Sports Outside the Beltway

Cowboys Camp Cupcake

Veteran Dallas Cowboys observer Frank Luksa says all the talk about Camp Cupcake under new head coach Wade Phillips is hogwash.

In truth it was[n't] too much different than predecessor Bill Parcells. His camps weren’t unusually harsh, either. But whatever Parcells did to prepare his teams for the long haul, it didn’t work. The Cowboys faded late every season.

They finished with an identical 2-3 record four consecutive years. Add two playoff losses to that 8-12 composite and Parcells went 8-14 through late November and December, months when champions announce themselves. Which is why Parcells never produced one.

I gently suggest that Phillips knows what he’s doing in terms of training a team. This is his 30th NFL training camp so he’s seen every variety under the summer sun. His is the understated way. Parcells dominated the scene. Phillips blends with the surroundings. Much was made of the contrast between dictator and easy rider with most players naturally preferring the latter.

Luksa thinks the real test isn’t camp but how the coach handles the first major incident:

If players feel excessive freedom, their frolic can lead to careless behavior in and out of uniform. Check the last two years of the too-loose Barry Switzer era for details. Coach Tom Landry said part of his job was to force players to do things they didn’t want to do and wouldn’t do if he didn’t demand it. I think he meant things like grass drills before practice and sprints after practice – both stamina enhancing exercises.

I await the first test of discipline and how low-key, soft-spoken Phillips will address it. Some joker will break his rules, likely mistaking Phillips’ persona for an easier touch than most. My bet is on a sharp, swift conclusion. Phillips knows that at age 60 this is his last goat rope and taffy pull. He can’t allow a maverick or two to spoil it.

From what little I’ve seen and heard from Phillips, he appears to be comfortable in his skin. He seems a quietly confident coach, doesn’t care about being in the limelight nor the least giddy at the supposed glamour of coaching the Cowboys. I mean, why should he be impressed about a team that hasn’t won a playoff in 10 years? His task is to lift the once mighty from the ditch.

Now, as frustrated at I was at the team’s lack of discipline under Parcells, which I believe partially comes from the backfiring of the Tuna’s use of outdated motivational techniques like the failure to call Terrell Owens by name, the undeniable truth is that Parcells has led teams to two Super Bowl victories and another team to the big game. Phillips has yet to get to his first.

Still, Luksa may well be right. Lack of championships or no, Phillips is a professional and a highly respected one at that. I suspect he knows what he’s doing.

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