Sports Outside the Beltway

Why Wade Phillips?

Mickey Spagnola, who was a leading cheerleader for hiring Norv Turner as the next coach of the Dallas Cowboys, explains “Why Jerry Picked Bum’s Boy.”

First, “there were a lot of people in Phillips’ corner. Football people. Scouts. Former scouts. Coaches. Former coaches.”

Second, as reported previously, Jones has had Phillips in mind for quite some time, going back to well before Parcells resigned.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, he thought the offense was covered, not so much because of budding guru Jason Garrett, who even Jones considers is unproven as a coordinator, but the “X-factor” that is Tony Sparano.

This organization values Sparano, and was impressed with the job he did not only being a co-coordinator of this offense, by the way, for a team that scored 425 points this season – only two less than Chicago and Indianapolis – but how effectively he called plays under the weight of Parcells’ overbearing influence.

Who knew, and me, I’m guilty as charged, but as one person in the organization said, don’t be too hard on yourself. Like how would you have known since Bill never let you talk to those guys or did he ever talk about what everyone was doing. So that made me feel a little better, but not much.

See, in the Joneses’ thinking, and we’ll find out if it’s accurate, the combination of Sparano and newly-hired Jason Garrett should be able to manage not only Tony Romo – with the help, I’m guessing, of a experienced quarterbacks coach – but also the offense. Don’t think just because Garrett was hired Jones is planning to turn over all the offensive keys to the two-year assistant coach. Remember, his role has yet to be defined.

Also, remember this: Cleveland wanted to interview Sparano for its offensive coordinator’s job. The Cowboys said, no, he’s under contract. San Diego wanted to hire Sparano for its offensive coordinator’s job, to become Cam Cameron’s replacement. The Cowboys said, no way. They did not object to solely keep him here as the offensive line coach.

Plus, I’m told, if the players had a vote in who off Parcells’ staff should be considered for the head coaching job, the count would be overwhelmingly in favor of Sparano, the man of few words but evidently some strong locker room cred.

Even Jerry Jones said of Sparano after the news conference when asked how much offensive responsibility he will have, “A lot,” and then he repeated himself, “a lot.” Get ready now, because here comes the rest, and this is important: “He’s a very important part of my decision – an important part . . . just a very important part of the decision.”

So, ultimately, “in Jones’ mind, it came down to this: Who will best facilitate the care of my defense?”

You know, the defense that gave up 152 points the final five games of the season. The defense that gave up 42 points to New Orleans and then, the crowning blow, 39 to Detroit in the meaningful season finale.

That means, who would be Turner’s defensive coordinator? Apparently, not Chicago’s Ron Rivera. I’m told he made it clear he was here to interview for the head coaching job, and that on second thought, after expressing possible interest in making a lateral move from Chicago defensive coordinator to Dallas defensive coordinator just for the money during Super Bowl week he had misgivings about doing so.

So now what? Who was taking care of the defense? And no matter how much we figured the Cowboys could make the switch back to the 4-3 – Jones, after what he was hearing about his personnel during these interviews, became further entrenched in the 3-4 – who could take care of that 3-4?

Turner addressed the offensive needs. Phillips addressed the defensive needs. After all, it was Wade and his daddy Bum who introduced the 3-4 to the NFL back when they were together in Houston.


“Defensively, we would have been out on a limb,” Stephen Jones said. “This guy makes us confident in (the defensive) area.”

That he does. This guy knows defense. And it’s not just in San Diego. It’s been proven in nearly every stop he’s made, be that as a head coach (Denver or Buffalo) or as a defensive coordinator, which he’s been for 20 years. And as was pointed out, the six times he took over teams coming off non-winning records as either head coach or defensive coordinator, he’s led that team to the playoffs.

By the way, don’t even ask who his defensive coordinator will be. I did. Doesn’t matter. Phillips said he will be running the defense, a hard lesson he said he learned when he first became head coach and didn’t do that. The Cowboys, as he said, will be running the “Phillips 34,” and that happens to be one which produced 61 sacks this past season in San Diego, not to mention 46 the previous season.

Defense, they say, wins championships. Then again, the “Phillips 34″ has yet to win one. Not the “Luv Ya Blue” Oilers, not the Saints, not the Broncos, not the Falcons, not the Bills, and not the Chargers. Not with a Phillips as head coach nor as a coordinator.

Past performance is not, as the investment companies are legally required to remind us, necessarily an indication of future success. After all, Bill Parcells won zero playoff games in four years with the Cowboys. Maybe Wade Phillips can win his first ring here. He’s a likable guy and he knows football. Whether he can take a team to the top, though, remains to be seen.

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