NFL Nation: Bill Parcells
It was that iconic ad that popped into my head when I saw the picture of Tony Romo and Jason Witten in Jerry Jones’ suite at AT&T Stadium Monday night at the NCAA men’s basketball final with Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Running back DeMarco Murray was also in the suite, but not in the much-circulated photo.
I tweaked the ad some: status has its privileges.
New SEC Network hire and former Dallas Cowboys defensive end Marcus Spears sparked debate on Twitter Monday and it continued on Tuesday. Spears wondered if teammates of Romo and Witten would be upset to see them hanging with the presidents and celebrities.
Spears has a point, but if Cam Lawrence or Ronald Leary were upset Romo, Witten and Murray were in the suite, oh well. Should I be upset Chris Berman gets to play in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am every year and I don't? Oh well.
Wonder if any other players get invited to these events off the cowboys team! Sends the wrong message to me pic.twitter.com/A2ZgZUsJgq— marcus spears (@mspear96) April 8, 2014
Status has its privileges in any line of work. Those three have status, especially Witten and Romo, and we don’t know who else was invited to sit in the power suite to see Connecticut beat Kentucky but unable to attend for whatever reason.
Witten and Romo have been with the Cowboys since 2003. Witten has been to the Pro Bowl nine times. He was named the NFL’s Man of the Year in 2012. Romo owns most of the Cowboys’ passing records and has been to three Pro Bowls. Jones has showed his faith in the quarterback by signing him to two big-time contract extensions. Murray is coming off his first Pro Bowl season.
As teams go, not all players are created equally. Jimmy Johnson didn’t treat Troy Aikman the same as he treated a third-string safety. Bill Parcells treated “his guys” differently than the other guys.
Too many people believe professional sports are entirely different than an office you or I may work in. There is office politics everywhere.
You like some people. You’re OK with some people. You distance yourself from some people. You loathe some people. But you do your job for the common good, be it winning football games or producing widgets.
It can be safely assumed Witten, Romo and Murray were invited by Jones to the suite. He’s the boss. He’s the guy who signs the checks. You have a chance to talk with Presidents Bush and Clinton and some other celebrity folks, would you say no to your boss because the guy in the next cubicle didn’t get invited?
Of course you wouldn’t.
To me, the question is should Jones have put those three guys in position to be perceived as above their teammates in a public way? I doubt the question even crossed Jones’ mind and I’m not sure it even needed to cross it. He was simply making a kind gesture to three of his top players -- and maybe more -- and they took him up on the offer.
If there are players that are upset, then, well, they’ll just have to get over it. But they should also realize Witten, Romo, who is also rehabbing from back surgery, and Murray have been working out at Valley Ranch well before the official start of the offseason program on April 21.
That’s what should matter most to them.
Like just about everything with the Cowboys, perception overrules reality. The perception of the photo might tell one story, but it doesn’t mean it’s the whole story.
It will be hard for the Cowboys to stomach because there will be noise from here, there and everywhere if Ware has a 15-sack season and is as dominant as ever, but it would not necessarily mean they made the wrong move in letting their all-time leader in sacks go. If anything, the Cowboys decided to make a move a year too early rather than a year too late by releasing Ware.
"I want to be quiet," Ware said almost a month ago before undergoing elbow surgery. "I just want to let my actions speak for themself. But I do chuckle a little bit because I know there’s a tornado coming."
When he arrived from Troy in 2005, there were some doubts that he could not only make the jump from that level of football to the NFL but from defensive end to outside linebacker. Bill Parcells did not have many doubts, even if he wanted Marcus Spears with the No. 11 pick. Parcells quickly mentioned Lawrence Taylor after the Cowboys took Ware, so I wouldn’t say he didn’t want Ware.
He had seven straight seasons with at least 11 sacks. He had seasons of 20 and 19.5 sacks.
But injuries knocked him down in 2012 and ’13. The Cowboys did not view this from only a 2013 prism only. Even though Ware had 11.5 sacks in 2012, they felt the decline had started.
The move to the 4-3 might have quickened the fall, but there are images of Ware I can’t get out of my head.
It is of Ware in Oxnard, Calif., in training camp. Day after day he repeatedly beat Tyron Smith. He did it in one-on-one pass-rush drills. He did it in team drills. He was the best player in training camp almost every day. Better than Dez Bryant. Better than Sean Lee. Better than Jason Witten. Better than Smith.
He had four sacks in his first three games but then the injuries piled up. Ware's practice time became limited and his production sank.
There is good football left in Ware. He showed it last summer against one of the best left tackles in football.
The Cowboys will only see it if the next team he signs with his is on their schedule or if they pay attention to the highlights.
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.
Consider what Steelers free safety Ryan Clark said Wednesday morning on ESPN’s "First Take."
"The only person that I know that knows Richie Incognito personally said the day after (the story broke), ‘If Richie Incognito gets cut I’m walking upstairs and telling coach to pick him up,’ " Clark said. "He’s like, 'That’s the type of football player I want to play with. All of that stuff in the locker room, that’s how they act, that’s how they talked but as far as playing football I want you to play nasty, I want you to be like that.’ "
Clark did not reveal the name of the player who told him that, and it could well have been someone on other team with whom the veteran free safety is friendly. But it is reasonable to assume that there is a good chance Clark’s conversation took place with a Steelers teammate.
Would the Steelers have given any consideration to signing Incognito had the Dolphins released him last November? Not a chance.
But Clark's revelation shows a different side of NFL locker rooms, one in which players are able to separate or overlook behavior, no matter how coarse it is, from the business of winning games.
It is also consistent with how a significant number of players in the Dolphins’ locker room felt after offensive tackle Jonathan Martin abruptly left the team last October and later leveled bullying charges against Incognito.
The accusations led to Incognito’s suspension -- it was lifted earlier this week -- and a host of Dolphins teammates defended him and backed Incognito’s claim that he and Martin were friends.
The recent release of text messages between the two, bawdy as they were, appear to support what Incognito has maintained all along and that there may have been a rush to judgment.
Clark did not defend Incognito or the offensive language he used freely around teammates.
But he questioned whether the physical and psychological stress of playing football had led to Martin breaking down and then scapegoating Incognito for his hasty exit from the Dolphins.
Clark recalled a conversation he had with former Dolphins executive vice president of football operations Bill Parcells in 2010 when he nearly signed with Miami as an unrestricted free agent.
"He said ‘One day Ryan you’re going to walk out of the huddle, it happens to every player, and you’re not going to want to hit the person on the other side of the ball and when that happens it’s time to let it go,’ " Clark said. "I just think Jonathan Martin got there earlier than most people do."
As for the NFL futures of both players, Clark said, "I think (Incognito) will get a chance before Jonathan Martin. The way he behaves is genuinely who he is where Jonathan Martin behaves more to me like a person who is being advised."
The Cowboys did not have a coach to take over the offensive line for Sparano in 2006. Parcells came to the Cowboys without “his guys,” but quickly established Sparano as one of “Parcells guys,” moving him from tight ends coach to offensive line coach to running game coordinator.
Sparano ended up calling the plays for the Cowboys in 2006, helping a young quarterback named Tony Romo through the final 10 games of the season.
Sparano lost the play-calling duties a year later to Jason Garrett after Parcells retired. He was upset, but three-fifths of his offensive line started in the Pro Bowl that year. In 2008 Parcells named Sparano as head coach of the Miami Dolphins.
Eight years later, the Cowboys are preventing Bill Callahan from moving on when his authority on offense is about to be usurped. According to a source, the Cleveland Browns were denied permission to speak with Callahan about joining their staff. The Baltimore Ravens were reportedly blocked from talking to Callahan as well.
With the official announcement of Scott Linehan as the play-caller in 2014, Callahan finds himself being shuffled to the back of a confusing offensive setup. This is still Garrett’s offense. Tony Romo will still have major involvement in the game-planning. Linehan will make his amendments to the passing game. Callahan is back in an offensive line role with run-game duties.
Unlike 2006, the Cowboys have a ready-made replacement for Callahan in Frank Pollack. The linemen have a lot of trust in Pollack. Truth be told, Pollack worked more with the line in 2013 than Callahan, simply because the offensive coordinator duties pulled Callahan out of the linemen’s room.
It is well within the Cowboys' rights to keep Callahan, but in doing so they are potentially creating a miserable situation that can adversely affect the entire team.
NEWARK, N.J. -- Peyton Manning arrives at the Prudential Center for Super Bowl XLVIII media day, sharing a few laughs with his coach, Rex Ryan, as he walks to his designated interview podium. Manning, wearing a white and green-trimmed No. 18 New York Jets jersey, appears totally at home.
Because he is.
Manning is only 30 minutes from the Jets facility in Florham Park -- a.k.a. Peyton's Place, where he hopes to add a third Lombardi Trophy to the showcase. Coincidentally, the Jets' team hotel is the Manning Tower in Jersey City -- a breathtaking high rise on the Hudson that he co-owns with his not-so-silent partner and close friend, Donald Trump. Manning, as you might know, inhabits the entire 18th floor.
"I'm excited to be in another Super Bowl, representing the New York Jets," Manning begins.
Well, it could've happened.
After much consideration, Manning decided he'd rather remain a Tennessee Vol than a Parcells volunteer.
In the tortured history of the Jets, it remains one of the most haunting what-if questions: What if Manning had turned pro in '97? By staying true to his school, he altered the landscape of the league.
Parcells, in an interview this week with ESPNNewYork.com, said he didn't try to convince Manning to leave school because of a "strong mandate" by the league, which didn't want teams attempting to influence underclassmen.
"I kind of laugh when people say I should've talked him into it," Parcells said. "I wasn't capable of doing that."
Why didn't he attempt to recruit Manning through his father, Archie? Parcells paused.
"I think they have a pretty good idea of what would've happened if they came out," Parcells said.
The Hall of Fame coach hasn't revealed too much over the years about that chapter -- some believe he would've traded the pick to accumulate extra draft choices -- but he strongly hinted he would've selected Manning.
"Obviously, we had an interest in a quarterback, so, had he been available, I'm certain he would've been very, very strongly in the mix," said Parcells, claiming he always had a "gut feeling" that Manning would stay at Tennessee.
But Manning kept people guessing, which fueled hope among Jets fans, many of whom already were tired of Neil O'Donnell after one season. On the morning of his announcement, the local paper in Knoxville, Tenn., ran a front-page headline that said its favorite son was prepared to jump to the NFL.
A poker-faced Manning added to the drama in his news conference, speaking of Tennessee in the past tense as he made his opening remarks. After about a minute, he cracked a smile and declared his intention to stay. The room exploded with applause. There were mini-eruptions across the campus, which stopped to watch the announcement on closed-circuit TV. Remember, this was long before Twitter.
At the same time, Manning crushed Jets Nation.
"There are times when good fortune strikes, and there are times when it doesn't," said Parcells, who eventually traded the pick and selected linebacker James Farrior at No. 8 overall.
Not surprisingly, Manning has always taken the high road, claiming that Parcells' arrival in New York that winter actually complicated the decision for him.
"Parcells shook things up for me a little, but when he was hired there, it made this decision a lot tougher, knowing he was there." Manning said at the time. "I had no negative thoughts about the Jets whatsoever."
Manning went No. 1 overall in 1998, and things have worked out quite nicely for him. If he beats the Seattle Seahawks for this second Super Bowl title, he will fuel debate on whether he's the greatest quarterback in history.
Parcells is an admirer, for sure, but he wasn't ready to anoint Manning back in the day. Asked if he knew Manning would be special, the old coach showed his gruff side.
"I'm not too quick to judge guys," he said. "The guy picked right behind him [Ryan Leaf], somebody thought he was going to be special, too."
The football business is inexact, and it's difficult to predict how players would fare in different situations, but let's be real: Manning would've been huge in the New York market.
"I think he would've had a long, long run there," said agent Leigh Steinberg, who once represented the biggest quarterback stars in the sport. "He would've been very dominant in New York, probably the biggest football personality in that city since Joe Namath."
The Jets have been searching for the next Namath for 40 years. Two years ago, they made another pass at Manning, but it was a brief flirtation. It lasted as long as a belch.
When the Indianapolis Colts released Manning in March 2012, then-general manager Mike Tannenbaum placed a call to Manning's agent, Tom Condon.
"It was a quick, cursory call," recalled Tannenbaum, performing due diligence. "We had a young quarterback [Mark Sanchez] we felt good about, but when a player like Peyton Manning becomes available, you have to check it out. I had a very good sense right away that he knew what he wanted to do."
In other words, Manning wanted no part of the Jets.
Later that day, the Jets announced they had signed Sanchez to a contract extension, an affirmation that backfired.
This week, Manning is practicing at the Jets' facility as the Denver Broncos prepare for Sunday's game at MetLife Stadium.
Some blows never stop stinging.
Here are the other teams that have recovered from a three-win season or worse to make the playoffs the following season, according to Elias Sports Bureau:
- 2013 Kansas City Chiefs (11-5, lost in the wild-card round of the playoffs): Andy Reid took over a team that had six players who made the Pro Bowl for the previous season, which ended with a 2-14 record. They also added quarterback Alex Smith, who made the Pro Bowl along with nine other players. An excellent defensive line and strong running game led by Jamaal Charles made a difference as both the offense and defense finished in the top six in points per game.
- 2012 Minnesota Vikings (10-6, lost in the wild-card round): Running back Adrian Peterson had an historic season, rushing for 2,075 yards to lead the turnaround. The big jump occurred defensively where the Vikings went from 31st in points allowed to 14th. Nine of their 13 losses in 2011 were by seven points or less. By comparison, the Redskins had seven such games.
- 2012 Indianapolis Colts (11-5, lost in the wild-card round): Like the Chiefs, the Colts had a first-year coach in Chuck Pagano. They also had a rookie quarterback in Andrew Luck, who threw 23 touchdown passes to 18 interceptions. They did not go crazy in free agency despite a 2-14 finish the previous season and, in fact, lost receiver Pierre Garcon to the Redskins. They even lost Pagano for 12 games while undergoing cancer treatment, yet went 9-3 in that span. The offense jumped in points per game from 28th a year earlier to 18th while the defense went from 28th to 21st.
- 2008 Miami Dolphins (11-5, lost in the wild-card round): After a 1-15 season, the Dolphins hired Bill Parcells as team president and later Tony Sparano as head coach. They did not make a major splash in free agency, with their big signings being guard Justin Smiley and defensive end Randy Starks. However, after the Jets released Chad Pennington that August, the Dolphins pounced. And steady quarterback play made a big difference as Pennington threw 19 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions. That certainly topped the efforts of the 2007 group of Trent Green (five starts), Cleo Lemon (seven starts) and John Beck (four starts). The defense made a huge jump, going from 30th in points allowed to ninth.
- 2006 New Orleans Saints (10-6, lost in conference championship): Hurricane Katrina disrupted the 2005 season under then-coach Jim Haslett, leading to a 3-13 record. But the Saints made two fantastic moves in the offseason: Hiring head coach Sean Payton and signing quarterback Drew Brees. They also drafted well, with running back Reggie Bush, safety Roman Harper, tackle Jahri Evans and receiver Marques Colston among the additions.
- 2000 New Orleans Saints (10-6, lost in divisional playoff round): Haslett took over for Mike Ditka and found instant success, earning coach of the year honors. They had a terrific pass rush with La’Roi Glover (17 sacks), Joe Johnson (12) and rookie Darren Howard (11) as the defense went from 28th in points allowed to 10th. They did not have great quarterback play, but Jeff Blake was good enough as he threw 13 touchdown passes and nine interceptions in 11 starts. Receiver Joe Horn stood out with 94 receptions for 1,340 yards and eight touchdowns.
- 1999 Indianapolis Colts (13-3, lost in divisional round): They had finished 3-13 for two consecutive seasons before this stunning turnaround under second-year head coach Jim Mora, who had previously won 93 games in 11 seasons with New Orleans. Second-year quarterback Peyton Manning, who threw the same number of touchdown passes (26) that he did as a rookie but 13 fewer interceptions (15).
- 1987 Indianapolis Colts (9-6, lost in the divisional round): They had won a combined 12 games in the previous three seasons, including only three in 1986. But in the strike-shortened season, the Colts’ defense ended up first in points per game. The Colts acquired running back Eric Dickerson during the season; he rushed for 1,011 yards in nine games.
- 1982 New England Patriots (5-4, lost in the first round): Another strike-shortened season helped the Patriots recover from a 2-14 season (that was preceded by a 10-6 one). They did not receive great quarterback play, though Steve Grogan was steady in his six starts. The defense ranked seventh in points per game.
After congratulating Zimmer on Wednesday, Parcells gave him three more things to write down. Zimmer wouldn't share what those were with reporters after his introductory news conference on Friday, but according to ESPN NFL Insider Chris Mortensen, Parcells' three points were:
1. Your best friends will disappoint you.
2. Four or five things happen in pro football every day that you wish wouldn't happen. If you can't handle those, you need to get another job.
3. It's lonely.
As you can see, Parcells -- who became the first coach in NFL history to take four different teams to the playoffs -- didn't regale Zimmer with stories of his three Super Bowl appearances and two championships, or his ride to a rarefied place in NFL coaching history. He reminded Zimmer that he's about to take an enormous leap in responsibility, and while the accolades can be worth it in the long run, the most immediate difference Zimmer will see is just how much is out of his control. Zimmer seemed well aware this week of what he's about to take on, but there are probably some elements of the job he won't fully grasp until he gets into it.
In any case, it's interesting to hear Parcells' words to Zimmer, from a legendary coach to a new head coach, and what they reveal about the day-to-day nature at the top of the NFL.
He expects the Vikings' defense to be similar to what he did in Cincinnati, where the Bengals ran a 4-3 base scheme that emphasized pressure from the front four and used man coverage more liberally than the Vikings did under Leslie Frazier. In six seasons with Zimmer, the Bengals blitzed on 1,027 snaps, which was the 11th-fewest in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Frazier was either the Vikings' defensive coordinator or head coach that entire time, so we can draw a fairly reliable comparison between the two. The Vikings blitzed on 1,049 snaps from 2008-13, 13th-fewest in the league.
Zimmer did coach in a 3-4 scheme in Dallas, when Bill Parcells wanted to switch from the 4-3 defense the Cowboys had run during Zimmer's first years there, and Zimmer's adaptability is one of the things for which players praise him the most. George Edwards, the Miami Dolphins linebackers coach whom Zimmer has reportedly talked to about the Vikings' defensive coordinator job, has also coached in 3-4 schemes, so it's not impossible the Vikings would entertain the idea of a switch. But the safer bet would seem to be the team sticking with a 4-3 under Zimmer.
The coach also said he plans on being "very" involved in structuring the defense, partially because it's what he's always done, and said he could wind up calling defenses on game day. He acknowledged, though, that he'll have to adjust to being a head coach and not just a coordinator.
"I do think that's one of my expertise areas," Zimmer said of calling defenses during games. "That'll be a little bit of a transition, and I'll have to work through that. I think part of that, for me, will be the preseason games -- how I feel about the things we're doing defensively and how I feel about the game management, communicating with offense. I think all those things will be a little bit of a 'Let's wait-and-see.’”
When the Vikings fired Frazier, numerous players talked about what he'd meant to their lives, and running back Adrian Peterson -- who'd campaigned for the Vikings to keep Frazier -- was so upset he wouldn't talk to reporters about it until we caught up with him this week. Zimmer comes to Minnesota with an equally fierce adoration from the players he's coached, and retired linebacker Scott Fujita -- who was one of the game's most perceptive and thoughtful players -- penned this ode to Zimmer for Fox Sports.
"I honestly don’t even know what a players’ coach is and in the past few days, I’ve read reports that describe Zimmer as such," he writes. "Well if being a players’ coach means that the players have a long leash, and that the coach 'takes care of his guys' and is quick to throw them a bone, then I don’t know if I’d describe Zim that way. I think the more important questions about whether someone is a players’ coach should be this: Do his guys want to play for him? When he stands in front of the room, do they respect him and respond to him? Is he able to reach his players? From personal experience, I can answer yes to each of those questions as it relates to Mike Zimmer."
The funny thing is, I'd say Frazier got the same response out of his locker room. The success of coaches like Tony Dungy -- under whom Frazier worked in Indianapolis -- has done plenty to break down the stereotype of how a football coach has to behave, and from what I've heard players say about Zimmer, he doesn't necessarily fit into the typical hard-headed disciplinarian mode, either. He'll likely be louder, more blunt and more direct with criticism, but he also seems to exude a passion for the game that players love.
Can both approaches be effective? Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway, who played for Kirk Ferentz (a Bill Belichick disciple) in college, had Mike Tomlin as his first defensive coordinator and spent the last seven years with Frazier, says yes.
"I think all different styles can work," Greenway said. "You see guys from Tony Dungy to Belichick to (Bill) Parcells all win in different ways. It's more about who can get results. A change was made, and it'll be a different approach. I hope that breeds success. We'll get a new system with a little bit different style, and hopefully it leads to wins."
Both defensive end Brian Robison and fullback Jerome Felton had close friends who'd played for Zimmer and raved about him; Robison talked with Cowboys defensive tackle Jason Hatcher, who had Zimmer as his first defensive coordinator, and Felton spoke with Bengals safety Taylor Mays, who played for Zimmer the past three seasons. Both got the same report on Zimmer: Tough, profane, emotional and direct, both with criticism and praise.
Felton, who loved playing for Frazier, sounded particularly optimistic about that last trait.
"One of the most stressful parts about the NFL is wondering where you stand," Felton said. "If you can get an idea of where you stand, gives you a chance to know what you need to work on. You can just focus on football, rather than wondering, 'What’s going on? Why is this the situation happening?' When everybody asks what you want from a coach, I always talk about being an authentic person."
If there's going to be a major difference between Frazier and Zimmer -- both former Bengals defensive coordinators under Marvin Lewis -- it might be more in the scheme than anything else. The days of Frazier's Tampa-2 scheme are probably gone; Zimmer hasn't blitzed much more than Frazier in his career, according to ESPN Stats and Information, but he's been known to play more aggressive man coverage and use a number of different stunts to get his defensive linemen to the quarterback.
He coached in a 3-4 under Parcells, but has largely used a 4-3 scheme over the years, and Greenway expects the Vikings will stay with something similar to the 4-3 defense Zimmer called in Cincinnati.
"It's not that Coach Frazier and his ways can't win. It just wasn't working for us last year," Greenway said. "A new scheme, to a point, will be refreshing, and I hope, successful."
The Frazier-vs.-Zimmer comparison will be done ad nauseam in the coming weeks, but the NFL has a wider scope of coaching personalities today than it probably ever has. If Zimmer succeeds in Minnesota, it won't be because he's the opposite of what the Vikings had before. It will be because he can maximize what they have now.
"It's my first time going through a true coaching change, after Leslie taking over for Brad (Childress in the middle of 2010)," Greenway said. "It will be a lot of new things. That's not bad; it's just new and different."
But let’s put to rest something about the Cowboys running Zimmer off after the 2006 season. They didn't.
If you believe that, then you can never be upset with the notion that Jerry Jones picks the assistant coaches. Never.
After Bill Parcells retired, Jones interviewed 10 candidates. Three were on the staff: Tony Sparano, Todd Haley and Todd Bowles. Zimmer wasn’t one of the interviewees.
Jones finally picked Wade Phillips as coach because of Phillips’ success in running a 3-4 defense. The Cowboys had just finished their second year running the scheme. Their work in the draft and in free agency was about finding 3-4 players.
Were the Cowboys going to keep Zimmer as the coordinator in 2007 with Phillips running his own defense? Of course not. This was Phillips’ defense and Phillips’ team. And if they did, then we would have heard more complaints that Jones would not let Phillips hire either coordinator, Zimmer or Jason Garrett, who was actually hired before Phillips.
There is also some revisionist history regarding Sean Payton’s tenure here too; that Jones never should have let Payton walk to the New Orleans Saints. Was Jones supposed to get rid of Parcells after the 2005 season so he could keep Payton from taking the New Orleans Saints’ gig? Of course not.
Now if you want to say Jones should have done more to get Payton after the coach was suspended for a year by the NFL and had a little bit of time as a free agent in 2012, then I’m with you. But in 2006 there was no way of knowing Payton would become what he is today.
Let’s bring this back to Zimmer and 2006-07.
Zimmer’s expertise had been in the 4-3, but when Parcells wanted to make the switch to the 3-4 in 2005, Zimmer became an expert on it as well. It’s part of the reason why he coordinated such strong defenses with Cincinnati and partly why he got the job with the Vikings today.
It’s Five Wonders and we’re hitting big topics right off the top.
Away we go:
** I wonder if the Cowboys have a decision to make on DeMarcus Ware in the offseason. Ware is set to count $16.003 million against the salary cap in 2014. He has a base salary of $12.25 million. The Cowboys have reworked his contract numerous times over the years, even adding voidable years to it to help with the prorated amounts. They will need to restructure more contracts in the offseason to get under the projected $126.3 million salary cap in 2014. They will also have to cut some high-priced veterans. Perhaps even Ware, which seems shocking in a way. Ware has only six sacks with two games to go. He missed three games because of a quadriceps injury and has not been effective for much of the past month. He was so good in training camp. He made Tyron Smith look bad on an almost daily basis. Is it just health? Ware says he is healthy. Is it age? Ware turns 32 next July. The Cowboys have made mistakes with age before. Jay Ratliff comes immediately to mind. Ware is far from Ratliff. He is the right kind of guy. He works hard. He is a good teammate. He plays hurt. Ware has not only missed three games but he is playing only 67.2 percent of the snaps when he does play. It is one thing to commit $16 million to a guy on the cap when he is getting you anywhere from 12 to 18 sacks a season. It’s another thing to do it when he is struggling. If the Cowboys released Ware, their all-time leader in sacks, they would save $7.43 million against the cap. Jerry Jones has a hard time with these types of decisions. Could he ask Ware to take a cut in pay? Would Ware accept one?
** Let’s stick with the head coaching theme and the possibility of Garrett’s demise. Forget “who” Jerry Jones targets. I wonder “what” kind of coach he targets. Shanahan and Gruden have Super Bowl rings on their résumé, but Jones has said before he does not necessarily want a coach with a championship because he does not believe the coach has the same fire. (Yes, I realize Parcells is an exception.) I wonder if Jones goes for a defensive coach. The offensive personnel figures to be mostly the same in 2014: Tony Romo, Jason Witten, Dez Bryant, Smith, Travis Frederick, DeMarco Murray, Terrance Williams and Gavin Escobar. The defense needs the re-tooling. Does Jones go after a defensive coach? There’s a lot of work to do there obviously and not as many parts. Who is a building block? Sean Lee. The rest you hope can rebound from poor seasons. If Jones goes defense, I wonder if he would go with a first-time coach or a veteran head coach. Would Mike Zimmer be in the mix? Lovie Smith? None of this matters if the Cowboys win their final two games.
** I wonder if Murray’s performance over the past month or so is making those at Valley Ranch rethink their thoughts about his long-term future. Murray is 23 yards away from reaching 1,000 yards for the season. He probably should have hit that number against the Green Bay Packers if they just ran the ball more. He will get it this week against the Redskins barring something unforeseen and he will do it in just his 13th game of the season having missed two games with a knee injury. That’s pretty impressive. He has run harder as the season has gone on but has left yards on the field as well. The prevailing wisdom is that running backs can be found here, there and everywhere and you only commit long term to the Adrian Peterson types. Murray is not that kind of back but he has had his best season. He is signed through 2014.
** If the Cowboys lose Sunday and the Philadelphia Eagles win, I wonder how the Cowboys approach the season finale against the Eagles. The Cowboys will be out of the playoff chase. In 2005 the Cowboys were eliminated before their finale against the St. Louis Rams but Parcells chose to go with his starters and lost 20-10. Many inside the organization wanted to see him start Tony Romo in that finale, but the coach stuck with Drew Bledsoe. Not to go all Herm Edwards on you here, but you play to win the game. If you can take a look at a player, then fine. The problem the Cowboys have is they don’t have much in the pipeline you would want to see. Maybe Jermey Parnell gets a shot at right tackle, but Doug Free hasn’t done anything to be benched and should be back in 2014. Maybe Escobar takes the bulk of the backup tight end snaps over James Hanna. Would that change any perceptions of Escobar as he heads into his second season? Could Williams get the work over Miles Austin? Yeah, but that has happened for most of the season.
At 7-5 following the 31-24 win against the Oakland Raiders, the Cowboys are in first place in the NFC East with four games to play.
Their formula is simple: keep winning. Just like it was in 2008 when they entered December with an 8-4 record. Just like it was in 2009 when they entered December with an 8-3 record. Just like it was in 2011 when they entered December with a 7-4 record. Just like it was last year when they entered December with a 5-6 record and ripped off three consecutive wins.
In 2008, they lost three of their four December games to finish 9-7 and miss the playoffs. In 2011, they lost four of their last five to finish 8-8 and miss the playoffs. In 2012, they lost their final two games to finish 8-8 -- again -- and miss the playoffs.
The only successful run came in 2009 when the Cowboys closed the season with a three-game winning streak to finish 11-5 and win the NFC East.
"You have to be careful about taking a global point of view," coach Jason Garrett said.
Garrett does not do global views. He is the anti-Christopher Columbus. But Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones is not afraid of the global view. He wants to see if the earth is round.
Jones knows the Cowboys have two road games left against the Chicago Bears (Dec. 9) and Washington Redskins (Dec. 22) alternating with home games against the Green Bay Packers (Dec. 15) and Philadelphia Eagles (Dec. 29).
“I still think that it’s going to come down to beating the Eagles,” Jones said. “Then again, I’m not forgetting about Washington. We’ve got these two away, two at home, formidable teams. Two of them are neck and neck. One of them will probably get (Aaron) Rodgers back, so those will be big games for us. Chicago on the road. Washington on the road. Believe you me, they’re going to sit here with some resolve after a game like they had the other night. So we’ve got our hands full. This will be a good test for us. If we can come through this thing and somehow get them and have some success and maybe have a chance for the playoffs, we’ll have run a good gauntlet that gets us ready if we don’t get hurt in a key spot.”
The Cowboys have to prove they can finish. It has been a theme of Garrett’s for the past couple of seasons. On Thursday, they proved they can come back for a win just four days after an emotional, last-second win on Sunday against the New York Giants.
The Cowboys trailed 21-7 in the first half before Tony Romo directed a 73-yard drive that ended in a touchdown run by DeMarco Murray with 10 seconds left.
"We did start slow, but this team I think it's starting to get to the point where there is no panic anymore," cornerback Brandon Carr said. "A slow start doesn't necessarily mean that's the way the game should go."
An ill Romo was flawless in the second half Thursday, completing all 12 of his passes. The Cowboys put together drives of 10, nine and 14 plays in the second half in scoring 17 points. And now Romo gets another chance to change the belief so many have of him.
As good as Romo has been in November -- he’s now 24-5 -- is as poor as December has been for him. He is 11-15 in December.
"We just need to win some games," Romo said. "I think more than anything else you've just go to keep stacking wins together and see where you're at at the end. Our football team continues to try to improve each week that goes by and I think we’re playing some of our better football right now."
Payton was there at Romo's first minicamp practice and has seen Romo become one of the NFL's best quarterbacks.
"He's having, I think, the best year of his career this season right now," Payton said. "Just having the chance to watch three games myself on that side of the ball, he's been very good in regards to his decision-making. He knows pre-snap where he wants to go. He's got a quick way of getting through his progressions and the ball comes out extremely fast."
Romo is third in the NFL in touchdown passes with 20, fifth in yards (2,553) and fifth in passer rating (100.0). He has been intercepted only six times in 352 attempts.
"I think he located the ball very well," Payton said. "The word isn't improvise, but his ability to move and extend plays and avoid pressure and avoid sacks has served him very well. I think from a decision-making standpoint each year, you're seeing someone very comfortable in the system. I think Jason [Garrett] and those guys there have done a very good job of giving him throws that he's very comfortable with."
Payton and Romo will go against each other for the third time Sunday. Payton won in 2006 at Texas Stadium. Romo won in 2009 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Romo did not play in the 2010 meeting because of a broken collarbone, and Payton did not coach in last year's meeting because of an NFL suspension.
Anytime the Saints and Cowboys meet, the story of a possible trade involving Romo in 2006 always comes up. Payton dismissed the talk Wednesday.
"We had the second pick in the draft," Payton said. "We were looking closely at the quarterbacks in that draft, and then after the combine is when Drew [Brees] became available from San Diego, so no, in fairness to the question, I don't think there was anything that ever really got started. And it really wasn't even discussed. I think [Bill Parcells'] words were pretty good. I think he said, 'Go sit on the couch and have a warm glass of milk.'"
The Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager remembers standing in a small coaches' locker room at Texas Stadium with Bill Parcells and Romo before a preseason game in 2006 against the Minnesota Vikings. The Cowboys wanted Romo to sign an extension, but Romo wanted the team to make a financial commitment to him that would force them to play him at some point if Drew Bledsoe faltered.
"It had a little shakedown feel to it," Romo joked.
Romo told them he would sign if incentives in the offer were turned into base salary. Jones said yes. Parcells smiled.
"We got us a quarterback," Jones recalled Parcells saying after Romo walked out of the room.
Romo would not make his first start with the Cowboys until the seventh game of that season. He will make the 100th regular-season start of his career Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. And Jones still believes the Cowboys "got us a quarterback."
Last March, Jones affirmed his commitment to Romo with a six-year extension worth $108 million and $55 million guaranteed. He also saw the quarterback think fast on his feet again, calling for more involvement in the game-planning process with the coaches before signing the deal
"He sees the whole picture," Jones said, "and I'm not just talking about an open receiver."
Only Hall of Famers Roger Staubach (114) and Troy Aikman (165) have started more games for the Cowboys at quarterback than Romo.
Staubach was a Heisman Trophy winner. Aikman was a No. 1 overall pick. Romo was undrafted.
Yet Jones knew there was something about the quarterback almost immediately when he heard complaints from the Cowboys' defense in practices.
"They'd all holler, 'He's not playing it the right way. We're not going to see that in the game,'" Jones said. "You saw his point guard mentality and his ability to make it up. There's no question that his natural awareness and his ability to see things, you can't teach that. None of this is coachable. None of what he does is coachable. It can be supervised differently than your traditional coaching."
His first start came Oct. 29, 2006, at Carolina. Romo got a bad haircut the week of the game and told NBC before the game his girlfriend broke up with him the previous week. His eighth pass of the game was intercepted, but he finished completing 24 of 36 throws for 270 yards with a touchdown in the Cowboys' 35-14 win against the Panthers.
"Anybody at any level in the organization really knew we would get some juice from Romo offensively," Jones said.
The Cowboys won four of Romo's first five starts, a season was saved and a quarterback was found.
As he enters start No. 100, he is the franchise leader in touchdown passes (191) and second to Aikman in attempts, yards and completions. He owns the Cowboys' season marks for attempts (648), completions (425), yards (4,903) and touchdowns (36).
"Start 1 you don't really know," Romo said. "You're excited about the opportunity to go out and prove to yourself if you can actually do this. Start 100, it's all about getting your team to where you want to go and leading a group of men and trying to take them there, and that would be one difference. It's a little more individual related starting off to prove to yourself that you can play, and start 100 it's about bringing the team there and winning and accomplishing team goals and that's really what it's all about, accomplishment."
As Jones went through the process of extending Romo's contract, he studied how quarterbacks fared after their 100th start, knowing Romo would get there this season. He does not view Romo as the traditional 33-year-old quarterback because Romo did not play in his first three seasons. Aikman was 34 when he retired from the Cowboys. Staubach was 37.
"I see a player who's evolved and grown," Jones said. "You have a lot better chance to win now than at when he started his career. We feel there's plenty of quality games remaining not only with his ability but with his experience that will put us in a position to win it all. If you really look at it, there are only a handful of those guys in the NFL."
It's something Jones and Parcells found out about Romo inside Texas Stadium in 2006.