It's Not Just About Wade Phillips: A History Lesson

Steve HartlineCorrespondent IDecember 12, 2009

GREEN BAY, WI - NOVEMBER 15: Head coach Wade  Phillips of the Dallas Cowboys watches his team during a game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on November 15, 2009 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers defeated the Cowboys 17-7. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

While driving home from work recently it was debated on talking head radio whether or not Wade Phillips’ position as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys was safe.  The talking heads concluded that if the Cowboys played their way into the play-offs and won one game he would be safe (retained for 2010).

I’m here to tell you that, if accurate, thinking like this rewards mediocrity and will destroy an organization. Let’s be precise: All I can do is put this into perspective and then let you folks decide a suitable path to success. But first, a history lesson.

I grew up in baseball country, specifically as a card carrying member of St. Louis Cardinal Red Nation. We had other teams to root for like the NFL-E Cardinals/NFL-W Rams, MLH Blues, SLU basketball, Big 12 North, etc.  But by and large it was a baseball town. And we loved our Cardinals. We had such a winning tradition. But not always.

As I recall, after the late August collapse in 1989 against the Chicago Cubs, long time favorite coach (and former general manager) Whitey Herzog was sacked. This ended an era of baseball, both in St Louis and reflective in all of MLB: no more hit-and-run, sacrifice, two inning save, or in-field shift. Baseball had evolved to the three run homer and pitch counts, or as Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine said it best, “chicks dig the long ball." The firing of Whitey was inevitable, and baseball evolved.  So be it.

But ownership did not evolve. From 1990-1996, the Cardinals entered a dark era: coaching sucked. New player acquisition sucked. Drafting sucked. The team sucked. Even the hot dogs sucked.

The organization was owned by the Budweiser beer family and it seemed they didn't give a rat’s ass about the team. Marketing was all that mattered (just think back to those great and memorable Bud Light commercials of that era).  To put all of this into perspective, Joe Torre for part of that period was our coach. He was fired and immediately hired by the New York Yankees—we know what happened there! 

I should also comment that the ending of that Dark Era was signified by the Cardinal ownership changing hands and Tony LaRussa/Walt Jocketty being hired that same year. The Cardinals were restored to glory and went on to win the World Series in
2006. But I want to focus on that period of 1989-1996.

It was bleak for Cardinal fans. The owner collected the rent and at best tended to the stadium maintenance: no more—no less.  I think the same may be said about the Dallas Cowboys.  The big difference is the new stadium.  And for that I give current ownership an A+.  How can you not? But as for the team and organization?  C’mon, man!

It’s the day-to-day operations that matter.  The Cowboys are once again entering the dreaded days of December. We like to put a label on these periods, so I’ll acknowledge this as the Romo era. As an organization, we all know this is when they need to measure up and play with that killer instinct.  And Wade Phillips is the first we look at or listen to measure success. Is he the right man for the job or just Jerry’s man?  It's bigger than that.  It will always be bigger than that in because the Cowboys are the NFL (a case can be made for Pittsburgh, and New England of late). And the Cowboys have so much tradition and history that it ought to be bigger than that.  My point?

To wrap back to my beginning statement: If the Cowboys fail to make the play-offs, Wade ought to be gone and Jones should fire himself as GM. If they make the play-offs and lose Wade ought to be gone and Jones should fire himself as GM. If this repeats ad nausea Jones ought to fire himself and sell the team. The Dallas Cowboys are bigger than Jerry Jones or any one person.