Wade Phillips: wrong choice for Cowboys
February 13, 2007
I am, and have been for as long as I can remember, a Buffalo Bills fan. Why I chose to adopt this team as my favorite NFL franchise, nobody really knows for sure. My mother believes it had something to do with the fact that their name started with the letter ‘B’ (at a young age I also picked the Toronto Blue Jays and the Chicago Bulls as my favorite MLB and NBA teams, respectively). Regardless of how it came to be, I am a Bills fan through and through. For some of you, this may be reason enough for why I am appalled by the Dallas Cowboys’ decision last week to hire Wade Phillips as their head coach. For the rest of you, please allow me to explain.
p. In 1998, Phillips, who had previous head coaching experience with the Broncos, was hired as coach to replace retired Hall of Fame coach (and former Tribe football head coach) Marv Levy. Phillips acquired two quarterbacks during the offseason, Rob Johnson (whose career accomplishments now include having the highest sack rate per pass attempts in NFL history) and Doug Flutie. Johnson won the starting job and began the season 0-3 before going out with a rib injury. Flutie promptly came in and went 10-3 as a starter, helping the Bills to the playoffs for the first time since Jim Kelly was their quarterback, before they were bounced out in the first round by the Miami Dolphins.
p. Flutie entered the 1999 campaign as the starter and led the club to a 10-5 record through the first 15 games before being held out of the final regular-season to rest up for the playoffs. However, after Johnson put up impressive numbers in the meaningless season finale, Phillips made quite possibly the worst decision ever in NFL playoff coaching history (although Andy Reid’s decision to punt on 4th and 15 at the end of this year’s divisional round playoff game against the New Orleans Saints ranks up there as well), and chose to start Johnson in the Bills’ first round playoff game against the Tennessee Titans.
p.. That game is now famous for another reason, as the Titans won it on the “Music City Miracle,” the play where Titans’ tight end Frank Wycheck tossed the ball across the field to wide receiver Kevin Dyson, who returned it for a touchdown, winning the game 22-16. The Bills finished the next season, Phillips’ last, at 8-8 and out of the playoffs, as Phillips went back and forth between Johnson and Flutie as his starter throughout the season. Flutie left for the Chargers in the offseason. I still haven’t fully recovered. Neither have the Bills, who have not made the playoffs since the “Music City Miracle.”
p. Phillips has not been a head coach in the NFL since — until now. He has spent the past three seasons as the defensive coordinator of the San Diego Chargers. Nobody doubts Phillips’ ability as a coordinator — his track record of improving defenses is remarkable. But why Cowboys owner Jerry Jones would believe for a second that Phillips, with his career 0-3 playoff record and penchant for making outrageously stupid big game decisions, is the man to put the Cowboys over the top is beyond explanation.
p. The Cowboys are hardly a rebuilding project. Many of the pieces are in place for a championship run, particularly in the watered-down NFC. If Jones wanted Phillips to help solidify the defense that badly, then he could have just offered him more money than San Diego was giving him and brought him in as defensive coordinator. Jones has already made some questionable decisions in the coaching search process this offseason, as he hired former Cowboys quarterback Jason Garrett to an unspecified position on the coaching staff, presumably either offensive coordinator or perhaps even head coach.
p. Now, with the hiring of Phillips, a variety of complications may develop, the first being that Garrett, having already sniffed the head coaching job, will become resentful of being stuck behind the old-school style Phillips, especially if there is a power struggle over how to handle the offense’s two most volatile players, wide receiver Terrell Owens and quarterback Tony Romo (speaking of Mr. Carrie Underwood, has anyone else noticed how Romo’s putting on his best behavior since his infamous fumble in the Cowboys’ first round playoff exit? Bill Parcells must be throwing things at the TV screen after every “Well, shucks, I sure let my team down” interview Romo gives).
p. Secondly, Phillips may not be crazy about not being able to choose his own offensive coordinator, instead finding himself stuck with an up-and-coming coach who, until Phillips’ hiring, was a candidate for his own job. It is foolish of Jones to assume that this will progress smoothly.
p. So, Cowboys fans, take heed from someone who has been hurt before — Wade Phillips is a heartbreaker. Although, after what your ’Boys did to my Bills in 1992 and 1993, I can’t say you don’t deserve it.
__Jeff Dooley is the associate sports editor for The Flat Hat. He still has a Doug Flutie poster up in his room.__