Sunday, January 3, 2010
Updated: January 5, 5:38 PM ET
Phillips has earned keep with Cowboys
By Tim MacMahon
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Jerry Jones won't quite commit to bringing back his head coach next season, but he'd be a fool to fire Wade Phillips.
In fact, that opinion came straight from the mouth of the Dallas Cowboys' owner/general manager, who noted that no NFL coach has been fired with a winning percentage as good as Phillips has in his three-season tenure.
Of course, no coach had ever been fired after back-to-back Super Bowl titles until Jerry parted ways with Jimmy Johnson. But unlike Johnson, Phillips doesn't mind his boss taking a bunch of credit for the Cowboys' success.
Well, it's time to give Phillips his fair share of credit. The Cowboys have a 33-15 regular-season record under his watch and are primed to end a 13-year playoff-win drought for America's Team.
The Cowboys roll into the postseason as the NFC's hottest team, a status they claimed along with the NFC East title by snapping the Philadelphia Eagles' six-game winning streak in convincing fashion Sunday afternoon. The 24-0 victory at Cowboys Stadium was the Cowboys' third consecutive win and their second straight shutout, a first in franchise history.
The fact that the Cowboys stuck together after opening December with two tough losses reflects well upon the head coach. The defensive dominance reflects well upon the defensive coordinator. Phillips fills both of those roles, which makes this a heck of a run for him with his job on the line.
So why doesn't Jones just make it official by picking up the option on Phillips' contract for next season?
"I don't know," Jones said. "I don't want to discuss contracts, but the paperwork is in order."
The paperwork has been done since Phillips signed the contract in the winter of 2007. The difference now is that the Cowboys have proved they will perform for Phillips in high-stakes, late-season games.
There were legitimate questions about that before the past few weeks. The Cowboys won 12 of their first 13 games under Phillips in 2007 before fading late and failing to win in the playoffs.
They had a disastrous December in 2008, with a 44-6 flop of a finale in Philadelphia forcing them to be postseason spectators.
Those are distant memories after the Cowboys rallied around their coach down the stretch this season. As mealy-mouthed as Phillips can sometimes come across during his encounters with the media, he clearly said the right things when "Oh no, here we go again" could easily have become the Cowboys' mindset.
"It's not about me. It's about our team," said Phillips, who can get rid of the biggest flaw on his résumé -- an 0-4 career playoff record -- by winning again next week. "I'm proud of the way they played, especially since what happened last year. People are always going to go back to that unless you do something about it. This team did something about it."
Phillips' even-keeled approach has worked for this team, even though it doesn't make for good copy or sound bites. He has the utmost respect in a locker room that went through a much-needed cleansing after last season.
Nobody has ever questioned Phillips' defensive mind. His reputation as an X's and O's expert has been enhanced this season, when the Cowboys allowed an NFC-low 15.6 points per game.
However, there were plenty of doubts about Phillips' intangible qualities as a head coach. He has now proved he can motivate a team despite not being known as a stern disciplinarian.
"We believe in our coach," said Pro Bowl nose tackle Jay Ratliff. "He's done a great job with us. We all trust and follow him. Everything is just clicking.
"More than anything, I think he trusts us. With the kind of guys we have on this team -- everyone is accountable -- if you have a coach that puts trust in you, you don't want to let him down. More than anything, that's what it is for us. If he's taking care of us and puts trust in us, we're not going to betray his trust."
The players made those kinds of comments a few weeks ago. They just come across as much more convincing after the Cowboys marched into the playoffs with impressive wins over the New Orleans Saints, Washington Redskins and Eagles, who will return to Arlington next week for a rematch in the first round.
"You just look at his body of work and what he's done," said linebacker Keith Brooking, who signed with the Cowboys as a free agent in large part because he wanted to play for Phillips again. "I knew what I was getting when I came here. I believe in him 100 percent. You see the way our defense has played."
We see a defense that's steadily getting better. We see young players -- such as outside linebacker Anthony Spencer and cornerback Mike Jenkins -- emerging as dominant forces after being developed by Phillips and his staff. We see a team that handles adversity well.
The boss sees all the same things, and attributes them to Phillips.
"I don't want someone else to take advantage of that," Jones said. "I'd like for our fans to have the benefit of what I think he's gained as we've gotten here over the last 36 months."
All Jones has to do is call Phillips down to his Valley Ranch office to make his return official. It's the owner's only reasonable option after the job Phillips has done this season.
Tim MacMahon covers the Cowboys for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.