Veteran NFL coach Dan Reeves told ESPN on Wednesday that he believed he had successfully negotiated a multiyear contract with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones that would have created a senior management position in Dallas. But the partnership dissolved when Reeves became uncomfortable with changes Jones insisted upon after Reeves rejected a job title that would have included him as a member of Wade Phillips' coaching staff. Reeves preferred an executive title with broader authority.
Reeves credited Phillips, his defensive coordinator with the Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons, with initiating the attempts to return Reeves to the organization with which he began his career. Although in attempting to hire Reeves it might seem the Cowboys acknowledged that Phillips might not be capable of doing the job alone, Reeves cautioned against that perception, saying, "Don't count Wade out."
Reeves, 65, also declined to specifically identify the contractual issue that caused the deal to fall apart. He was working since Monday in the Cowboys' facility, primarily meeting with the offensive coaching staff, learning the system and its terminology, and breaking down videotape of personnel. But he exited the building at midday and arrived back in Atlanta late Wednesday night. Jones could not be reached for comment.
"I thought the thing was done, and we finally agreed on what the title was going to be," Reeves said. "I didn't want to have a coaching title and not have authority coachingwise. I wanted to work with him [Jones] and Wade and help in any way that I possibly could. We finally agreed the coaching thing wouldn't be in there, but then the contract changed and there were some things in there I couldn't see being in there, and they were important to him. He made a lot of concessions, but this was something that was important to him, and I just didn't feel like I could live with it. So it didn't make sense for us to go forward."
Reeves indicated he would have been involved in some critical personnel decisions yet to be made, including the future of wide receiver Terrell Owens. Reeves had recently criticized Owens and his negative impact on team chemistry.
"Honestly, I do feel strongly about team chemistry even though I played on a Cowboys team that won a Super Bowl with Duane Thomas," he said. "But there were so many other strong team leaders in that locker room. I'm not sure that's the case here. I was asked about [Owens] but when I previously spoke about, it was as an outsider. So I wanted more time as an insider before I could make an honest assessment."
Asked if Jones had made a decision on Owens' future, Reeves said, "No, I really don't think one has been made yet. They have a lot of decisions to make and that's one of them because they understand they have to become a unified team. It's one of the things that needs to be addressed."
Reeves, who spent his first 16 NFL seasons with the Cowboys as a player and an assistant coach under Tom Landry, did not conceal his disappointment.
"My heart starts beating when I see that star on the helmet and the pictures of the players I started with in the game," Reeves said. "I just can't get those first 16 years of my career out of my system."
With Phillips serving as his own defensive coordinator with the offseason firing of Brian Stewart, Reeves could have unburdened Phillips and offered the perspective of an experienced playcaller and game planner while overseeing the offensive coaching staff headed by offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. The Cowboys' offensive numbers turned downward in Garrett's second season as an NFL playcaller.
Reeves seemed impressed with Garrett, whose performance was often criticized by Owens last season and also by quarterback Tony Romo following the team's 44-6 loss to Philadelphia that eliminated Dallas from making the playoffs the final week of the regular season.
"Jason is someone I have a tremendous amount of respect for," Reeves said. "I was looking forward to working with him, but I'm still really excited about who he is, what he does and how he handles himself."
In addition to helping Phillips and his coaching staff, Reeves also mentioned that Jones -- the Cowboys' GM as well as owner -- is stretched to the limit as he attempts to make crucial personnel decisions, purge toxic elements from his underachieving team's locker room and simultaneously promote ticket sales and sell naming rights to the new $1.3 billion Arlington stadium that debuts next season.
"I think Jerry has an awful lot on his plate with the stadium and the football team right now," Reeves said.
The Cowboys issued a statement on Wednesday regarding the deal falling through.
"We had two very good days of dialogue with Dan Reeves, and both the Cowboys and Dan had an interest in working together," Cowboys public relations director Rich Dalrymple said. "By Wednesday afternoon, we were unable to reach an agreement on all of the details of a contract, and both parties were comfortable with the fact that Dan would not be joining the organization."
Last month, Reeves interviewed with the San Francisco 49ers about becoming offensive coordinator.
Reeves was a running back for the Cowboys from 1965 to '72, serving as a player-coach those last three seasons. After a year away, Reeves returned as an assistant coach for Tom Landry from 1974 to '80.
"Jerry [Jones] holds Dan in the highest regard as a friend and a tremendous contributor to the history of the Cowboys and the NFL," Dalrymple said.
Reeves led the Broncos to three Super Bowls and went to one Super Bowl with Atlanta, but never won the championship game. Phillips succeeded him as head coach in Denver and Atlanta.
Reeves' son-in-law, Joe DeCamillis, was hired last month as the Cowboys' special-teams coach.
The Cowboys slipped to 9-7 last season after going 13-3 in 2007 and losing to the eventual champion Giants in the playoffs.
Chris Mortensen is a senior NFL analyst for ESPN. Ed Werder covers the NFL for ESPN. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.