Lions the following week. They lost two of their last three games, but they were in shutdown mode against the Washington Redskins with nothing to gain from a win.

Other than momentum they had lost.

The Cowboys lost to the New York Giants in the divisional round at Texas Stadium, and the Giants went on to win the Super Bowl.

That's basically when the Romo narrative started. Maybe you heard that Romo went to Cabo during the wild-card weekend. Did it affect the outcome of the Giants' game? Of course not, but the perception machine was rolling, and has been rolling ever since.

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You can track most of the Cowboys' woes to that lost opportunity. If they simply beat the Giants and make the NFC Championship Game, things would be different. Could they have beaten the Packers for a second time at Texas Stadium? It's the best what-if of the Romo era.

In 2008, the Cowboys acted as if they were predestined to not only make the playoffs but win the Super Bowl. Go back and watch the "Hard Knocks" episodes, and you see a team full of itself. They finished 9-7, missed the playoffs and were a mess late in the season.

Phillips could not pull it all together and looked inept as he attempted to deal with the fallout from the Adam "Pacman" Jones' incident. Phillips earned a reprieve in 2009 when Dallas posted an 11-5 record, won the NFC East title, and recorded a playoff win -- but that was the high point.

The Cowboys went 1-7 to start the 2010 season, including an embarrassing home loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars and a gutless loss to the Packers (45-7) the following week. After that game, Jerry Jones made the switch to Garrett, and the Cowboys are 29-27 since and have not made the playoffs.

Garrett did not inherit a team ready to win the way Phillips did in 2007. By the time Garrett took over, the Cowboys were growing old on the offensive line, and there were too many people (especially those in offices at Valley Ranch) who believed they had the best talent in the league.

The head coach of the Cowboys has tremendous sway with Jones. The Cowboys did not take Randy Moss in 1998 at least in part because then-coach Chan Gailey didn't want Moss.

On that premise, the 2008 draft -- with Dallas' two first-round picks -- was a mess because the Cowboys didn't even attempt to re-sign those first-rounders (Felix Jones and Mike Jenkins) when their contracts expired. The 2009 draft was a colossal failure in part because Jones was convinced that it could be a "special-teams draft," which is as ludicrous as the "draft for backups" the team had when Barry Switzer was the coach in 1995.

This is not in defense of Garrett. He has made plenty of mistakes on the field and in the draft.

Phillips has had a tremendous career in the NFL that has spanned decades. He is a terrific coordinator, but is he in the same conversation as guys like Dick LeBeau, or even Monte Kiffin? I'm not sure a Phillips defense scared offenses the way LeBeau's defenses in Pittsburgh and Kiffin's defenses in Tampa Bay did. Phillips was a good head coach but could not get his teams in Denver, Buffalo or Dallas past a certain point.

Phillips knows his resume inside and out. He can cite team stats and all the Hall of Famers he has coached.

He can claim his tweet was more about the number of games he and Garrett have coached, but it looked more like a passive-aggressive shot at the guy who replaced him, and a way for him to remind everybody of his record.

By the way, his winning percentage is .607. Landry had a .605 winning percentage.

Joe Avezzano dies at 68

April, 5, 2012
4/05/12
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Joe Avezzano, the well-known special teams coach of the Dallas Cowboys' last three Super Bowl champion teams, died of a heart attack Thursday in Italy. He was 68 years old.

You didn't have to be a Cowboys fan to know who Avezzano was in the 1990s. He was one of the most recognizable assistant coaches in the league, known for his excitable sideline personality as well as the success he had as the coordinator of the Cowboys' special teams. He was named the NFL's special teams coach of the year three times during his tenure in Dallas, which ran from 1990 to 2002.

"Joe Avezzano was a very special part of our Dallas Cowboys family and our organization's history," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in a statement released by the team. "He was also a wonderful father, husband and friend. No one enjoyed life more than Joe, and no one that I know had a greater appreciation for the people that he loved and the lives that he touched. We grieve with Diann and Tony and the thousands of fans who loved Coach Joe. He was an original. There was no one else like him."

The Tim MacMahon obituary linked above is worth reading if you remember Avezzano and those Cowboys teams. I never met the man, so I'm a poor eulogist here, but I enjoyed Barry Switzer's description of Avezzano as a wannabe country music star or stage performer. A lot of people who were around those Cowboys teams have come out since the news broke and spoken about how engaging and helpful he was, and that says a lot about a man. If you're a Cowboys fan who remembers those championship teams, there are plenty of images of Avezzano in your mind, and it's sad to hear that he's gone.

Breakfast links: More labor thaw

June, 29, 2011
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See, to me, this can only be a good sign. The fact that the NFLPA would ask commissioner Roger Goodell -- and that he would agree -- to speak to rookies at the rookie symposium the NFLPA is having in lieu of the one the league canceled because of the lockout heralds a new level of trust between the two parties. It gives you reason to believe the optimism that the latest round of talks will lead to a new labor deal and an on-time start to the season may not be misplaced.

What I'm interested to see is this: If there's no actual deal -- i.e., a signed document establishing the work rules for the league for the next three, five, eight, however many years -- within a couple of weeks, but during that time the two sides make significant enough progress that they know what those rules are going to be and all that remains are formalities, could the league year start anyway? The owners, theoretically, have the ability to lift the lockout any time they want to. Could they do that in the absence of a formal, finalized contract with the players and just hold free agency under rules to which they mutually agree as part of their settlement talks?

It sounds easy, but it may not be. Remember, these are not collective bargaining-talks that are going on right now. These are settlement talks on the antitrust suit the players filed against the league. If the owners were to lift the lockout and have free agency, even under mutually agreed-to rules, they'd have to be 100 percent sure they weren't putting themselves at risk of being guilty of an antitrust violation. I imagine they'd have to get a promise in writing from the players that the players wouldn't pursue legal action against them as a result of anything that happens during the free-agent period.

So it may be that they need to dot all I's and cross all T's on the new labor agreement before free agency and the league year can start. But if that's not the case -- if they can get close enough to a finalized deal that they feel they can start the league year and training camps on time -- at least now it looks as if there's a decent enough relationship between the two sides that they could work that, and eventually all of this, out.

In the meantime, as ever, we link:

Dallas Cowboys

Calvin Watkins and the gang at ESPNDallas.com have been looking at potential free-agent targets for Dallas. Today, Calvin brings up Eagles guard Nick Cole as a potential Kyle Kosier replacement. His theory is that he's younger and versatile and might be more worthy of a long-term deal than will Kosier. Calvin knows the Cowboys. Even if he is really a baseball writer at heart.

Oh and Gerry Fraley has this item about former Cowboys coach Barry Switzer's foray into the wine business. Love the part about him describing his rural Arkansas childhood home on the label. Priceless.

New York Giants

Lots of people ask about Barry Cofield, and the Giants have a number of free-agent concerns once the lockout ends. Cofield himself doesn't sound like a man who expects to be back in New York. "I think they think I'm a good player," Cofield told the New York Post. "Obviously they don't view me as indispensable. They place a premium on certain positions. Let's be honest, defensive end is the name of the game in New York." He's certainly right about that, but that doesn't mean they don't appreciate a defensive tackle who can get to the quarterback. The question is whether the Giants feel they have enough in guys like Linval Joseph and Marvin Austin to replace Cofield if they focus on other concerns. He seems to feel as though that's the idea.

Eli Manning worked out with Hakeem Nicks and rookie receiver Jerrel Jernigan last week at Duke University, according to The Star-Ledger. Priceless time with QB1 for Jernigan, who could theoretically be asked to do more if he shows something and if Steve Smith isn't fully healthy.

Philadelphia Eagles

In light of the recent news on Terrell Owens, Sheil Kapadia wonders if Andy Reid's biggest football regret would be not finding a way for Owens and Donovan McNabb to coexist after their relationship blew up in the wake of their Super Bowl appearance -- if the magic that landed them in the big game could have been extended if Owens' stay in Philly had been as well.

The Eagles' team site breaks down the running backs, wondering as we all are whether Jerome Harrison will return as LeSean McCoy's backup. They do agree, however, that if he doesn't, Dion Lewis isn't the answer there. Expect the Eagles to re-sign Harrison or find a veteran replacement.

Washington Redskins

Rookie Ryan Kerrigan spoke about the challenges he's facing transitioning from college defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL -- especially with no coaches around to tell him if he's doing it correctly.

Redskins.com takes a gander at the right guard spot and whether Will Montgomery looks like the starter there this year. Montgomery also would seem to loom as an option at center should the team decide to part ways with Casey Rabach. Upshot is, Washington may be looking for interior line help.

Go get 'em.

Jimmy Johnson's a 'Survivor'

July, 21, 2010
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For some reason when an irate Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson was telling a player the "asthma field's over there" in the early '90s, it never occurred to me that he would one day appear on a CBS reality show. But that's exactly what will happen when the 67-year-old Johnson appears on "Survivor: Nicaragua" this fall.

I stopped watching when part-time nudist Richard Hatch took home the trophy ($1 million) in Season 1, but I'm told that we're entering Season 21 this fall. Perhaps the show will challenge ER's epic run, which was aided in part by Noah Wyle's inability to find another gig.

For Johnson, it's a chance to enhance his national profile. He's already a studio analyst for Fox Sports. And in recent months, he's enhanced other areas of his life. When Johnson's coaching career ended with the Dolphins, some folks thought he'd remain on a beach in Florida. But he's experienced a rebirth of sorts in recent years.

Perhaps seeing his former pal/boss Jerry Jones on a recent episode of "Entourage" inspired Johnson to become a contestant on "Survivor." He'll definitely be entertaining, although I think Barry Switzer would've been the better choice. I can't help but wonder how the great Tom Landry would've responded if he'd been asked to appear on a reality series such as "Big Brother 14." I think he may have passed on the opportunity.

So will you guys watch "Survivor: Nicaragua" now that you know Johnson's involved? I'm all in -- unless of course there's a conflict with "Monday Night Football." If you guys could select any former or current NFL player or coach to be on the show, who would it be?

I'd probably go with the Manster, Randy White.

Even Switzer second-guesses Belichick

November, 17, 2009
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Anyone who followed the Cowboys during the Barry Switzer regime immediately thought of him when Patriots coach Bill Belichick decided to go for it on fourth-and-2 from inside his own 30-yard line Sunday night against the Colts. Switzer infamously lost a game in Philadelphia 14 years ago when he called for "Load Left" on fourth-and-1.

Frequent Beast contributor Ed Werder, who also does work for the TV side, caught up with Switzer on Monday evening and turned around an entertaining column for ESPNDallas.com. Of course, anything out of Switzer's mouth is pretty entertaining -- and often profane. Switzer told Werder that he absolutely would not have gone for it on fourth-and-2 if he'd been in Belichick's shoes.

"It's totally different,'' Switzer said. "We had fourth-and-3-inches. If it had been fourth-and-2, we'd have kicked the SOB."

During the 1995 season, the Cowboys and Eagles were tied at 17 when Switzer elected to go for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 29-yard line. Troy Aikman handed the ball to Emmitt Smith, who was stuffed at the line of scrimmage. The Eagles went on to win the game and Switzer, like Belichick, faced a tremendous amount of criticism. Fortunately for Belichick, he has a few more NFL skins on the wall than Switzer had at the time.

"I know what he's thinking,'' Switzer told Werder. "Belichick is thinking, 'If we make this play right here, we win the ballgame.'

"He didn't want to punt to Peyton Manning. In pro football, two minutes is an eternity, and he's seen the two best quarterbacks in football go up and down the field on each other. When that happens, you're thinking, 'My defense can't stop them, but I know how I can win the game with one play.'"

Switzer actually had a chance to reconsider his decision to go for it against the Eagles. Smith was stopped on fouth-and-1, but the officials ruled that the two-minute warning occurred before the snap. Given the opportunity to change his mind, the Cowboys ran the same play with Smith -- with the same result.

"Everybody thought when you don't get it the first time, you've got to punt it,'' Switzer said. "But what was I going to do at that point, change my mind and basically say, 'I don't believe in you guys?'

"Hell, you're committed at that point.''

In a lot of ways, that play defined Switzer's time with the Cowboys. And it's probably not completely fair -- especially since that '95 team went on to win a Super Bowl. Belichick has enough Super Bowl credibility so that a regular-season loss to the Colts won't damage his legacy.

Strong work by Mr. Werder -- as always.

Monday Beastlines

June, 15, 2009
6/15/09
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Posted by ESPN.com staff

Dallas Cowboys

  • Head coach Wade Phillips is looking forward to spending more time teaching this season in his added role as defensive coordinator.
  • In an interview with the Tulsa World, Barry Switzer talks about the whirlwind that was his stint as the Cowboys' head coach.
  • Gil Brandt, the Dallas Cowboys' personnel director during the Tom Landry Era, has unveiled his all-'60s Cowboys team.

New York Giants

  • With off-the-field distractions at a minimum, the Giants can focus on getting work done on the field when they kick off a three-day minicamp Tuesday.
  • Giants or Jets: Which team has the better offensive line? The New York Times' Fifth Down blog breaks it all down.

Philadelphia Eagles

Washington Redskins

  • Paul Tenorio of The Washington Post revisits the team's decision to cut James Thrash.

The Redskins take ... Aundray Bruce???

April, 20, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Our friends at Page 2 have come up with the never-seen-before "Mock Draft for the Ages," which allows teams to select from a list of the top college players of all-time. Here's the explanation from Page 2's Thomas Neumann:

    What if we could hop in a time machine and bring back all the best prospects in history for this year's draft? Of course, professional accomplishments don't count. This exercise is based strictly on the scouting reports at the conclusion of college careers. Our big board is an amalgam of only the most ballyhooed prospects. With a few exceptions, these are players who were drafted in the top five overall. Players such as Joe Montana and Tom Brady, who were seen as too physically limited by many evaluators, need not apply.

Using this unique approach, here's a look at The Beast:

13. Washington Redskins -- Aundray Bruce, DE, Auburn: Washington can't resist the size and quickness of the 6-foot-6, 245-pounder, who runs a 4.6-second 40-yard dash. While at Auburn, Bruce showed the ability to take over games but sometimes lacked the motivation NFL teams usually expect from a franchise cornerstone. "We never knew which Aundray would show up," Auburn teammate Kurt Crain told Sports Illustrated. "That's his one drawback. I often had to tell him during games, 'C'mon, we need you.'" Nevertheless, the Redskins seem convinced a taskmaster such as Jim Zorn can light a fire under Bruce.

My take: Owner Dan Snyder and exec Vinny Cerrato offered all four of their picks to trade up for Tony Mandarich, but the Bengals want to build around the Michigan State phenom. The Redskins are settling for Bruce because they envision him doubling as a tight end by his fourth year.

21. Philadelphia Eagles -- Red Grange, RB, Illinois: The "Galloping Ghost" is undersized at 5-foot-11, 175 pounds, but his gridiron instincts are unmistakable. His speed and agility are apparent on film, and he has the ability to turn broken plays into big gains. He also punted for the Illini. Grange's stock began to soar in a legendary performance against Michigan as a junior. After returning the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, he scored on rushes of 67, 56 and 44 yards in the first quarter, personally equaling the number of touchdowns the Wolverines had allowed the two previous seasons. He finished with 212 rushing yards on 21 carries and added a passing touchdown and a fourth rushing touchdown. Grange rushed for 31 touchdowns and threw for six more in 20 career games for the Illini.

My take: Grange pops off the screen with his cutback ability and vision, but the grainy footage is often misleading, despite the Ted Turner colorization process. Unbelievable numbers, but concussion concerns due to leather helmet.

29. New York Giants -- Don Hutson, WR, Alabama: After cutting ties with troubled wideout Plaxico Burress, the Giants waste no time in reaching for another No. 1 receiver. Hutson is a 6-foot-1, 185-pounder with a legendary work ethic. He has above-average speed and perhaps the best hands of any receiving prospect. He's also elusive, with a gift for shifting speeds. Although his 40 time is unavailable, the former track star has been clocked at 9.8 seconds over 100 yards -- and isn't that a more indicative football distance, anyway? Hutson arrived at Alabama on a partial baseball scholarship and went out for the football team as a walk-on. Two All-America selections later, the "Alabama Antelope" capped his collegiate career by catching two long touchdown passes in a Rose Bowl victory over Stanford, as the Crimson Tide finished the 1934 season 10-0. Hutson has experience in the business world and might opt to represent himself in contract negotiations. He operated a campus dry-cleaning service with Alabama teammate Paul "Bear" Bryant.

My take: With Burress in the rearview mirror, the Giants go with the best receiver on the board. General manager Jerry Reese praised Hutson for the way he complemented the Crimson Tide's other wideout, Bryant.

No. 51 Dallas Cowboys -- Brian Bosworth, LB, Oklahoma: The buck stops with Jerry Jones in the Cowboys' draft room, and it appears as if longtime friend Barry Switzer convinced him to select the ballyhooed Sooners star. Bosworth is a 6-foot-1½, 245-pounder who runs a 4.6 in the 40, but his baggage has been well-publicized. Some scouts see him as insubordinate for attempting to maneuver around the draft process into a major media market, and he was suspended from the 1987 Orange Bowl after testing positive for steroids. What few people know is that Bosworth was an academic All-American at Oklahoma, posting a 3.28 GPA in management information. Ultimately, Bosworth is considered a franchise player in spite of his questionable decisions. He should be a solid fit with the Cowboys.

My take: In a locker room that just lost its most compelling player in Terrell Owens, this is a nice fit. Showed tremendous range on the field and in OU's drama program. The rare player who could lead a goal-line stand against Bo Jackson.

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