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Thursday, August 9, 2007
Phillips' easy way wins over players

By Matt Mosley
ESPN.com

SAN ANTONIO -- The most enduring image from a recent visit to The Built Ford Tough Dallas Cowboys Training Camp, other than fully loaded pickups in the south end zone of the Alamodome, was the club's mascot, Rowdy, attempting extra points during the middle of practice.

Of course, this is the same mascot Bill Parcells once kicked off the field because of "time management issues" in 2003.

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During his four years as head coach, Parcells lorded over almost every aspect of the football operation. When a man showed up at training camp in California wearing a Chiefs windbreaker, Parcells had him interrogated as a possible spy.

He controlled the club's message, preferring that his assistants not make eye contact with reporters or neighbors.

His considerable shadow lingers over this team, a fact that was evident when owner Jerry Jones and his new head coach, Wade Phillips, spent at least 10 minutes discussing Parcells' impact on the first day of training camp.

In a classic moment, Jones suggested that he had never worked with anyone who respected the "pecking order" more than Parcells. He then turned things over to the Tooth Fairy.

The obvious perception is that Jones is back in charge, and Phillips is happy to be along for the ride. Over the years, it's become much more difficult to inspire confidence while wearing tube socks, and Phillips' laidback nature and passion for board games suggested he might be an easy mark for players and a zealous owner.

Early on, word was already out that Phillips was running a soft camp.

He'd apparently cranked up the air conditioning and done away with Parcells' dreaded wind sprints. Players missed practices with minor ailments and veterans took personal days.

The most serious violation might have come when Phillips and quarterback Tony Romo posed for pictures with three attractive women during a punting drill. The easy-going Phillips brushed off a question about the photo-op, saying it was no big deal.

But just when Camp Happy Hour was beginning to peak, Phillips flew off the handle Saturday afternoon when a few players were late for a special teams session. He shook his fists during what was later described as a profanity-laced speech, and then stormed off the field.

"Wade made those players stand up in front of the whole team and explain what they did," Romo said. "They had to be accountable to their teammates. Wade doesn't treat you like a kid. But I think this tells everyone you'd better not act like a kid."

Now one tirade doesn't change everything, but the truth is that Phillips' overall approach is winning over players left and right. When defensive end Marcus Spears and running back Julius Jones complained about the Parcells regime during the offseason, they came off sounding like whiners. But the truth is that even some of Parcells' staunchest supporters are excited about playing for Phillips.

"He's had the players' respect from Day 1," said tight end Jason Witten. "I think it's misleading for people to say he's not into it just because he doesn't jump your rear all the time. He told us, 'I can't want this more than you want this.'"

Asked for his take on Phillips, Terrell Owens told Dallas' ESPN radio, "Well, he calls me Terrell. He calls me by my name. He treats us like men. When a guy treats you like that, you want to play harder for him."

Phillips comes by it naturally. His legendary father, Bum, had a similar approach with the Houston Oilers.

"I would take a guy off to the side or call them in my office if I wanted to fuss at them," the elder Phillips said Saturday. "There's a difference between bitchin' and coachin'."

Earlier in the day, Wade had defended his approach to practice.

"Watch how each play breaks down during practice," he said. "It's really physical the first part, and then we pull off. Frankly, in the first week, we were real physical, even beyond the first part of the play. We will get plenty of that against other teams. We aren't playing against the Dallas Cowboys."

That last line was something his dad used to always say about the Oilers. At a time when a lot of teams were conducting full-contact drills in training camp, Bum said his players were always in shoulder pads and shorts.

Including their two playoff losses, the Cowboys were 8-13 in December and January under Parcells, so perhaps a soft camp isn't such a bad idea after all.

Matt Mosley covers the NFL for ESPN.com. He may be reached at matt.mosley@sbcglobal.net.