Commentary

Phillips' return is Cowboys' loss

Jerry Jones ends an era of Super Bowl-or-else expectations by bringing back coach

Updated: January 18, 2010, 3:43 PM ET
By Jim Reeves | ESPNDallas.com

At some point Monday or early this week Jerry Jones will confirm that he is bringing Wade Phillips back as head coach of the Cowboys next season and pro football as we have known and loved it here in Dallas-Fort Worth will change forever.

It will signal a sea change in the way we look at the Cowboys and, more importantly, the way Jerry Jones looks at his franchise.

Once upon a time, in a faraway kingdom, the Cowboys were all about championships. Not division championships. Not regular-season "championships." Not even NFC championships. They were about Super Bowls and world championships. Nothing less would do.

When Jones officially exercises the option in Phillips' contract for another season, or even extends him with a new one, it will signal that the owner is lowering the bar on his expectations and on ours. He will be telling us that occasionally winning a playoff game, maybe even just getting to the playoffs, is enough now.

If we try hard enough, maybe we can convince ourselves that that's not a big thing, that this is simply not the franchise it was in the mid-'90s, that we need to quit frolicking in the past and understand how much things have changed.

At the same time, I can't help but feel sadness for the passing of something unique and precious, something that set the Dallas Cowboys apart from almost every other team in the NFL. This was a franchise with only one goal, and nothing else was good enough. This was a Super Bowl-or-bust organization. Anything less was a failure and not to be tolerated.

With Wade Phillips, Jerry has decided to settle. He knows, probably better than any of us, that Wade is not a championship coach. You see, around here, we know championship coaches. We know what they look like, what they sound like, what they coach like.

Wade is no Tom Landry. Or Jimmy Johnson. Or Vince Lombardi. Or Bill Walsh. Or Bill Parcells. Or Bill Cowher, for that matter. Jones knows that.

Head coaches like those possess an inimitable charisma, a commanding presence, that lets everyone in the room know who they are and what they are about: excellence.

Wade has all the charisma of a wrinkled plaid shirt, the presence of a timid shoe salesman.

Wade is the head coach, standing on the sideline after Sunday's 34-3 mugging at the Metrodome, yapping, "We'll remember this next year," at the backs of triumphant Vikings players.

Unfortunately, so will we.

Embarrassing.

Cowher would have punched somebody in the mouth, but my guess is that that somebody would have been wearing Cowboys' silver, not Vikings' purple. That's who deserved Phillips' venom, not the Vikings.

Wade is the guy who didn't have the guts to go for it on fourth-and-less-than-a-yard at the Minnesota 30 in the first quarter, when the Cowboys had the momentum, then stands there shaking his head in disgust when his claimed-in-December kicker misses from 48 yards. After the game, Wade had the audacity to try to argue with reporters that it wasn't fourth-and-1. Either he didn't know the actual distance or he didn't want to admit he'd blown it. Either way, it's unacceptable.

Not to mention that Jones rendered his own indictment of the decision when he admitted that Shaun Suisham's pregame warm-up kicks from more than 45 yards were "dicey" at best.

Phillips is a good football coach, and if that sounds contradictory, it's not. He knows defense. What he doesn't know is how to lead. That's why he was so desperate to bring in someone like linebacker Keith Brooking, because that leadership has to come from somewhere. At least we should give Phillips credit for knowing his own vulnerability, even if he will never admit it publicly.

Phillips is not a championship-caliber head coach. That used to matter around here.

For Jerry, though, what seems most important now is having a coach he can manipulate, someone who will never tell him no. Jerry wants a yes man and Wade fits that role perfectly. He will win regular-season games because the Cowboys have a talented team. When the matchup is right, as it was against a Philadelphia team that had no running game this year, he might even win a playoff game now and then.

I've heard the argument that starting over with another new head coach and a new staff would be a bad thing, that the progress that has been made here would be lost. I look at it from a different angle, I guess. Since I'm convinced that the Cowboys can't win a Super Bowl with this head coach, or even get close to one, then I don't see starting over as a setback. I see it as the first step to getting things right.

But that premise is based on the old way of thinking, the way the Cowboys used to be, when the only goal was winning it all and nothing else mattered.

The bar is about to be lowered, and Dallas Cowboys football as we've known and loved it will change, maybe forever.

A moment of silence, please, for the passing of something great and wonderful.

Jim Reeves is a former columnist with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and will be a frequent contributor to ESPNDallas.com.

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