Brooking: 'Utmost respect' for Phillips

Updated: December 10, 2009, 12:09 AM ET
By Tim MacMahon | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys are rallying behind beleaguered coach Wade Phillips, trying to help save his job.

"I'll go to fight for that man until I hang my cleats up and I'm done playing football, because I have the utmost respect for him," linebacker Keith Brooking said during the taping of his weekly television show Tuesday night. "Everything I've seen from my teammates and everything I've heard, they feel the same way. Bottom line."

Brooking, who signed with Dallas as a free agent this summer after 11 seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, opened the show with a rant directed at his co-host, a local television reporter who had a testy exchange with Phillips during Monday's news conference. CBS 11's Steve Dennis wondered how Phillips could refer to the Cowboys as "a bunch of winners" when the core of the team had never won a playoff game.

Several Cowboys players yelled at Dennis in the locker room Wednesday at the end of the media access period, asking if he called them "losers."

Phillips is frequently criticized by the media for not being tough enough on his team, which several Cowboys veterans said they're sick of hearing. The only way to change that perception -- and save Phillips' job -- is for the Cowboys to finish the season strong against the toughest remaining schedule in the NFL.

"You're going to have guys in this locker room that's pushing for him, playing hard for him and letting everybody know that he's a great coach," All-Pro outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware said of Phillips on Wednesday.

Since Jerry Jones hired him in 2007, Phillips has more wins than any head coach other than New England's Bill Belichick, but his 30-14 regular-season record with the Cowboys is overshadowed by the team's lack of late-season success. The Cowboys are 3-6 in December and 0-1 in the playoffs under Phillips.

"The players are behind him 100 percent," Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten said. "The message that we get sometimes is different than the perception in the media in general. On his end, I don't think he really worries about that, as long as his team has that understanding. He does a good job of putting it out there and letting us know where it is. He believes in our team. That's a good thing."

Phillips appreciated the sentiment expressed by the players and said he enjoyed having personal relationships with players. However, he downplayed the idea of players fighting for coaches in the NFL, saying that sort of thing happens more in college.

"I try to get them to play for themselves and for their family and for their fans and for what's important for them," Phillips said. "Whatever's important for them, I want them to play for. I believe you play for more than yourself. I like for them to try to do that."

Phillips has never talked to his team about his shaky job status, but it's a well-known fact that his contract expires at the end of the season. The contract includes an option for next season, but Jones plans to wait to see how the Cowboys fare in the playoffs before making a decision on whether to retain Phillips. Jones recently indicated that the Cowboys need to end a 13-year playoff win drought for Phillips' job to be safe.

"He does everything the right way," Ware said. "If we can get a ring, that will be more icing on the cake to keep him here."

At 8-4, the Cowboys are tied for first place in the NFC East and fighting to make the playoffs. With speculation swirling about Phillips' job status last season, the Cowboys flopped at the finish. They lost their last two games to miss the playoffs, ending with a humiliating 44-6 road loss to the Philadelphia Eagles with a wild-card berth at stake, the worst loss of Jones' 20-year tenure as owner.

Jones, who stated earlier that week that Phillips would return regardless of the result against the Eagles, kept his word. The Cowboys are determined to prove that the owner made the right decision and should opt for continuity with the coaching staff again this offseason.

"I trust him, so I definitely want him to be around," Pro Bowl nose tackle Jay Ratliff said. "We're going to go out there and play our best and do everything he asks us to do."

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