I was living in Iowa back when Chan Gailey was hired as the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys (1998-1999). They don't get much Cowboys coverage up there, and I had not gotten into this new interwebbie thingie yet, so I was not very aware of the history of Chan and the 'Boys. With Chan coming back to Dallas as the head coach of the Buffalo Bills, I decided I wanted to know a little more. I got to doing a little research, and thought I'd share a couple of odd thoughts that occurred to me.
Of course, one of the things that has come up lately is the statement that Jerry Jones made about making a mistake in firing Chan. The original report was back on February 25th, 2010, and was used by Mr. Jones in explaining another coaching decision.
Jerry Jones has said one of the biggest mistakes he made as Cowboys owner was to fire Chan Gailey after two seasons. That became a recurring theme as he laid the groundwork for his decision to bring Wade Phillips back.
That is an interesting dynamic if you think about it. One mistake influenced Jerry in making another mistake. Is that a reason to want to see the Cowboys beat up on the Bills?
I pulled up the original report on the firing (from the Dallas Morning News files). I had forgotten that the major complaint against Chan was that he wasn't winning playoff games. It is a bit ironic that he got into the playoffs his first two years and got fired, and then Dave Campo had his three 5-11 seasons, but that is a story many Cowboys fans are familiar with.
I am curious about why he was shown the door so quickly. There seems to be something else that was going on besides the won-lost record. No one else in Dallas' history was booted after only two seasons. Yes, the trajectory seemed downwards, with the team dropping from 10-6 to 8-8, but it still seemed very abrupt. It does look like he was a victim of a sense of panic on Jerry's part. After all, Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer had both won championships. It just seems that Gailey did not get enough of a chance to build the team. He had a pretty depleted squad, and he was having to deal with the decline of Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith. The other Triplet, Michael Irvin, was gone by 1999, and many of the other stars were aging or already departed. I think Jerry needed a few more years to come to the realization that the team needed to do some serious rebuilding, not just restocking.
Given the history, I can see why Jerry was a little hesitant to dump Wade. After all, he had gotten the Cowboys back to the playoffs, he just hadn't done very well once he got there, just like Chan. Keeping Wade did turn out to be a very bad move, though.
In addition to having gotten the Cowboys to the playoffs with limited success there, Chan and Wade have one other thing in common: They are the only ex-Cowboys head coaches working elsewhere in the league (Dave Campo has returned to Valley Ranch, and no one else is still working in a coaching position). And both are having a successful year. Chan comes into Dallas with a 5-3 record and tied for the AFC East lead. And Wade, now the Defensive Coordinator for the 6-3 Houston Texans, has developed the number one defense in the NFL.
That was a bit of a shock to me when I heard that mentioned on the radio. But the Texans are allowing the fewest yards per game right now, and the third lowest points per game. That is with Mario Williams, their top defensive star, out with an injury. They have also lost safety Dominique Barber and inside linebacker Darryl Sharpton for the season, and free safety Danieal Manning is out for a few weeks.
This is the same Wade Phillips whose defense pretty much couldn't stop little old ladies from crossing the street in early 2010. Can a change of location and a reduction in responsibility really make that much difference?
Apparently, it can. Oddly enough, firing Wade turns out to have been the best thing for Dallas, and also for Houston. The improvement defensively may save the job of Gary Kubiak, another coach who was kept on when things were a little grim. The Texans seem very likely to finally make the playoffs, which will cool Kubiak's seat.
And Chan has already gotten more wins this season than he had last year. It looks like he has come back nicely from getting fired in Dallas. He doesn't talk like he has any lingering bad feelings, but I suspect he would like to get a win in this game just a little bit more than most games.
It is just an intangible going into the game, but the histories of both Chan Gailey and Wade Phillips show that not everything can be figured out from records and numbers. Both of them seem to be in situations that suit their particular styles and talents. And make no mistake, both are quite talented. They just did not seem to have the correct skill sets to be successful head coaches under Jerry Jones at the time they were here.
What ifs are entertaining but ultimately futile. But I can't help but wonder what would have happened if Gailey had been given a couple more years, and the ability to bring in the players he wanted.
It doesn't matter. For now, we just hope Jason Garrett and company spoil Chan's homecoming.