Wade Phillips is a Hall of Fame defensive coordinator who will be remembered in the Hall of Pretty Good head coaches. In nine full seasons as a head coach Phillips suffered through only two losing seasons yet never busted through to ultimate success -- winning one playoff game in six trips between Denver, Buffalo and Dallas spread across the 1990's and 2000's.
The Son of Bum's best chance for football immortality came in Dallas. At age 60 and two jobs removed from his most recent head coaching job, Jerry Jones hired him away from the San Diego Chargers' defensive coordinator gig to succeed Bill Parcells who, despite walking off the job after losing the infamous Tony Romo fumble game in Seattle to close the 2006 season, left behind a loaded team led by Romo, Jason Witten, Terrell Owens and DeMarcus Ware in their respective primes.
The Cowboys went 13-3 in Phillips's first season only to lose to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants in the NFC Divisional Playoffs at home. The 2008 season ended with the Cowboys heading to Philadelphia with a playoff spot on the line -- and losing 44-6. Dallas rebounded in 2009 to win the NFC East and claim the club's first playoff win since the Troy Aikman era in the Wild Card game, but a 34-3 rout awaited them in Minnesota in the divisional round.
It's with that backdrop we pick up this excerpt from Phillips's upcoming memoir Son of Bum: Lessons My Dad Taught Me About Football and Life, originally published in Deadspin:
With one year left on my contract, I had my agent ask Jerry for an extension on my deal. It seemed like things were good, but they weren’t. Or at least, they weren’t good enough. The year before, when we went 9–7, the press wanted to fire me. Now here I was, with a 33–15 record and a playoff win in three seasons, and coming off an 11–5 year. I thought I’d get Jerry to extend my contract beyond the 2010 season. But he wouldn’t.
Another factor was Jason Garrett had some head coaching opportunities. He got an offer from the Baltimore Ravens [in 2008], and his agent evidently went back to Jerry and said, “If you give him what Baltimore is paying him as a head coach, he’ll stay in Dallas as offensive coordinator.” Jerry matched the offer and now Jason was making more than me.
The excerpt begins with Phillips praising Jones' vision of an owner, saying of Jerry the same thing everyone says of Jerry: Jerry wants to win. And it's true Jerry wants to win -- he's just exclusively interested in winning his way. He wants to win, but not to the level of hiring a GM and keeping his hands off the football matters. He wants to win, but not to the level of telling his coaches and football people which players to acquire. He wants to win, but not to the level of undermining his head coach's authority by hiring his offensive coordinator before him and, as illustrated above, paying his offensive coordinator more than the head man.
Perhaps as a result of age, or as a result of now five straight head coaches and two full decades (and counting) between Super Bowl trips, or as the cumulative effect of thousands and thousands of gentle nudges from those who work for him, or as a combination of all three, Jerry has since eased up on some of the traits that must have made him a maddening coach to work for at times. But he was still Peak Meddling Jerry when Phillips coached for him.
When I joined the Cowboys, they already had an offensive coordinator, Jason Garrett. He had been the quarterbacks coach for the Miami Dolphins before they fired their entire coaching staff, which made him available. Once the season began, I liked what we had on both sides of the ball. We went 13–3, which was the best record in the NFL, and had a top-ten defense. We lost to the Giants in a home playoff game. We had the ball at the end of the game with a chance to win, but they stopped us.
After our 9–7 season, when the offense struggled, Jerry said that maybe he should have let Jason take the Baltimore job rather than give him the big raise.
Jerry did agree to give me more money. He did it by adding an option year to the two remaining seasons on my contract.
It included a bonus that would only be paid if I finished the season as head coach.
“This is just for if you murdered somebody, or something like that, you wouldn’t get the bonus,” Jerry said. “And it’s our option to pick up that extra year.”
“Well, then that’s not giving me another year if it’s your option,” I said.
I took the deal, although I still didn’t think it was right.
We began the 2010 season on a bad note with a 13–7 division loss to Washington. We didn’t allow a touchdown on defense. We shouldn’t have allowed the Redskins’ defense to get one either, but right before the half, Jason asked me, “You want us to go for a score or just run the half out?”
“Yeah, okay,” I said.
We ran a play and we got a ten-yard holding penalty. There were only four seconds left in the half. Jason called a pass. Tony Romo threw to our running back, Tashard Choice, who was four yards behind the line. DeAngelo Hall hit him; he fumbled; Hall picked up the ball and ran it in for a touchdown.
I didn’t know Jason was going to run a play after having a ten-yard penalty and only four seconds on the clock instead of kneeling on the ball, which was what we should have done.
I don't think Wade and Jason Garrett are friends, y'all.
I also felt good about my 34–22 record with the Cowboys. It’s not tremendous, but it’s still pretty good. That’s still the tiniest of a fraction of a percent ahead of Tom Landry, the all-time winningest coach in the history of the franchise. People don’t want to hear that, but it’s a fact.
The Phillips gift of gab didn't manifest itself in Wade the way it did in Bum. Whereas the father was full of back-porch wisdom, the son can slip in digs at his offensive coordinator and praise for himself that places him equal to a 2-time Super Bowl winner.
We hit rock bottom in our eighth game when we went to Green Bay and lost 45–7. It was one of those situations where if you get beat by a good team on the road and a lot of things go bad for you, the perception is you’ve lost the team as the head coach. Everybody’s saying that. They think that.
For road games, I would fly out with the team but always fly back with Jerry on his private plane, mainly because he wanted to use that time for just the two of us to talk and to hear about what happened in the game from the coach’s perspective. On the way back from Green Bay, I gave him my thoughts about the game, although I knew that he was hearing the same thing that was being said pretty much everywhere—that I had lost the team.
The next day, he called me into his office and said, “I’m going to make a change.”
I asked him if I could stay on the job for one more game because I felt I would have a chance to go out on a winning note. We were playing the Giants on the road, and I said he could make the change after that game and start fresh with a new coach for our next game at home, which would be a week after the New York trip.
“No, no, I’ve made up my mind,” Jerry said. “That’s what I want to do.”
Jason Garrett took over and the Cowboys won the next two games and ended up with five total victories to finish the year 6–10. I felt like—and I still feel like—we could have won those last two games as well. You never know when it’s going to turn around, but that didn’t happen.
If you didn't already know before reading this it could be tough to tell the Cowboys were 1-7 and fresh off a 45-7 loss at Green Bay when Jerry fired Wade. The title of the excerpt -- "Jerry Jones Is a Great Guy Until He Fires You" -- attempts to paint Jones in a certain light, but firings after a 38-point loss that drop you to 1-7 seem like standard operation procedure in the NFL.
Nevertheless, the Wade-Jerry-Jason dynamic was just as entraining in print as it was in real life. Hopefully the rest of the book is just as good.