Commentary

Tony Romo's leadership style under fire

Cowboys' 1-3 start has critics calling him out, but quarterback defends subtle method

Updated: October 15, 2010, 10:33 AM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

Perceptions exist over how we want our quarterbacks to be.

Some love how Brett Favre reacts after throwing a touchdown pass, scorching down the field to embrace the recipient as if he never did it before.

Tony Romo
Thomas Campbell/US PresswireCowboys quarterback Tony Romo believes the best leadership takes place behind closed doors.

Tom Brady, a winner of three Super Bowls, is as passionate as they come. There was Brady high-fiving his teammates and coach Bill Belichick following a New England Patriots victory over the Miami Dolphins on Oct. 4.

Then there's Jay Cutler of the Chicago Bears, who pouts after mistakes and sometimes walks to the sideline without talking to any of his teammates.

A quarterback's behavior varies, and it's a subject of debate this week regarding the Dallas Cowboys' Tony Romo.

Tony Dungy, who works for NBC Sports and won a Super Bowl as coach of the Indianapolis Colts, questioned Romo's leadership following a three-interception performance against the Tennessee Titans last Sunday.

Romo bristled at the notion that he's not a leader.

He invited Dungy to sit in during film sessions for the offense and even watch the portions of practice closed to the media to see how he leads. Romo, while passionate and rarely if ever critical of teammates, won't change.

He doesn't feel the need to scream at teammates on a regular basis on the field, though he's done it in the past. He doesn't feel the need to lecture them like children.

Romo believes that if he's going to move the Cowboys out of the 1-3 hole they're in, he will do it behind closed doors.

He will give Miles Austin a hard look when watching film if he ran a bad route. He will tell Dez Bryant he misread the coverage and should have done something else. He will tell the entire offensive line they need to protect better.

"Behind closed doors is when you really lead," Romo said. "A guy who does it for show is doing it for show. For me it's about talking, telling and stressing the importance. This is the time when it needs to be said. [I'm not going] to demean guys. We're all in the same thing together."

DeMarcus Ware, the Cowboys' outstanding linebacker, is a quiet leader and said he leads in a similar fashion as Romo.

Wade Wilson, who played 19 years in the NFL, is the Cowboys' quarterbacks coach. He talks to Romo about the perils of playing the position, and leadership is involved in that almost on a daily basis.

"His perception is completely different from his reality," Wilson said. "He's very detailed in what he expects from the other guys and he communicates with them. It's not demonstrative or cussing and all that stuff."

Sometimes, Romo can be his own worst enemy for not speaking out more.

In a loss to the Denver Broncos last year, Romo threw a pass toward Austin that was intercepted. Media reports indicated Austin ran the wrong route, but the reality was Romo threw the pass to the wrong spot.

Austin, who wasn't a starter then and didn't want to make waves, took the blame for it, but it appeared he was irked by not having his quarterback speak up more about the play.

That same game, Roy Williams suffered cracked ribs while going for a high throw from Romo. While Williams recovered from the injuries, he was miffed that Romo didn't talk enough about how tough he was and the courage it takes to expose your body to a shot from a defender.

Romo tries to avoid controversy because he feels it gets him nowhere, especially in Dallas, a city that cherishes Super Bowl winning quarterbacks Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach.

During the 2007 playoffs, Romo and two teammates flew to Cabo for a little getaway for the bye week. It made national news when pictures surfaced of them hanging out in a condo. Many felt the quarterback of a playoff team was not supposed to leave town during a bye week.

The Cowboys lost in the NFC divisional round to the New York Giants the following week. Media and fans brought up the Cabo trip as an example of something Romo shouldn't have done.

It was another point to Romo that the quarterback of the Cowboys is held to a higher standard.

"With the expectation level [here] it's tougher," said Cowboys backup quarterback Jon Kitna, who has started 115 games in his 14-year career. "Having been other places, you wouldn't want it any other way. I've been in other places where there were no expectations and places where when you lose, OK, move on to the next week, the next story. You want expectations and have that expectation level."

How Romo gets the Cowboys out of their malaise is yet to be seen. All he knows and says is to work hard. An avid golfer, Romo most likely will rely on his skills in that sport to help him.

You take one shot, one hole at a time.

Trent Dilfer, an ESPN analyst who has played golf with Romo, won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens. At first, Dilfer wasn't fond of Romo. He didn't like Romo's body language or how he presented himself.

Over the years, Dilfer developed a fondness for Romo and believes he can get the Cowboys moving in a position direction.

"It's a process," Dilfer said. "You can't be something that you're not. You can lead in many different ways and Tony leads in the right way. I was different. So are a lot of other guys. I think he will just lean on what he's learned over the years and that's to trust yourself and believe in what you're doing. He's a good quarterback and he's getting better."

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com. 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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