Wade Phillips had to know it was coming. Despite all the pronouncements from Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones that he would remain in the job, that there was no sense making a coaching change at this point in the season, Phillips must have seen this coming.
His team played horrendously Sunday night on national television. He lost his starting quarterback, Tony Romo, to a season-ending shoulder injury. His team was 1-7, a team that had talked about going to the Super Bowl. Was there really any other result?
Phillips was fired Monday by Jones, who had never previously dismissed a coach in midseason. But these were extraordinary circumstances – a coach who couldn’t seem to will his team to win and players who, despite their talent, had somehow lost their ability to be competitive.
“An in-season coaching change is not something I've done before, something I was reluctant to do as recently as last week,” Jones said at a press conference. “But I think what's best for the organization and the fans is a coaching change.”
Phillips was replaced on an interim basis by offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, who was a candidate at one time for the head job but was deemed too young and too inexperienced at the time. Now Garrett has a chance to prove he should keep the job.
Phillips, who was hired in 2007, produced 35-23 record, including two NFC East titles and the Cowboys’ first playoff victory since 1996. His firing comes less than a year after he received a two-year contract extension.
In a statement, Phillips, 63, said: “I told the team today that I have been proud to be a part of their family, and that will never change. I have enjoyed the privilege and responsibility of representing this franchise as its head coach.
“I am disappointed in the results of this season to this point, but I am also very proud of what our team and our players accomplished in the previous three years. In good times and difficult times, our players stuck together and never lost hold of their belief in each other and the strong team bond that they have shared. Family and coaching football have always defined my life and I will always be grateful for my experiences here with the Dallas Cowboys.”
Jones said he met briefly with the players, stressing to them that the culture of the team needs to change. More important, he said the next eight games will be their opportunity to show they want to remain a part of the organization.
“I know how fleeting your time is to get to play and how fleeting time is in my case to get to be part of the Dallas Cowboys,” Jones said he told the team. “So I think you ought to play like it's your last down every down, and I don't think we're having that.”
They didn’t show it under Phillips, so it will be Garrett’s chance to prod the Cowboys, who often looked disinterested in a 45-7 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, into playing with a meaningful passion. It will be a difficult task.
Quarterback John Kitna, asked if some players had quit on Phillips, said, “To try to say that this person quit or that person quit, I think that's disrespectful. As for me, that's just not in my nature. But I can't speak for everybody.”
Jones, however, can. Sunday night, as he was clearly pondering his move to fire Phillips, told reporters, “There are a lot of people here who are certainly going to suffer, and suffer consequences.”
Phillips was the first. If things don’t turn around quickly, others are likely to follow.