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Use Your (Phillips) Head (02/09/07) --We’re less than a week removed from the mass media’s Million Man March, which was not very cleverly disguised as Super Bowl XLI. The talking heads screamed for weeks about how this was a victory for civil rights and Doritos even ran a commercial during the game with sentimental music telling us how “WE ALL (WIN)” because two rich black man were calling plays in the Super Bowl. Lost in the misty eyes and the sadly distorted view of equality is the fact that these two were coaching football, not storming the beaches of Normandy or setting the national agenda. If you want to trumpet civil rights, then talk about Condoleezza Rice or the black heroes that served in World War II; people who actually do something more important than bailing out Tank Johnson on the weekends. And if you want to push for further equality, maybe we should try and get textbooks for inner city schools recent enough to include the moon landing before we strong arm billionaire owners into hiring millionaire minorities.
All of that is a topic that deserves five pages of its own, but I’m so sick of the redundant hoopla that I’m going to let it rest. It does, however, have relevance to what I want to talk about and that is the Dallas Cowboys’ hiring of Wade Phillips. Watching television late last night, I let out a shocked/excited “NO WAY!” when I heard that Phillips had been tabbed as the next coach of the ‘Boys. I am in no way a Cowboys fan, as is proven here, but I am a Wade Phillips fan. I honestly thought that nationwide reaction to the Phillips hiring would elicit the same sort of positive reaction that I had, albeit with less of a man crush undertone.
Wow, was I wrong.
Phillips is getting hit from every direction by the same media types who spent all of last week kissing Rosa Smith’s, I mean, Dr. Martin Luther Dungy’s ass.
“He’s a proven failure.”
“A letdown of a hire.”
“They settled for a tired retread.” (That’s retread.)
The undoubtedly negative reaction has been spurred on by two things. The first is the prevailing attitude that everybody needs a home run hire now. Hiring a quality coordinator these days doesn’t get you anything but barbs in the press. Hiring a college coach gets you the cold shoulder from your fans. The only way to satisfy everyone’s craving for a meteoric hire is to get Bill Belichick to somehow coach all thirty two teams or dig up Vince Lombardi and produce him to the adulation of the hometown writers.
That is unbelievably stupid.
When Mike Singletary interviewed for eight hours with Jerry Jones, he instantly became the sentimental favorite among image-conscious commentators and fickle fans. “There are two black coaches in the Super Bowl! Mike Singletary must be the best candidate because, get this, he’s BLACK!”
Nowhere in the conversation did I ever hear exactly what Singletary did that was especially noteworthy in San Francisco. The only qualification I heard for Singletary was that he had the coaching door slammed on him for so long that he certainly was deserving of this chance. Seeing as his coaching career has stretched WAAAAAAY back to the football stone age of 2003, he certainly deserves this opportunity after such a long, embattled tenure.
Samurai Mike might be a great coach. As a Bears fan, I have nothing but affection for the guy. But let’s take our Jesse Jackson-colored glasses off and look at the situation objectively. The sad thing is that Wade Phillips is getting torn to shreds in the middle of this and the only guy in any outlet I’ve seen stand up for him is Sean Salisbury. And if the rest of the world is like me and ignores everything Sean Salisbury says, then they probably missed that, too.
The fact of the matter is that Wade Phillips is an excellent football coach. His first run in Denver as head coach was mediocre, but look up Bill Belichick’s coaching days in Cleveland if you want to bring up that argument. His next head gig was in Buffalo which is where people should really be focusing their attention. I’ve read a lot of belly-aching over the fact that he was 0-2 in the playoffs with the Bills. Think about that. The major gripe with Phillips in Buffalo is his playoff record. Buffalo has been absolutely horse shit since Phillips got axed there. I bet they would take some first round losses over five win seasons right about now.
And if you really want to be fair, Phillips lost his second playoff game as a result of the most bizarre play in football history that didn’t end with a trombone player getting clobbered or a halfback proposing to a cheerleader. And if you want to get even fairer than that, the “lateral” that Frank Wycheck threw to Kevin Dyson probably wasn’t even legal. But yet, the guy is being painted as a total failure as a head coach.
Phillips’ eventual downfall occurred after finishing 8-8 the following year (a veritable smashing success compared to recent Buffalo squads.) Despite the insistence of his superiors, Phillips refused to fire his special teams coach. His message was clear: If it’s come to the point that we have to sit here and grandstand by blaming the entire season on the guy that coaches the long snappers, then get me the hell out of here. Amen to that. For comparison, in a similar situation Nick Saban would have fired the coach and then kicked his dog on the way out if he felt it would advance his career.
His performance in Buffalo speaks for itself. His performance in San Diego speaks for itself. Wade Phillips can coach. Even if he is white. Or isn’t a dead NFL legend.