He's a Little Bit Country -- Enough to Win

"There's a lot of ways to get it done," Cowboys Coach Wade Phillips says. (Louis DeLuca - AP/Dallas Morning News)
By Les Carpenter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 17, 2007

IRVING, Tex. -- There are times in this office, the one built for Tom Landry, that convention disappears and the man behind the desk relies on something more instinctual, something born on forgotten Friday nights in the lonely part of Texas that stretches up against Louisiana.

"Country coachin'," Wade Phillips said.

Chuckling slightly, the coach of the Dallas Cowboys shifted in his chair, the sleeves pushed up on his team jacket, sipping from a super-size convenience store tumbler of coffee and looking every bit the linebackers coach at West Orange-Stark High School and nothing like the face of football's most glamorous franchise. It's an appearance that undoubtedly had a lot to do with why he's been fired from two NFL head coaching jobs despite winning 58 percent of his games. And it's why, until Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones called this winter, Phillips figured he was destined to live out the rest of his football life as an assistant coach.

Image matters in the $7 billion National Football League. Coaches have a look, a pedigree, an expectation that they are bringing with them whatever scheme is the most popular at that moment. Owners aren't handing their teams to doughy 60-year-old men with gentle rural Texas twangs and a dedication to "country coachin'," no matter how fantastic the winning percentage.

Except for one little thing: the good ol' Big Gulp-drinkin' country boy, son of that crazy Bum Phillips and his 10-gallon hat, is whupping all those smart boys and their fancy systems. In fact, if the season were to end now, Wade Phillips, once washed up and almost certain to never get a head coaching job ever again, would be coach of the year in the NFC.

There's an excellent chance the 8-1 Cowboys, who play the Washington Redskins on Sunday, will be in this year's Super Bowl. And not even Bum could do that in all those years coaching the Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints.

Which might stand as the greatest indictment yet of business as usual these days in the NFL.

"He's not a campaigner, he's not a politician," says former Broncos, Giants and Falcons head coach Dan Reeves, who twice hired Phillips as a defensive coordinator. "He's never going to sell himself to you. He's kind of old-school. He's not a self-promoter, he's not a fancy guy. You will never see him miked on the sideline."

And what's wrong with that? The Cowboys have been plagued over the years with a variety of head coaches, from milquetoast assistants to larger-than-life figures with egos big enough to fill Texas Stadium. The last approach, Bill Parcells, left last winter after four mediocre years and a locker room filled with players tired of his heavy-handed tactics. He said he was done with football and trundled off to Saratoga. So perhaps a little "country coachin' " isn't the worst thing to have around here.

The tangible effects of it could be seen the other day in the Cowboys' locker room as star wide receiver Terrell Owens held two news conferences -- one at his locker for television reporters and another outside the room for the print media -- and raved several times about the new coach "who allows us to be men."

When asked to elaborate, Owens, who detested Parcells, said: "He just allows us to be accountable for our actions all across the board. He's not trying to be a disciplinarian. That just sucks the life out of a team." Then he pointed at the group of writers gathered around. Parcells "was tough for them, so you know how it was for us."

This year, the Cowboys even had a family day. Everyone brought their children and let them run around the locker room. Jones stood up and told the team he never remembered them ever having something like this before. And everyone at once seemed to have the same thought: Parcells would have died.

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