NFL Nation: Jimmy Johnson

Status has its privileges

April, 8, 2014
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IRVING, Texas – Back in the day American Express made famous the slogan, “Membership has its privileges.”

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.

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.
Jim HarbaughChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesJim Harbaugh has reached the NFC title game in each of his three seasons, so why would the 49ers look elsewhere?

Coach Jim Harbaugh's situation in San Francisco has been one of the most talked-about stories in the league in recent weeks.

If a resolution on his contract isn't reached, it will likely hover over the franchise all season and would be a major story next January, when Harbaugh could leave the team, although Harbaugh told Sports Illustrated this week he is happy with all aspects of his job and doesn’t see any way he will leave the team before the end of his contract. Still, getting the contract done would ease a lot of issues.

We all know the backdrop: Harbaugh has led the 49ers to the NFC title game in all three of his seasons as coach. He got them to the Super Bowl after the 2012 season. He is entering the fourth year of a five-year contract that pays him $5 million per year. Harbaugh and the 49ers have been in discussion about a new deal for about a year, but are not close to an extension. Team owner Jed York recently told the Sacramento Bee he thinks contract talks will resume after the NFL draft in early May.

Things got interesting when the Cleveland Browns pursued a trade for Harbaugh. The 49ers were not interested, but that could change next year.

There have been rampant reports that Harbaugh has had trouble with some in the 49ers' front office, including general manager Trent Baalke. York, Harbaugh and Baalke have long downplayed the friction, indicating that they can coexist.

However, there is enough smoke here to think this situation go could south if a contract isn't agreed upon this year. Let's look at some issues that may be part of this story as it further develops:

The history: While it would be stunning to see the 49ers-Harbaugh marriage disintegrate after such a stellar start, similar breakups have happened before.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones
AP Photo/Ron HeflinJim Harbaugh would not be the first successful coach to leave during a team's prime. Jimmy Johnson left the Cowboys after winning two Super Bowls because of fighting with owner Jerry Jones.
After winning two straight Super Bowls, Jimmy Johnson famously left the Cowboys in 1994 after fighting with owner Jerry Jones. Following the 1998 season, Mike Holmgren shocked the NFL when he left quarterback Brett Favre and a Green Bay Packers team in its prime after a seven-year run that included a Super Bowl win. Holmgren left for more power and much more money in Seattle. In 2002, the Raiders traded coach Jon Gruden to Tampa Bay for a massive amount of draft picks. The Raiders were burned as Gruden led the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl win against Oakland in his first season. In 2007, the Chargers sided with general manager A.J. Smith in his feud with coach Marty Schottenheimer even though the Chargers went 14-2 the season before.

If Harbaugh leaves the 49ers, it wouldn't be the first time a coach and team split despite success.

The highest-paid coaches: Harbaugh told Sports Illustrated he is not unhappy with his pay, but the man is underpaid considering his massive NFL success. Nine of the 32 NFL coaches in 2013 made at least $7 million. Only five of them had won a Super Bowl.

I'd think it has to bother Harbaugh that Chip Kelly earned $6.5 million in his first NFL season and NFC West rival Jeff Fisher made $7 million in St. Louis. Coaches' salaries are at a premium and, by NFL standards, Harbaugh is underpaid.

The best coaches without power: He is hypercompetitive and likes to be in control. So, Harbaugh probably isn't always thrilled to defer personnel decisions to Baalke. But I don't sense Harbaugh wanting to be the general manager and making every decision as he said. He is a coach.

I don't see this as a deal-breaker.

There are plenty of great NFL coaches who don't have total power, including Harbaugh's brother, John, in Baltimore. There's also Mike McCarthy in Green Bay, Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh and Pete Carroll in Seattle. So, a lack of total power in the NFL really isn't a big deal anymore for coaches.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
AP Photo/Matt YorkWould Stanford coach David Shaw be a candidate to follow Jim Harbaugh again?
Where could Harbaugh land? Harbaugh's situation could cause teams to adjust their plans late in the season. I could see many owners prematurely firing a coach to get a shot at Harbaugh if he goes into January unsigned.

But right now, the list of teams that may be making a change next year and may make sense for Harbaugh isn't very long.

Miami and Dallas would be among the biggest suitors. Miami tried to hire Harbaugh before he went to San Francisco. The team has deep pockets, a need for good public relations, and the Dolphins have a good young quarterback in Ryan Tannehill. Dallas has big bucks and Tony Romo. Harbaugh could like both places.

Other possibilities could include both New York teams and Atlanta (coaching Matt Ryan would surely be intriguing). A potential long shot could be Oakland. Harbaugh was an assistant in Oakland and he could stay in the Bay Area. But the Raiders have to find a quarterback and ownership would have to be willing to shell out financially to make it work. Plus, the 49ers would need to get a haul from the Raiders to trade him to their Bay Area rival.

If I had to give odds on the early favorite, I'd look toward Miami.

Who could replace Harbaugh? It's only logical to think that San Francisco ownership, in the back of its mind, is thinking post-Harbaugh just in case.

The chance of getting draft picks for a coach the 49ers can't come to an agreement with could interest the team next offseason. Also, the idea of front-office peace could be at the forefront as well, especially if things go haywire the rest of this year.

The first place the 49ers would likely look to replace Harbaugh is on the current staff. Because the team has been so successful, I could see the 49ers having interest in staying close to home. Offensive and defensive coordinators Greg Roman and Vic Fangio, respectively, would likely be on the 49ers' list. Defensive line coach Jim Tomsula is a favorite of the front office. He was a candidate when Harbaugh was hired and his players love him.

Here's another name the 49ers could look at -- David Shaw. He replaced Harbaugh at Stanford. I'm sure he wouldn't be afraid to do it again.

Shaw has been steadfast in his desire to stay at Stanford. But if he were ever to leave for the NFL, this would likely be an appealing situation. He and his family could stay in their house and he'd go to a near perfect NFL situation with a franchise quarterback in Colin Kaepernick.

There is plenty to unfold in this situation in the next several months. Harbaugh and the 49ers could end it all by coming to a contract extension. But as we have realized early this offseason, it's not that simple.

Jerry Jones' top five moments

February, 27, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Tuesday marked the 25th anniversary of Jerry Jones’ purchase of the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Stadium for $140 million.

The highs have been high, but the lows have been low, especially since the Cowboys last won a Super Bowl in the 1995 season.

Here we will look at Jones’ top five moments as the Cowboys' owner and general manager while realizing that a large segment of the fandom will not give him any credit for what happened in the early years when Jimmy Johnson was around.

1. How do you like those Super Bowls?

[+] EnlargeJerry Jones
AP Photo/Charles KrupaOwner Jerry Jones and coach Jimmy Johnson celebrate their 30-13 win over Buffalo in Super Bowl XXVIII on Jan. 30, 1994, in Atlanta.
The Cowboys won three titles in Jones’ first seven years as owner. They became the first team to win three Super Bowls in a four-year span, becoming the team of the 1990s with the Triplets -- Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith -- becoming household names. The Cowboys beat the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowls XXVII and XXVIII by a combined score of 82-30. They claimed Super Bowl XXX with Barry Switzer as coach by beating the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-17, exacting some revenge for the ‘70s Cowboys who could not beat Terry Bradshaw & Co.

2. Hiring Jimmy Johnson

Jones expressed regret Sunday about the rushed nature of firing legendary coach Tom Landry, but there is no doubt he made the right decision in bringing his former college teammate Johnson with him to the Cowboys. Johnson was the best coach in college football at the time at the University of Miami and brought a brashness that took the NFL by storm. The Cowboys suffered greatly in 1989 by going 1-15, but by Johnson’s second year they were competing for a playoff spot in the final week of the season and winning a playoff game by the third year. By Year No. 4, Johnson had his first of two straight Super Bowl wins. It ended badly between Jones and Johnson, wrecking what could have been a history-making era because of the egos of the owner and the coach.

3. The trade of all trades

This is where the Jimmy and Jerry camps will always be divided. If you were a Jimmy guy, he engineered the trade of Herschel Walker to the Minnesota Vikings. If you were a Jerry guy, he had the final say. Regardless of who you want to credit, the moment is in Jones’ era as owner and is among his biggest moments. The Walker trade brought about the formation of the Super Bowl teams. The Cowboys received five players and eight picks, turning those picks into Smith, Alvin Harper, Dixon Edwards and Darren Woodson. It might be the best trade in NFL history.

4. A new home

At $2.1 billion, there is no stadium like AT&T Stadium. This will be the monument Jones leaves whenever he is no longer the owner and general manager of the team. To get the stadium built, Jones acquiesced to a degree by bringing in Bill Parcells as coach in 2003 after three straight 5-11 finishes. With Parcells and the coach’s two Super Bowl wins, Jones could show people he was serious about winning and changing his ways. The stadium is unmatched in the NFL, if not the world, with its nightclub-type feel, center-hung digital board, retractable roof and sliding doors. The Cowboys might not have the same home-field advantage they had at Texas Stadium, but the stadium has delivered a Super Bowl, an NBA All-Star Game, numerous concerts and the upcoming Final Four.

5. Trading for Charles Haley

Again, this will divide the Jimmy and Jerry camps, but Haley was the piece to the puzzle who got the Cowboys over the top. It weakened the Cowboys’ biggest rival at the time, the San Francisco 49ers, and brought the Dallas defense an attitude it lacked. The signing of Deion Sanders in 1995 also weakened the Niners, but Haley brought two titles -- if not the third, as well. The drafting of Smith, No. 17 overall, was another top moment with him becoming the NFL’s all-time leading rusher. But Haley’s arrival brought to Dallas what the fans want most: Super Bowls.

Cowboys leaned on backup QBs before

December, 26, 2013
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IRVING, Texas – With the season on the line, the Dallas Cowboys most likely will have to rely on backup QB Kyle Orton to deliver a victory Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles because starter Tony Romo is battling an injured back.

It won't be the first time the Cowboys have needed a backup up to deliver in the Jerry Jones era.

[+] EnlargeKyle Orton
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsThe Cowboys may look to backup Kyle Orton to keep their postseason hopes alive.
In 1990, the Cowboys faced a win-and-in scenario without Troy Aikman because of a knee injury and turned to Babe Laufenberg against the Atlanta Falcons.

The Cowboys lost 26-7. Laufenberg completed 10 of 24 passes for 129 yards with two interceptions, including one that was returned by Deion Sanders 61 yards for a touchdown. Laufenberg was also sacked three times in his first start of the season.

"It still bothers you," said Laufenberg, who is the sports director at KTVT in Dallas and in his 21st year as the color analyst for the Cowboys radio network. "This time of season, it's like the death of your mother when the anniversary comes up. Seriously. It still bothers you. Now that was my last game, too, as it turned out."

If Romo is unable to play, Orton will make his first start for Dallas and the 70th of his career. Orton is 35-34 as a starter but has not started a game since the 2011 season finale with the Kansas City Chiefs. He is in his second season with the Cowboys.

While Laufenberg's memories are not positive, the Cowboys have had backups deliver for them in big moments before.

In 1991, the season after Laufenberg's start, Steve Beuerlein replaced an injured Aikman and won his four regular-season starts as the Cowboys finished 11-5 and made the playoffs for the first time since 1985. He also helped the Cowboys win their first road playoff game since 1980 when they beat the Chicago Bears in the wild-card round.

In the regular-season game in which Aikman hurt his knee, Beuerlein connected on a touchdown pass to Michael Irvin in the fourth quarter, and Dallas beat the then-undefeated Washington Redskins 24-21. He finished the regular season with five touchdown passes and two interceptions.

What changed for the Cowboys in Aikman's absence was the increased workload of RB Emmitt Smith. He carried the ball at least 25 times in each of Beuerlein's starts and had at least 109 rushing yards in three of the games. The defense also played its best, allowing more than 14 points just once in Beuerlein's four starts.

In 1993, the Cleveland Browns cut QB Bernie Kosar for "diminishing skills." The Cowboys, led by coach Jimmy Johnson, signed Kosar two days later – and four days later he delivered a 20-15 Dallas win against the Phoenix Cardinals. With Aikman out (hamstring) and the offense sluggish under backup Jason Garrett, Johnson turned to Kosar. Kosar completed 13 of 21 passes for 199 yards and a touchdown.

A week later, he made his only Cowboys start, a 27-14 loss to the Falcons. He completed 22 of 39 passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns.

The Cowboys would lose only one more game that season – the famous ice game on Thanksgiving against the Miami Dolphins – before winning Super Bowl XXVIII.

Garrett had his moment in the sun in the Thanksgiving game in 1994. With Aikman and Rodney Peete out, Garrett outdueled Brett Favre, throwing for 311 yards and two touchdowns as the Cowboys put up 36 second-half points to beat the Green Bay Packers 42-31.

While that game is often remembered, Garrett also had a 6-3 record as a starter with the Cowboys.

"Shoot, you live for that," Laufenberg said. "I just hate [hearing], ‘Ah, backup quarterback is the best job in the world.' Ask them. Ask Jason. All you want to do is play."
video
Bill Walsh checks in at No. 2 on ESPN's list of Greatest Coaches in NFL History, leaving the as-yet-unnamed Vince Lombardi as the obvious No. 1.

Walsh, of course, led the San Francisco 49ers to three of their five Super Bowl victories. He revived the franchise with a blueprint that became standard operating procedure across the league. He blazed trails in minority hiring and produced a coaching tree with branches still growing in the game today.

I highly recommend checking out Seth Wickersham's piece on Walsh from January. Wickersham focused on the coaching guide Walsh wrote.

"[Bill] Belichick once referred to it as football 'literature,' but it's more like a textbook -- 550 pages, 1.8 inches thick, 3.2 pounds, loaded with charts, graphs and bullet points," Wickersham explained. "For example, Walsh includes 57 keys to negotiating contracts ('The negotiator's need for food and sleep can affect his/her ability to function effectively'), 13 pages of sample practices and 108 in-game scenarios."

The video above features Walsh's own thoughts on characteristics great coaches possess. Unpredictability on and off the field is one of them.

The chart below shows won-lost-tied records and number of championships won for the top 20 coaches on ESPN's list, courtesy of Pro Football Reference. The winning percentages listed reflect victories plus one-half ties, divided by total games. For Walsh, that works out to 92.5 victories divided by 152 games, or .609.

Any ranking for the 20 greatest coaches in NFL history would leave off at least two of the 22 enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The ballot I submitted for our "Greatest Coaches" project left off eight of them: Guy Chamberlin, Jimmy Conzelman, Weeb Ewbank, Ray Flaherty, Sid Gillman, Bud Grant, Greasy Neale and Hank Stram.



That seems outrageous. However, there were only 20 spots available, and many coaches appeared interchangeable to me outside the top 10 or 12. Current or recently retired head coaches such as Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin, Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan, Tony Dungy, Bill Cowher and Marty Schottenheimer deserved consideration, in my view, but including them meant leaving out others. I also thought Chuck Knox should be in the discussion even though he's long retired and not a Hall of Famer.

Putting together a ballot was difficult. There's really no way to fully analyze the jobs head coaches have done. We must consider won-lost records over time, of course, but little separates some of the coaches further down the list. I figured most panelists would go with Lombardi in the No. 1 spot, but I'm not sure whether that was the case.

Herm Edwards revealed his ballot Insider previously. We agreed on George Halas at No. 1. He put Lombardi second. I went with Paul Brown and Curly Lambeau after Halas, followed by Lombardi, Tom Landry, Bill Walsh, Don Shula, Joe Gibbs, Belichick and Chuck Noll to round out the top 10. The choices got tougher from there.

Edwards had Bud Grant, Dick Vermeil and Marty Schottenheimer in his top 20. He did not have Steve Owen, Holmgren or Cowher. I easily could have justified swapping out some of the coaches toward the bottom of my ballot for others not listed. Edwards and I both had Coughlin at No. 15. Our rankings for Lombardi, Landry, Walsh, Shula, Gibbs, Belichick, Madden and George Allen were within three spots one way or the other. I had Brown and Lambeau quite a bit higher than Edwards had them.

I tried to balance factors such as winning percentage, longevity, championships, team-building and impact on the game. The coaches I listed near the top of my ballot were strong in all those areas. There was room lower on my ballot for coaches whose achievements in some areas offset deficiencies in others.

Halas was a straightforward choice at No. 1 for me. He coached the Chicago Bears for 40 seasons, won six championships and had only six losing seasons. The Hall of Fame credits him as the first coach to use game films for preparation.

"Along with Ralph Jones, his coach from 1930 through 1932, and consultant Clark Shaughnessy, Halas perfected the T-formation attack with the man in motion," Halas' Hall of Fame bio reads. "It was this destructive force that propelled the Bears to their stunning 73-0 NFL title win over Washington in the 1940 NFL Championship Game and sent every other league team scurrying to copy the Halas system."

Brown was my choice at No. 2 because he won seven titles, four of them before the Cleveland Browns joined the NFL in 1950, and he revolutionized strategy while planting a massive coaching tree. Lambeau edged Lombardi in the No. 3 spot on my ballot. He founded the franchise and won with a prolific passing game before it was popular. His teams won six titles during his 31 seasons as coach.

ESPN has revealed the coaches ranking 13th through 20th based on ballots submitted by Chris Berman, Jeffri Chadiha, John Clayton, Colin Cowherd, Mike Ditka, Gregg Easterbrook, Edwards, David Fleming, Ashley Fox, Greg Garber, Mike Golic, Suzy Kolber, Eric Mangini, Chris Mortensen, Sal Paolantonio, Bill Polian, Rick Reilly, Adam Schefter, Ed Werder, Seth Wickersham, Trey Wingo and me.

The eight coaches, beginning at No. 13: Jimmy Johnson, Coughlin, Grant, Stram, Levy, Gillman, Shanahan and Dungy.

Gillman was an interesting one. He spent 10 of his 18 seasons in the AFL and had a 1-5 record in postseason, but there is no denying his impact on the passing game. Like other coaches rounding out the top 20, his case for inclusion was strong, but open for debate.
How 'bout them all-time great NFL coaches? Our series looks today at the man who came in at No. 13 in our poll, former Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson.

Johnson came from the college ranks, and he brought a college coach's fire and intensity to the NFL. Tabbed by his college buddy Jerry Jones to succeed legendary Cowboys coach Tom Landry, Johnson presided over a run of Super Bowl success that burnished the Cowboys' legacy as one of the sport's signature franchises and set a standard to which the team has struggled for nearly two decades now to live up. Former Cowboy Nate Newton offered this as part of his analysis of Johnson's coaching style:
[+] EnlargeJohnson
AP Photo/Charles KrupaJimmy Johnson coached the Cowboys to back-to-back Super Bowl titles in 1992 and '93.
"Jimmy was a master manipulator. He didn't have to cuss you out or dog you to get you to do what he wanted you to do. He took what you feared most and used it to motivate you.

"Stuff like Michael Irvin's fear of not being able to feed his family. Or Troy Aikman's fear of not being the best quarterback in the league. or Emmitt Smith's fear of not being on the field.

"He used my fear of letting the coach down. You could say anything and it wouldn't faze me, but you cornered me off and got me in a one-on-one situation and made me commit I would do whatever I said I was going to do because you showed faith and trust in me. Jimmy knew that. And he used it."

It's got to be exhausting to coach the way Johnson coached -- devoted to finding the right way to motivate each individual player on a daily basis. He did it to tremendous effect in Dallas, less so with the Dolphins. And while his résumé was strong enough that he likely could have stayed in coaching, he retired at the age of 56 to a comfortable life of TV broadcasting and fishing in the Florida Keys. His legacy as an all-time NFL coaching great rests on the Super Bowl titles he won in Dallas, coaching legends like Aikman, Smith and Irvin. The fact that he had to fight his way out of Landry's shadow to succeed and that the Cowboys really haven't been the same since he left only strengthen his case for the spot he occupies on this list.
Former head coach Jimmy Johnson is best known in the NFL for winning back-to-back Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys. Johnson took a 1-15 team in 1989 and turned it into a multiple Super Bowl winner by the time he left the Cowboys in 1993.

Johnson
Johnson
But Johnson also has very strong ties in Miami, where he had success both at the collegiate and NFL level. The total body of work earned Johnson the No. 13 spot on ESPN.com’s list of all-time great coaches.

Johnson’s rise to fame among the coaching ranks began during his five very successful years as head coach of the Miami Hurricanes from 1984-88. Johnson's fiery coaching style led the Hurricanes to a national championship in 1987 and a stellar 52-9 overall record at Miami.

After leaving Dallas in 1993, Johnson came out of retirement three years later to lead the Dolphins. Johnson’s goal was to get Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino a Super Bowl ring, but that never materialized.

Johnson had a 36-28 record in Miami and led the Dolphins to the playoffs in three of his four seasons. But Johnson was 2-3 in the postseason with the Dolphins and wasn't able to get over the hump. Johnson retired for the last time after 1999 season, which also happened to be the same time Marino retired. Both had a huge influence on the Miami football landscape in the 1980s and 1990s.

Cowboys-Redskins: Get excited

December, 28, 2012
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An open letter to the fans of the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins:

Get excited.

You may not need my permission, or my urging. You may already be there -- as excited as you've been about a professional football game in a very long time. And if that's the case, good. You should be. Sunday night's game at FedEx Field for the NFC East title has everything any of you could possibly want. And while some of you will end your night deeply disappointed in the result while others celebrate a playoff appearance you couldn't possibly have imagined two months ago, these next 53 hours are your time to feel like kids on Christmas Eve. Get excited.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III and Tony Romo
Rodger Mallison/Getty ImagesRobert Griffin III and Tony Romo lead their respective teams in the most important game in the Redskins-Cowboys rivalry in years.
Regardless of which team you root for, think about how far you've come to get to this point. It started on the day before free agency, when the NFL took a huge chunk of salary-cap money away from each of these two teams and redistributed it among the others for what to this day continues to look like no good reason. The owner who most vocally championed and reveled in that punishment for your teams' spending during a season that featured no official spending rules was John Mara, the owner of the division-rival and Super Bowl champion New York Giants. His team can't win the NFC East. Yours can. His team needs a minor miracle Sunday just to get into the playoffs. Your team has control of its own destiny. If you want to cackle in glee about that particular irony, that's your right. Get satisfaction.

If the Cowboys are your team, you were 3-5 on Election Day, losers of two straight heartbreakers to the Giants and Falcons and wondering when anything was ever going to change. Defensive starters were dropping like flies, DeMarco Murray was out with a foot injury that refused to heal and Tony Romo was throwing interceptions around as though they were "I Voted" stickers. You were two and a half games out of first place behind the team that took the division from you last December, and you wanted everybody gone. If you want to look back over the last seven games and wonder what made Romo stop throwing picks or marvel at the way Jason Garrett has managed the second half or tell everyone it's about time Dez Bryant turned into one of the best receivers in the league, go ahead. Get amazed.

If you are a Redskins fan, you were 3-6 heading into the bye week. Your coach, Mike Shanahan, was defending comments he made after a miserable loss to Carolina about using the rest of this season for evaluations. You were pleased, obviously, with the brilliance of rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, and of the belief that the future looked bright. But you were still staring at a second half of the season that was going to feel too sadly familiar -- watching from the sidelines while the teams you hate fought it out for the division title. If you want to slap your friends on the back and shout, "Did you ever think we'd win six in a row after the bye and be in first place in Week 17?", be my guest. Get proud.

Whichever of these teams is your favorite, you have to be happy about the fact that this rivalry means something again. Cowboys-Redskins is one of the most historically intense rivalries the NFL has. Popular wisdom holds that the reason the Cowboys were kept in the NFC East when the divisions realigned, in spite of good geographic reasons to move them elsewhere, was to preserve the Cowboys-Redskins rivalry by allowing them to continue playing each other twice a year. So if this week gives you reason to think about Tom Landry and Joe Gibbs and Jimmy Johnson and John Riggins and Michael Irvin and Darrell Green and Troy Aikman and Joe Theismann... good. It's time to hate again -- time to remember why that star bugs you so much, time to get outwardly indignant about a politically incorrect team nickname that wouldn't bother you otherwise. Get trash-talking.

Get jacked. Get geeked. Get fired up. This is a big, big game, folks -- the kind of game that justifies every kind of the silly, overblown enthusiasm sports fans can muster. If you're a Redskins fan or a Cowboys fan, Sunday is your night. And the days leading up to it are for getting excited.

Bucs' coaching puzzle coming together

February, 9, 2012
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Although there’s been speculation from the day Greg Schiano became the head coach in Tampa Bay that Butch Davis would be joining his staff, that still hasn’t happened.

Davis
But it now appears imminent. Alex Marvez reports that Davis has been hired as a senior defensive assistant. Local reports say the deal hasn’t been completed, but appears likely.

If a deal with Davis is finalized, it likely would silence some of the criticism Schiano has taken because most of his reported hires so far have been his former Rutgers assistants — of whom few have any NFL experience.

But Davis has been a head coach in the NFL and on the college level. He also was defensive coordinator for Dallas during the Jimmy Johnson days. Davis was also the University of Miami head coach when Schiano was Hurricanes defensive coordinator and the two have remained close.

Although initial speculation was that Davis would be the defensive coordinator, it appears that won’t be the case. His role might be more as a liason between Schiano and a new defensive coordinator. The Bucs made a similar move when they hired Jimmy Raye II as a senior offensive assistant.

Neither coordinator is in place and one or both could come from the college ranks. But the presence of Davis and Raye, who has a long history as an NFL assistant, would bring a lot of NFL experience and respect to the staff of Schiano, who never has been an NFL head coach.

So what if Schiano’s bringing in a lot of Rutgers assistants? They’re guys he knows and with whom he has enjoyed success. Throw in the NFL experience of Davis and Raye and this could turn out to be a pretty good staff.

It almost certainly would be better than the staff of former coach Raheem Morris. After firing offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski and defensive coordinator Jim Bates early in his tenure, Morris’ staff was viewed as largely inexperienced and ineffective in league circles.

When Bates was fired, Morris, who had not officially been a defensive coordinator on the NFL level (he was selected to replace Monte Kiffin, but was elevated to head coach before he ever called a play as coordinator), took over as the defensive coordinator. When Jagodzinski was fired, quarterbacks coach Greg Olson was quickly promoted and the trickle-down effect took a toll on the rest of the offensive staff.

If Schiano, who has history as a college defensive coordinator, surrounds himself with Davis and Raye and coordinators, the Bucs suddenly will be a lot stronger at the top of their coaching staff.

INDIANAPOLIS -- It was the first year in which former New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots and New York Jets coach Bill Parcells was eligible for election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, so the fact that he did not make it is not devastating. There's reason to believe he will get in eventually, but on Saturday night he was not among the final final candidates. Neither was former Cowboys great Charles Haley. My personal opinion is that they should both be in, but Parcells is the more surprising omission, so let's take a look at it.

Bill Parcells
AP Photo/Daniel HulshizerBill Parcells coached the New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots and New York Jets with great success.
The 44 voters are not allowed to discuss any part of the discussion they had during a seven-hour, 37-minute selection meeting here Saturday, so we are left to speculate. Here are three possible reasons you might hear for why Parcells didn't get in, and my opinion on the validity of each:

1. He might come back. Parcells has retired four times and returned to football three times, most recently in 2007 as the Miami Dolphins' director of football operations. There's a sense that voters like to make sure a guy's career is really over before electing him, which is the main reason for the five-year waiting period. But while I don't have any insight into the discussion that went on Saturday, I do know many of the football writers in the room, and I don't think there's a sense among the current football media community that the 70-year-old Parcells, who now works as an ESPN studio analyst, might return to the sidelines or a front office. I do not believe this is one of the reasons he did not get elected.

2. Two Super Bowl wins isn't enough. It's impressive that Parcells won two Super Bowl titles with the Giants, but he's hardly the only coach to turn the trick. George Seifert, Jimmy Johnson and Tom Flores each won two Super Bowls, and none of them is in. Winning it twice doesn't make you automatic. Now, the primary argument for Parcells is that he built all four of the teams he coached into playoff teams and took the Giants and the Patriots to the Super Bowl. Being able to go multiple places and build winners is impressive, and it's likely what gets him in eventually. But playoff and Super Bowl success are, I believe, major factors in this particular committee's decision-making, and two isn't three. My guess is that the names of Flores, Johnson and Seifert were brought up by people who voted against Parcells on Saturday.

3. Team-jumper? I have heard people point out that the way in which Parcells left the Patriots to jump to the Jets in 1997 remains a possible argument against him, since it could allow those who oppose his candidacy to paint him as a coach who was more interested in his own career, legacy and bank account than the success of the teams and players for which he was responsible. I think this is absurd, and that Parcells' record of success should trump any such concerns, but opinions do differ, and the way Parcells went about his business did occasionally ruffle a feather or two.

Again, I think it seems clear that he eventually gets in. But he didn't make it on the first ballot, and those are my best guesses as to why not. Parcells will be in Canton this summer for the induction ceremony, however. Curtis Martin, the former Jets and Patriots running back who credits Parcells for much of his own success, was elected Saturday and said on a conference call Saturday night that Parcells will present him at the induction.

Free Head Exam: Detroit Lions

November, 25, 2011
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After the Detroit Lions' 27-15 loss to the Green Bay Packers, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Head Exam
    Kevin SeifertAfter falling to 7-4 following a loss to the Packers, the Lions take their turn in the examination room.
    Lost in the discussion over Ndamukong Suh's third-quarter ejection was how critical the accompanying penalty and his subsequent absence was. You almost forget that the Lions had stopped the Packers on third-and-3 at their 3-yard line. The Packers probably would have set up to kick a short field goal in hopes of taking a 10-0 lead. Instead, they got another set of downs and ultimately scored a touchdown on John Kuhn's 1-yard run. The penalty cost the Lions four points, and it also opened the floodgates for the Packers' offense. In the end, they scored 20 points with Suh off the field. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed 10 of 15 passes when Suh was in the game. Afterward, he hit on seven of nine and averaged 16.9 yards per attempt. According to ESPN Stats & Information, all seven of those completions came against the Lions' four-man pass rush, one obviously watered down without Suh.
  2. As fallout from the Suh incident continues, it's probably only a matter of time that people start connecting Suh's style with the personality and approach of fiery coach Jim Schwartz. That's essentially what Yahoo! Sports' Jason Cole wrote in the aftermath of Thursday's events. Cole made clear that Schwartz wouldn't encourage a player to do what Suh did Thursday. But, Cole wrote, "It's no surprise that Jim Schwartz's Detroit Lions are out of control" and added: "It's also not much of a surprise that the same coach who earlier this season stormed after San Francisco counterpart Jim Harbaugh is now watching his team's best player face a suspension for losing his cool." Schwartz's role in the incident with Harbaugh doesn't excuse Suh for his actions. But I agree with Cole in this sense: The coach sets a tone for his program. If the coach occasionally flies out of control, that's the example for decorum he has set for his players -- consciously or otherwise. The bottom line, according to ESPN Stats & Information, is that the Lions have had more personal fouls called against them since the start of Schwartz's tenure in 2009 than any other NFL team. Patterns always emerge over time.
  3. It's amazing how central running back Kevin Smith became to the Lions offense in such a short time, and that's why the Lions are keeping their fingers crossed on further tests to his right ankle. Smith touched the ball on four of the Lions' first five plays and had 10 touches in just over a quarter of play. X-rays were negative on the injury, and Fox analyst Jimmy Johnson reported on air Thursday that the Lions believe Smith has a high ankle sprain. Starter Jahvid Best (concussion) was at the game, but there is no indication when or if he will return or if he will play again this season. The Lions will have to hope that their extended weekend will give Smith enough time to heal. It's obvious they deem him a preferable option over current incumbents Maurice Morris and Keiland Williams.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
How many defensive starters will the Lions have to replace for their nationally televised Dec. 4 game at the New Orleans Saints? It's quite possible Suh will be suspended. And the Lions finished Sunday's game with half of their secondary sidelined by injuries. Things got so thin that veteran Rashied Davis was pushed into emergency duty as a cornerback. Safety Louis Delmas (knee) and cornerback Chris Houston (knee) didn't return after their injuries, leaving Chris Harris and a combination of Aaron Berry and Brandon McDonald in their respective places. The Saints lead the NFL in total offense (436.9 yards per game) and are second in scoring (31.7).
What key event significantly changed the fortunes of the Cowboys -- for better or worse? Give us your take and we’ll give you our definitive moment on May 27.

Any franchise that puts a star in the middle of its field and carries the nickname “America’s Team” should have more than a few moments worth remembering. The funny thing about the Dallas Cowboys is that it isn’t that hard to nail down the turning points in the franchise’s history. The Cowboys basically had nothing going for them until a stoic, stone-faced revolutionary showed up in 1960 armed with a fedora to wear on game days and all sorts of crazy ideas about flex defenses and shotgun formations. Tom Landry didn’t claim his first conference title until 1966 -- six years after his hiring in Dallas -- but hardly anybody remembers that wait for success today. What they do recall is that Landry was the central figure in the Cowboys’ success for 29 years, right until the day new owner Jerry Jones bought the team in 1989.

Sure, Jones created instant controversy when he fired Landry. But the maverick owner with a con man’s grin had a vision that worked just fine on its own. He hired an old buddy from college named Jimmy Johnson, set him loose on the NFL and won two Super Bowls within the next five years. The only downside was Jones’ ego. It led to an eventual split between him and Johnson in 1994, and Jones never hired another dynamic coach until Bill Parcells arrived in 2003.

As we all know, the Cowboys have yet to regain the dominance that was their trademark in the 1990s. But we also have to accept something else: Whether in good times or bad, they’ve always been a franchise that has kept things interesting.

What is your Cowboys defining moment? If you vote Other, give us your suggestion in the comments area below.

Bills land Dave Wannstedt as assistant

January, 21, 2011
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Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey's defensive coaching staff has gotten a lot better.

FoxSports.com senior writer Alex Marvez reports Dave Wannstedt will join Gailey's staff as assistant head coach and inside linebackers assistant.

The move is an offseason victory for the Bills, an organization that struggled to attract top free agents because they haven't reached the playoffs in a decade. Wannstedt becomes the biggest name to join the Bills as an assistant coach since future Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau served on Gregg Williams' defensive staff in 2003 or since Sam Wyche was quarterbacks coach under Mike Mularkey in 2004.

It will be interesting to see how big a voice Wannstedt has on defensive game planning.

Gailey retained defensive coordinator George Edwards, who oversaw a slapdash unit that switched from Dick Jauron's 4-3 scheme to a 3-4. By the end of the season, the Bills were running multi-front schemes.

They ranked 24th in total defense, 32nd in run defense and third in pass defense (because opponents ran so much).

The Bills had an opening because Gailey fired inside linebackers coach DeMontie Cross.

Wannstedt agreed with the Bills after drawing interest from several other teams. He was available because he resigned as head coach at the University of Pittsburgh.

He was Miami Dolphins head coach from 2000 through 2004, taking them to the playoffs his first two seasons with Gailey as offensive coordinator. Wannstedt led the Chicago Bears from 1993 through 1998, reaching the postseason once.

Wannstedt gained notice as a sharp defensive mind under Jimmy Johnson with the Miami Hurricanes and Dallas Cowboys. He was Cowboys defensive coordinator in Super Bowl XXVII, holding the Bills to 17 points.

Landing Wannstedt would be a Buffalo coup

January, 13, 2011
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Dave Wannstedt met with the Buffalo Bills on Thursday to discuss how he might fit in with their defensive coaching staff.

Head coach Chan Gailey welcomed Wannstedt to One Bills Drive to see what job his old friend would be willing to do. Gailey previously stated his support of defensive coordinator George Edwards.

Wannstedt has been head coach of the Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins and recently resigned under pressure as University of Pittsburgh head coach.

He's overqualified for the Bills' only apparent vacancy, inside linebackers assistant. But tack on the title of assistant head coach and the pay that goes along with it, and that might work.

"I think he would be a very good fit, but it remains to be seen if this is something he would like to do or not," Gailey said to BuffaloBills.com. "So he'll have to think about it and see what direction he wants to go."

Gailey was Miami's offensive coordinator for two seasons while Wannstedt was head coach.

Before Wannstedt became a head coach, he was Miami Hurricanes and Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator under Jimmy Johnson, winning a Super Bowl.

"He's extremely knowledgeable," Gailey said of Wannstedt. "He's a great human being, a great team guy, and he would bring some intensity to our team because I know what burns inside of him."

The Bills probably will have to compete with other teams for Wannstedt's services.

ESPN's Adam Schefter previously reported Wannstedt also was expected to speak with the Cleveland Browns, San Diego Chargers and Carolina Panthers.

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