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The Coaching Style Of Wade Phillips: Doomed To Quick Failure?

No one would ever confuse the coaching styles of Wade Phillips and Mike Shanahan.
No one would ever confuse the coaching styles of Wade Phillips and Mike Shanahan.

Jason Witten spans three coaches in his Cowboys lifetime. He was brought in under the old-school Bill Parcells, who was noted for his demanding style and larger-than-life persona, a coach who liked to keep his players on edge. Psychological games and verbal barbs were part of the coaches arsenal. Witten then had to transition over to Wade Phillips, who was immediately tabbed as the anti-Parcells. Wade's laid-back, aw-shucks attitude, his reputation as a player's coach (re:soft), and his inability to deal with the press effectively certainly fit the anti-Pacells label. Now, he helps to usher in the Jason Garrett era. We're not quite sure what we have in Jason Garrett, but early returns show an authoritarian figure that demands preparation, and leaves no doubt that he has confidence in what he's doing. He has a bit of the no-nonsense and distance of a strict college professor. He tends to lecture instead of answer when talking to the press. It probably is similar with the players.

A couple of years ago in the Cowboys Annual I edit, I pondered the question of why Wade Phillips had been fired so quickly, by two teams, when he usually has a good regular season record and tended to make the playoffs. Sure, he lost playoff games, but plenty of coaches had survived that early in their tenure. Maybe it does have something to do with his coaching style.

Wade is not a yeller or screamer, but neither was Tony Dungy, among other successful coaches who went that route. But Dungy always seemed disciplined, and seemed to always command respect. Wade's style wasn't that, it was almost like he wanted to be friends with the players, instead of their coach. He was the nice uncle, instead of the authoritarian dad.

My new hypothesis: When you coach the way Wade does, you can have success. But, when things start to fall apart, they fall apart rapidly. There's no command and control at that point, and players can wander off in all kinds of directions. The critical tipping point for implosion is much closer when coaching under Wade's style. That's why he's lost his head coaching gigs relatively quickly compared to his won-loss record. Last year, we were NFC East Champs and won a playoff game. Eight games later, it had all fallen apart so rapidly that Wade lost another coaching position.

So what does this have to do with Jason Witten since I lead the article with his name? He kind of confirms it for me with some of his comments on ESPN Radio Dallas to Randy Galloway. He wasn't really knocking Wade, but he noted that just a year ago the team had some problems in early December but rebounded to finish strong. But it didn't seem to have much to do with Wade.

On whether or not he thinks the team quit:

"I don’t think the guys quit. [Wade] had a clear message and he stuck with that throughout this whole process. I think back when we were 1-2 or 1-3 and he was consistent with that message and people were saying hey something’s gotta be different, something’s gotta change, he’s gotta do something. If you go back a year, we start out 0-2 in December and that consistency then you go and win the rest of them and beat Philly at the end of the year then the next week in the playoffs so I guess there’s a couple of different ways you can look at it. You can say oh he needs to create a spark, but if you go back a year he was the same guy, did the same things, and guys kinda bought in and say hey it’s on us, we need to do a better job and we went to New Orleans and won that game. I think we just didn’t execute well enough and it’s unfortunate that we dug ourselves a hole. It was two or three plays here and there throughout every game. That’s not an excuse. That’s the NFL. It’s what it comes down to. I think that’s what’s so frustrating is to be in this situation and know you let a great opportunity slip."

So when the team was struggling last year, the players were able to rebound themselves and finish strong. Wade never really gave them anything new to work off. But, this year, when the players needed rescue, Wade's style just didn't allow for it. It didn't even allow for slowing down the rate of deterioration. In fact, it probably accelerated it.

BTW, there are more Witten quotes in the interview that are pretty interesting.

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