Commentary

Phillips earns shot to get to next level

Updated: January 18, 2010, 11:25 PM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- Wade Phillips has never had a chance to finish the job.

Phillips got only two seasons in Denver before he was fired and replaced by Mike Shanahan, who won two Super Bowls with the Broncos while Phillips coached elsewhere.

A few years later, Phillips was let go after only three seasons in Buffalo. The Music City Miracle wasn't his undoing nor was his handling of the Bills' quarterback situation. Phillips was fired for his failure to let go of some of his assistant coaches.

In his third full-time head-coaching stint, Phillips will get a chance to finish what he started.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he will meet with Phillips on Monday to talk about several things regarding the organization. Sources have said that Jones has picked up the option for 2010 and Phillips will be back, ending all the drama.

When Cowboys defensive line coach Todd Grantham announced Friday he was becoming the defensive coordinator at the University of Georgia, Phillips wanted to hire the recently fired Paul Pasqualoni.

Jones said no problem because he wanted somebody who knows the core group of this team. Pasqualoni was a well-liked Cowboys assistant from 2005 to 2007. The hiring of Pasqualoni also gave Phillips one less thing to worry about in the offseason.

Two key players that Phillips asked Jones to sign in free agency last year, Keith Brooking and Igor Olshansky, are returning for 2010. That was unlike last season, when the team decided not to re-sign Zach Thomas, another of Phillips' favorite players.

The Cowboys' 34-3 loss to the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC divisional round Sunday could be considered a step back in the team's progress toward winning a title. But it shouldn't, because Jones will reiterate something he did last year: Keeping the coach continues the progress of how you get to that championship.

"You know I'm pleased with the job he's done, and this game doesn't have any bearing on any decision I make," Jones said of Phillips after the loss.

Phillips has always said he doesn't control his own destiny. He learned the hard way in Denver and Buffalo that no matter how many games you win or lose, somebody else controls your fate.

"Our goal was to win it all, and if not, then that's not a success," Phillips said. "I do think we did a lot of great things; winning the division is certainly important and winning the playoff game at home is important, and we need to get back to that point next year."

Next year is now for Phillips.

Tony Romo
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesWade Phillips seems to have all the pieces in place for next season. Tony Romo will lead a young, exciting offense, while Phillips' staunch defense will try to get even better.

Quarterback Tony Romo is on the rise. He has two young, talented running backs in Felix Jones and Tashard Choice. Wide receiver Miles Austin has emerged to become a No. 1 passing threat. Phillips also might have found the next left tackle, Doug Free, to replace Flozell Adams.

Jones said Phillips is the MVP of this team thanks to what he did with the defense.

In 2007, Phillips' first draft pick was defensive end Anthony Spencer, whom Phillips converted into an outside linebacker. In the last two months of this season, Spencer was as much of a threat off the edge as DeMarcus Ware.

Then there's speedy Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick, who form a strong stable of cornerbacks with veteran Terence Newman.

What more could be said about how Phillips' 3-4 scheme has helped nose tackle Jay Ratliff become a two-time Pro Bowler and how backups such as Stephen Bowen and Jason Hatcher provided strong play on the defensive line?

Phillips even found playing time for former first-round pick Bobby Carpenter, who made an impact on the nickel defense.

Phillips made two critical coaching decisions. He fired close friend Brian Stewart as defensive coordinator and also let go of Bruce Read as special-teams coach.

Phillips took over the defensive play calling and hired good friend Joe DeCamillis, who recommended the team draft David Buehler as a kickoff specialist.

It worked. Buehler led the NFL with 29 touchbacks as a rookie. In 2008, the Cowboys had none.

Everything seems ready now for Phillips to take this team to another level.

"This group worked awfully hard, and I think we'll continue to do that," Phillips said. "We showed signs of being really good in a lot of areas. I think our defense can be really good next year starting out. The same with our offense and special teams. I think we can have a really solid football team."

Jones, the man who decides these things, will make an official announcement on Phillips' status at some point with the hope that this is forward progress.

"This doesn't discourage me from the direction we're going," Jones said after the loss to the Vikings. "I had hope we were there, and we weren't, and this game showed that. But we have a ways to go to from here and build on some of the things we did this year. We got some really good people and good players."

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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