Training camp is here at last. As Cowboy fans we have been anxiously waiting to finally see this new-look, streamlined Cowboy unit in action. We’ve all been waiting to see what a healthy Roy Williams looks like in T.O.’s old spot. We’ve debated at length which sophomore corner will hold down the island opposite Terence Newman. We’ve hypothesized all offseason about the role Jason Garrett will be carving out for Felix Jones. With all of these great training camp related unsolved issues, there was still one question that loomed larger than all of the rest in my mind. I wanted to know whether or not we were all going to see this tougher, more demanding Wade Phillips that we were promised.
At his pre-camp presser, Coach Phillips looked at times like a guy who was trying on his tough guy suit for the first time. He was in a few instances, uncharacteristically short and dismissive with the media. He also seemed to be almost fighting his own natural smile, attempting to look a bit more subdued and businesslike. I get it. The guy wants to be taken serious, and is probably a bit tired of the way that he is perceived by members of the media. And to his credit, early reports from camp have players moving in and out of drills at a much more urgent pace than in recent years.
As in most other phases of life, it is a lot easier to go from hard to soft than it is to do the opposite. Actor/Hip-Hop artist Ice Cube was the angriest man in America for the better part of two decades. So when Cube decides to star in a fluffy, family-oriented comedy, he can do so without damaging the surplus of street credibility he has built up throughout his career. We have seen a very rigid Tom Coughlin open himself up just a bit and get a great response from his players. When your perpetually strict father finally cracks open a beer with you and treats you like a peer, you feel like a million bucks.
It is a lot tougher for a guy with Wade Phillips’ reputation of being a laid back ‘player’s coach’ to turn it around and be taken seriously. Still, I for one think that he can do it, as long as he remembers to just be Wade Phillips. If Phillips suddenly becomes demonstrative, and starts launching Bill Parcells-esque personal attacks on players, they will turn on him in a second. I don’t think that’s what he has in mind at all, but a dramatic change will not be taken seriously by the players. Wade Phillips is not that guy, nor does he have to be.
All that Coach Phillips has to do is demand more from his players and accept nothing less. He also has to set rules and enforce them. That’s it.
A coach can be more demanding without being necessarily tougher, or more boisterous. Let’s say for example a wide receiver runs a route that is not to the coaches liking, and the coach wants to see a better effort. Some coaches would rip into the player, single him out, and cause a scene. Another coach may just calmly say "Hey, go back and run that again. I know you can give me a better effort than that. I want you to get better." Wade Phillips strikes me as more of the latter than the former. Different approaches work for different guys. You don’t necessarily have to yell, or throw a clipboard, curse out the poor kid who’s job is to follow you around and regulate the slack on your headset.
As far as setting rules and enforcing them, Coach Phillips will need a little help from Jerry Jones. Jerry has got to allow Wade to levy some substantial fines for team rules violations. Setting rules takes the good guy and bad guy out of the equation. Rules are rules, if rules are broken, punishment will be assigned. Simple as that.
I think that Wade Phillips will be just fine, because I think that the players really do want to win for him. They may not scurry in fear of him, but you can’t tell me the guys on that defense don’t respect his mind. How can you not respect a guy who stays up into the middle of the night, trying to think of new ways to put you in a position to succeed? I think that the demonstrative, tyrannical coaches of yesteryear are slowly beginning to die off. You can’t be a pushover, but with today’s athletes, the "in-your-face" coach can lose a locker room in a hurry. Is Wade Phillips the first guy you would turn to if you needed a speech to send the troops off into battle? No. But considering the way the Cowboys ended the 2008 season, motivation should not be an issue. Hopefully the adjustments that Wade Phillips is making to himself are more along the lines of a tune up than a complete overhaul.