Dallas Cowboys: Five Ways Wade Phillips Can Save His Job
Wade Phillips seems to have reserved a permanent spot on the hot seat.
Even when he was taking the Dallas Cowboys to the playoffs, there was talk about him getting fired.
This year is a little different, though. The team is 1-4 and has lost some games that, really, they should have won.
Lots and lots of penalties, special teams breakdowns and turnovers in key situations have doomed the team in the early part of the 2010 season. While it's the players who make these mistakes, those three categories are largely attributed to coaching.
Obviously, if Phillips turns the team around and gets it to the Super Bowl, there's no way he would be fired.
Short of that, though, what can he do to make sure he's still the coach of this team next year?
1. Make The Playoffs
The Cowboys have made the playoffs three out of the last four seasons, and it would be hard to fire a coach that brought them there again.
That's not to say it's never happened before.
Chargers' general manager A.J. Smith fired coach Marty Schottenheimer after a 14-2 season a few years back when the team failed to win its first playoff game.
Those circumstances were a little different, however, as Smith and Schottenheimer plain did not like each other, and it seemed that Smith was looking for a reason to fire the coach.
Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones likes Wade Phillips, and it has been said that, because Wade has no qualms with Jones being the team's general manager—the billionaire would like to keep him around.
A more experienced coach, like when Bill Parcells was there, might not go along with Jones making personnel decisions, and would want someone who has worked their way up the ranks to be in charge.
Still, if Dallas finishes, say, 4-12 or 5-11, it would be hard for Jones to explain to his season ticket holders why the coach is still there.
A trip to the postseason would likely buy Phillips at least another year.
2. Put an End To The Stupid Penalties
Dallas has made headlines recently due to some excessive celebration penalties.
While it could be argued that the rules are, for lack of a better word, stupid, those are the rules and players have to follow them (there's a reason they call it the "No Fun League").
The Cowboys have been one of the most heavily penalized teams this year, but don't blame the defense.
Dallas' D has the fewest penalties in the league, although they are in the top 10 when it comes to penalties that resulted in first downs. At least they make them count.
The offense is a different story.
Tony Romo and his crew have been flagged 49 times this year, good for third most in the NFL.
Their penalties have been crucial, too, often bringing back big plays and putting the team in unfavorable field position.
If Phillips can get the team to chill out on the penalties the rest of the year, he could show that he still has control over his team and could argue that they were the victims of some bad breaks.
Also, he could say that the team improved, and if he stays aboard that improvement would continue in 2011.
3. Stop Turning The Ball Over In Critical Situations, Score More Points
Tony Romo is among the league leaders with seven interceptions this year, and his errant throws have often come in key situations, late in games.
Turning the ball over so much puts the defense in bad situations, and it's not like Romo is lacking in targets with Miles Austin, Jason Witten, Roy Williams and Dez Bryant running routes.
Bottom line, he needs to step up his game.
Dallas is third in the league in yards per game and their passing attack has been one of the best in the league, in terms of yards. Yet they are 16th in points scored at 20.4 a game.
That has to improve if Phillips wants to stay put and if Romo wants to legitimately be considered an elite quarterback.
Again, if the offense can start scoring, and they are capable of putting points on the board, Phillips can claim marked improvement during the season—strengthening his case that he should be given more time.
4. Keep Playing Strong Defense
It needs to be noted that Phillips is not just the head coach, he's also the defensive coordinator.
His unit has given up points, there's no denying that, but they are among the best in terms of yards allowed, giving up an average of 281.4 yards a game, fourth best in the NFL and behind only the Giants in the NFC.
The D has had to deal with some horrible starting field position, thanks to untimely turnovers and blown assignments on special teams.
Dallas has a premier pass-rusher in DeMarcus Ware, but are middle of the pack in sacks. They need to find a way to turn up the heat on opposing quarterbacks, like they did at the end of last season.
Who can forget Ware manhandling Drew Brees and the Saints, ending their unbeaten streak last winter?
The defense could also stand to force more turnovers, something a better pass-rush could make happen.
Even if the offense continues to struggle, if Phillips can get his defense to give up less points and make some more big plays, he could make the case the he is clearly not the problem and maybe they just need someone else running the offense.
In that case, it would be Jason Garrett, not Wade Phillips, looking for work come February.
5. Win The Remaining Rivalry Games
There's a saying in the NFL: If you take care of the division, the rest will take care of itself.
Dallas lost its first inter-division game in Washington on the first weekend of the season in particularly embarrassing fashion due to some very poor clock management and a penalty on the last play of the game that nullified a game-winning touchdown.
They still have five division games to play, starting Monday night when they host New York.
It's hard to imagine a team going 5-1 in their division and missing the playoffs, but, even if that did happen, winning those games would go a long way in helping Phillips' cause.
Now, if the Cowboys lay an egg this week against the Giants, it's likely that Phillips will be out of a job before Tuesday morning, but if they win his chair will get considerably cooler.
Beating Philly and New York twice, along with really laying a beat down on the Redskins later this year, would please the fans and Jerry Jones, likely making it a lot easier for Phillips to stay on the sideline.
Will he make it through the season?
We'll start getting the answer Monday night.