Commentary

It's good to be Wade Phillips

Cowboys have become picture of stability while other coaches' seats heat up

Updated: March 28, 2010, 11:26 PM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

Jerry Jones, Wade PhillipsAP Photo/Erich SchlegelWith his success as Cowboys coach, Wade Phillips has earned the trust of owner Jerry Jones.

There might be one coach happier than Sean Payton this spring: Wade Phillips.

You want to be Mike Tomlin these days? His quarterback is being investigated for an alleged sexual assault. And the Steelers missed the playoffs last year.

How about Andy Reid? He's finally got the receivers needed to push his passing game and he's putting the franchise quarterback on the trading blocks.

Ken Whisenhunt? He gives a three-year, $17.5 million deal to a linebacker who soon afterward gets arrested for suspected drunken driving and resisting arrest.

Can you see why Phillips is happy?

He's got very little drama and more power entering his fourth season as Dallas Cowboys head coach.

Wade Phillips
AP Photo/Jim MoneWade Phillips' success since he took over as defensive coordinator has helped change the perception of him as a head coach.

After coaching 141 games over eight NFL seasons, Phillips won a playoff game last season. He brought the Cowboys back to the land of winning meaningful games again.

Dallas hadn't won a playoff game since 1996. During that time span, the NFL crowned 10 different champions, including seven first-timers.

The Cowboys have played in more Super Bowls (eight) than any other NFL team, with five titles to their credit. Their 30 playoff seasons are tied with the New York Giants for most in league history.

It's one of the best résumés for a franchise in sports.

That playoff win over the Philadelphia Eagles has given Phillips more confidence than ever before to finish the job of bringing another championship to Jerry Jones.

"I just think because it was 13 years, obviously I wasn't here that whole 13 years, but it's just something negative that your team has to hear," Phillips said of the postseason victory drought. "If you hear it often enough, I think it can affect your team as far as their confidence and being able to win. It's the old Catch-22. You've got to be able to win it to get it off your back."

For a generation of fans, the Cowboys were no different than, say, the Detroit Lions in terms of postseason success. Even the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won a Super Bowl in the last 10 years.

The Cowboys don't belong in the same conversation as the Lions and Buccaneers. Phillips' efforts are changing that.

New Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, a good friend of Phillips, understands the passion of fans, especially Cowboys fans who want nothing but titles to brag about.

"That's the nature of our profession. People want to see you win playoff games," Shanahan said. "And once you win that playoff game, like he did, I thought it took a lot of pressure off him as well as the organization."

Jones believes Phillips has pep in his step these days, thanks to that playoff victory.

"I would agree that he is anticipating a real professional approach to getting better on both sides of the ball as well as special teams," Jones said. "I think Wade feels good about our team."

Critics of Phillips' style now have to accept the fact that he's been a winner in Dallas. In three years as head coach, he's won two division titles and been to the playoffs twice.

In his second season, Phillips had his team on the brink of another playoff berth before it lost in the regular-season finale to the Eagles. After that loss, Phillips, with the help of Jones and the front office, made decisions that panned out.

Phillips wanted more team-first guys. He got Jones to sign inside linebacker Keith Brooking and end Igor Olshansky, guys who played for Phillips in previous coaching stops.

Olshansky and Brooking have said they'll do whatever Phillips asks. Quarterback Tony Romo has developed a bond with his coach. Following the Cowboys upset win over the previously unbeaten New Orleans Saints, Romo told Phillips, "I'm proud of you."

It seems this Cowboys team is now Phillips' team more than ever.

"In three years, every team has changed a lot of personnel," Phillips said. "It's guys that are more familiar with you. It's my team.

"It's like the quarterback, I think, like Tony Romo. More and more everybody says it's his team, because they're familiar with the things he's done ... and his style and his leadership. Same thing with me."

Following the 2008 season, Phillips was confronted with the fact that changes needed to be made on special teams. He hired close friend Joe DeCamillis, who has turned into a confidant.

The special teams unit has turned into a strength. Phillips, with Jones' urging, also fired close friend Brian Stewart as the defensive coordinator. Phillips took over as defensive coordinator and told Jones numerous times it's one of the best decisions he's ever made.

Yes, it seems everything Phillips is doing works. And in turn, he's gained influence with Jones, who gave him a two-year contract after the season.

Jones likes Phillips. He doesn't want to lose him, especially with everything turning out so well. But the fact remains, winning a championship is something that must happen eventually.

"We understand how tough it is and the demands and the expectation level, and Wade understands that," Shanahan said. "He's a coach's son; he's been around it his whole life. He understands until you actually win the big one the constant scrutiny is going to be there, and next year it will be even worse. It doesn't get better."

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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