NFL Nation: 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:
My surprise was that Jason and I had coached the same number of games. Not the record - time passes quickly -I wish Jason & Cowboys well— Wade Phillips (@sonofbum) March 7, 2014
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.
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.
But, as I travel, let me leave you with some nuggets from ESPN Stats & Information to look ahead to Sunday’s NFC Championship Game between the 49ers and Falcons:
- This will be the second postseason meeting between the two teams. The first was when the Falcons beat the 49ers, 20-18, in the divisional round in the 1998 season. That’s the season the Falcons went to their only Super Bowl.
- The Falcons and 49ers used to be NFC West rivals. Since leaving for the NFC South in 2002, the Falcons are 4-0 against the 49ers.
- This will be the 14th NFC Championship Game for the 49ers. They’re 5-8 in those games and have lost two straight and five of their last six.
- The 49ers set a postseason franchise record with 579 yards of total offense in their divisional round victory against Green Bay. That’s the fourth-highest postseason total in NFL history.
- San Francisco’s 323 rushing yards against Green Bay were the most in the postseason by any team since the Falcons in the 2004 divisional round.
- San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh is the fourth coach in history to reach a championship game in each of his first two seasons. George Seifert and Barry Switzer each went 1-1 in those games and Rex Ryan went 0-2.
- In the win against Green Bay, the 49ers gained 176 yards on 16 read-option rushes. In quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s seven previous starts, the 49ers gained 140 yards on 26 read-option runs.
- Since Kaepernick became the starter in Week 11, Michael Crabtree ranks fifth in the league with 50 catches, fourth with 714 receiving yards and is tied for second with seven touchdowns. In the first 10 weeks of the season, Crabtree was tied for 41st in the league with just 59 targets.
- In their history, the Falcons are 7-11 in the postseason. They’ve won two playoff games in a season only once. That came in the 1998 season.
- Including Sunday’s victory against Seattle, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan has completed 70 percent of his passes in the final two minutes of either half this season. In the first four seasons of Ryan’s career, he completed only 50 percent of his passes in the final two minutes of either half.
- Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez got the first playoff win of his 16-year career against Seattle. Gonzalez went into the game with 254 regular-season appearances, the most ever without a playoff victory.
- Including the Seattle game, the Falcons have allowed 8.9 yards per rush by quarterbacks (excluding kneeldowns) this season. That’s the worst average in the NFL. Kaepernick has averaged 8.7 yards per rush, the best average by any quarterback with at least 30 rushes.
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.
ESPN.com took its positional Power Rankings series off the field and into the boardroom to rate the owners. None of them are popular fellows these days, but for the purposes of this project, nobody was more respected than the Rooney family.
The Pittsburgh Steelers' owners were listed first or second on all eight of the panelists' ballots.
By any definition, Dan Rooney and Art Rooney II qualify as powerful.
They're winners. The Steelers have played in eight Super Bowls and won six of them with three head coaches. The family's success has spanned such a long timeframe that Dan and the late Art Rooney Sr. were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame 36 years apart.
They're transcendent. President Barack Obama selected Steelers chairman Dan Rooney as the U.S. ambassador to Ireland.
They're influential. Dan Rooney was behind the so-called "Rooney Rule," which changed sidelines dramatically by stimulating minority hires. When it comes to the lockout, Rooney is a prominent voice of reason and could help broker the eventual deal.
"The Steelers selection is a no-brainer," ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton said. "The Steelers under the Rooneys have been the model of franchise ownership in sports. They are successful, consistent and supportive.
"They don't undergo the constant changes of other franchises. Plus, the family has been so instrumental in doing things that help advance the league, sometimes at the expense of their own franchise. It's no secret that two Rooneys are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame."
Clayton, AFC North blogger James Walker, AFC West blogger Bill Williamson and NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas each had the Rooneys atop his ballot.
"The Rooney family is the perfect combination of tradition, consistency and success," Walker said, echoing Clayton's thoughts almost verbatim. "The easiest thing to point out is they've had the most Super Bowl wins and fewest head coaches since 1969. But they also set trends off the field with things like the Rooney Rule. They're very well respected and there's a special sense of pride about the Steelers from players and fans that you don't see in many places. It starts at the top."
But the Rooneys were not unanimous choices in our ownership Power Rankings.
What about the power of the people?
The Green Bay Packers' ownership received three of the four remaining first-place votes. NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert, NFC West blogger Mike Sando and I all listed the Packers first because of their unique kind of power. Rules governing the other 31 franchises don't apply to them.
The Packers are the only publicly owned franchise. Green Bay Packers Inc. is a non-profit organization formed in 1922. About 112,000 stockholders own roughly 4.75 million shares of the team. A seven-member executive board oversees the team on behalf of the stockholders.
Packers fans never will have to worry about the team being sold or moving away. The Packers are the only franchise that must open its books.
Oh, yeah. They also just won their NFL-record 13th championship.
Seifert explained why the Packers are special.
"My criteria for this category was twofold," Seifert said. "Do the owners fund the team's operations well? And do they operate the team well?
"I think the Packers' arrangement is currently doing both and has none of the baggage that goes along with single-family ownership. Shareholders don't take dividends, so no one is driven by individual profit. All profits go back into the franchise. In my experience, no expenses are spared in operating the team. People might note that general manager Ted Thompson doesn't sign many free agents, but that's a football decision. He's spent plenty on retaining the Packers' own free agents.
"The executive committee has hired a competent president in Mark Murphy, and after a bumpy start on the Brett Favre departure, Murphy has facilitated excellent work from the GM and coach he inherited.
"Finally, the Packers' ownership arrangement requires Murphy, Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy to be more accountable to 112,000 fans than any other NFL official is to his fan base. Shareholders can't make operating decisions, but they have the right to question decisions, to know how money is being spent and to get straight(er) answers than fans of any other NFL team."
Clayton, however, wasn't impressed. He omitted the Packers from his ballot, ensuring they didn't finish second overall in the Power Rankings despite their three first-place votes.
One gets the impression that if Clayton were to slot all 32 ownerships, he would jot the Packers last.
"I couldn't vote for the Packers because it is a community ownership, not a normal ownership," Clayton said. "It's not as though one owner makes the decisions and has to stand up for the praise or criticism. Assigned the chance to vote for ownership, I felt more comfortable voting for individual owners or family owners."
AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky listed Kraft above all. Kuharsky had the Rooneys second and the Packers third.
Kuharsky had the most efficient Power Rankings ballot. He was the lone panelist to vote for all of the owners who finished in the top 10.
"Robert Kraft versus the Rooneys is a close call," Kuharsky said. "I went Kraft because I feel he and his team have done more lately. In many ways, the Patriots -- not the Steelers -- are the standard-setters for the league. And while I prefer the way Heinz Field is in the middle of Pittsburgh, that development around Gillette Stadium has to be the envy of a lot of owners."
New York Giants co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch came in fourth, Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie was fifth and Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti was sixth.
From there, everybody else on the Power Rankings top 10 was omitted from at least one ballot.
Eclectic Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, who was able to help land a Super Bowl in a nontraditional locale, came in seventh. Irsay rated no higher than sixth on any ballot, but he didn't make Williamson's top 10.
"I know it sticks out because I was the only one not to rank him, but if he was in the top three, I'd re-evaluate my reasoning," Williamson said. "But I can live with not voting for the No. 7 finisher. To be frank, I never considered Irsay. I considered 14 ownerships in all. Other than his random tweets, Irsay doesn't stick out to me, good or bad."
When it came to voting, money didn't necessarily equal power for some panelists.
I ranked Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones third, higher than any other voter. Sando and Yasinskas didn't rate Jones at all.
Jones ended up eighth overall.
To me, you can't argue with his money or his presence. Forbes ranked the Cowboys the world's fourth-greatest sports brand behind only the New York Yankees, Manchester United and Real Madrid. Their estimated brand value was $128 million more than the NFL average and $15 million more than the Eagles and Giants combined.
Forbes estimated the Cowboys franchise was worth $1.8 billion, nearly $300 million more than the next-closest NFL club, the Washington Redskins.
Jones also serves as general manager. That puts him in control of every business and personnel decision. Sando saw that as a drawback.
"Jerry Jones is more involved in football operations than an owner ideally would be," Sando said. "He has shown questionable judgment in hiring head coaches. His involvement in football operations had made those coaches' jobs tougher. Jones dispatched with Tom Landry harshly and later failed to sustain the success Jimmy Johnson orchestrated.
"Also on Jones' watch, the Cowboys have suffered through the practice-bubble catastrophe, a Super Bowl experience that produced poor reviews and a video purporting to show Jones' drunken antics in a bar. Jones also was part of the NFL Management Council Executive Committee when the league agreed to the ill-fated 2006 collective bargaining agreement. Overall, the team hasn't enjoyed enough success recently to say the ends justify the means."
Yasinskas contended Jones simply is overrated these days.
"If Jerry Jones had continued the success he had with Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer back in the 1990s, he'd be at the top of my list," Yasinskas said. "But the fact is the Cowboys really haven't been all that relevant for a long time. Part of that is due to Jones.
"He's done some good things and the new stadium is fabulous, but he's been way too hands-on with that franchise and he's run through lots of good coaches and players without any real results."
Let us know what you think.
Moments after Baltimore crushed and humiliated the Chiefs 30-7 at Arrowhead Stadium, you had the sense the Ravens were well prepared to field questions about their most-hated rival. Baltimore knew ahead of time that a wild-card win would set up another classic trilogy between the Ravens and Steelers, which will be the second time it has happened in the past three seasons.
"Here we go again," Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said with a smile on his face. "I told you guys earlier in the year, man, that it's something [special] about the journey."
"It seems like poetic justice," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.
As Harbaugh alluded, it's only fitting that these rivals settle their differences in the playoffs with both of their seasons on the line. There has been a lot of debate all season about which division team is truly better. The teams split two regular-season meetings and each finished 12-4. Pittsburgh won the tiebreaker and a coveted bye because it had a better division record.
But Saturday at Heinz Field there will be no excuses. The top division team will advance to the AFC title game and a shot at Super Bowl XLV.
"This is the NFL at its best," Ravens Pro Bowl defensive end Terrell Suggs said. "This is what the world wants to see. They want to see Baltimore and Pittsburgh."
On Sunday, Baltimore continued its stellar run the past three seasons in the wild-card round. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Harbaugh is the second NFL coach to win a playoff game in each of his first three seasons, joining former Dallas Cowboys coach Barry Switzer. The Ravens own convincing wild-card wins over the Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots and Kansas City in three consecutive seasons.
Baltimore also improved to 7-3 all time on the road in the playoffs and is arguably this year's most dangerous wild-card team, especially when the defense is playing at a Super Bowl level. The Ravens' defense the past two weeks forced 10 turnovers and allowed only 14 points. Kansas City had no answers for Baltimore after committing three interceptions, fumbling twice and allowing three sacks of quarterback Matt Cassel, who was battered and confused. He passed for only 70 yards, one of the worst passing performances in playoff history.
The Ravens said they were inspired by Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed, who played with a heavy heart Sunday. His younger brother, Brian, was reported missing this weekend and police called off the search in Louisiana. Brian Reed apparently jumped into the Mississippi River after being confronted by a deputy sheriff in response to a stolen car report.
"What the Reed family is going through is a big part of this victory. That's what will be remembered by our players," Harbaugh said. "The Reed family is part of the Raven family, and the Raven family is part of the Reed family. That's the way it works with our team, our organization."
"Who is a better teammate than Ed Reed?" Suggs said. "He didn't have to play today, but he played. And it was the simple fact that we wanted to give him three hours of peace to just go out there and have fun with your football brothers, and we did that."
The Ravens must be at their best again next week. The Steelers are well rested and franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is 8-2 in his career against Baltimore, including six straight victories. Baltimore pulled off a rare win at Heinz Field in October, but that was during the final game of Roethlisberger's four-game suspension.
But there could be good karma for the AFC North. The last time these teams met in the playoffs was in the 2008 AFC Championship Game, and Pittsburgh advanced to win Super Bowl XLIII over the Arizona Cardinals.
The winner of this year's rivalry game will face the winner of the New York Jets and Patriots from the AFC East. Both divisional-round games involve teams that split the first two meetings in the regular season.
"It's Armageddon for all four teams, and there can only be one winner at the end," Suggs said. "What better teams than these four?"
Without a doubt, next weekend is going to be brutal in the AFC.
Perhaps the biggest question is, will any of these teams have anything left for the AFC Championship Game?
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.