IRVING, Texas (AP) — Jerry Jones never wanted to change coaches this season. As the blowout losses mounted, and Wade Phillips’ defense was mostly to blame, the owner-general manager of the Dallas Cowboys had no choice.
Jones fired Phillips on Monday and promoted offensive coordinator Jason Garrett to take over the 1-7 club on an interim basis. Defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni was promoted to replace Phillips’ other role as defensive coordinator.
Jones decided enough was enough following a 45-7 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night. It was the Cowboys’ fifth straight loss and the third straight that wasn’t even close.
“I recognized that after the game we just weren’t playing winning football and our best chance was to make a change,” Jones said.
This is the first time Dallas has made an in-season coaching change. Garrett also becomes the first former Cowboys player to take over the job previously held by the likes of Tom Landry, Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells.
The 44-year-old Garrett has never been a head coach on any level. Yet he sure seemed ready judging by the confidence displayed at his introductory news conference.
“Wade is no longer the coach. I am the coach and what we’re going to do going forward (is) get ready to have a great meeting, a great walkthrough and a great practice on Wednesday and give ourselves a chance to beat the Giants on Sunday,” Garrett said.
Garrett certainly is different from Phillips — younger, offensive-oriented and far more businesslike. He made it clear things will be done his way without giving many specifics.
“There’ll be some changes that I think will be tangible that people in our organization will notice right from the start,” Garrett said. “I just think the personality of the leader will come through a little bit.”
Jones steadfastly supported Phillips throughout the team’s tailspin, even saying late last week that he wouldn’t make a coaching change this season. He said Monday he’d been “in denial” about how bad the club really is.
The first five losses had all been by a touchdown or less, which showed players were still fighting. But now the defense has allowed at least 35 points in three straight games, which hadn’t happened since Dallas went 0-11-1 in its inaugural season, 1960. Stranger still, the unit — personally overseen by Phillips — features nearly all the same players who closed last season with the first back-to-back shutouts in club history.
“It really was paramount in my thinking that we would make adjustments and have our defense more productive,” Jones said.
This is the Cowboys’ worst season since 1989. It’s destined to be among the worst in franchise history considering Dallas was coming off a division title and a playoff win and was expected to contend for the Super Bowl that’ll be held at Cowboys Stadium. They also have among the highest payrolls in the NFL.
“I told (players) they should not think this an admission of defeat or finality in this season,” Jones said. “We have eight games left and we have one goal — to win.”
Jones was clearly unhappy and uncomfortable. He spoke slower than usual, with longer pauses, and fiddled with his glasses throughout a 22-minute news conference.
He called Phillips “somebody we thought so much of” and “a good friend, as well.” He wouldn’t provide details of his conversation with Phillips, and became emotional as he described breaking the news to the team. He said the focus of that speech was accountability.
“I spoke of the realization that it’s not just about yourself,” Jones said. “It impacts others.”
It’s worth noting that Garrett’s unit hasn’t been much better than Phillips’, and that goes back to before starting quarterback Tony Romo broke his collarbone on Oct. 25.
However, Garrett was No. 2 on the coaching depth chart and Jones has always thought highly of him. He’s been viewed as the team’s coach-in-waiting since he was hired — days before Phillips came aboard, in fact. He’s among the highest-paid assistants in the league at $3 million.
“I do believe Jason has the temperament, he has the disposition to affect a culture change,” Jones said. “I think this is important. We know all men’s styles are different. His style is one that I feel can be very effective.”
Garrett was a backup quarterback behind Troy Aikman from 1993-99. He was the quarterbacks coach in Miami in 2005-06 before rejoining the club in 2007.
He’s had the title of assistant head coach since 2008, when he withdrew from other interviews to remain in Dallas. His father, Jim, spent 22 years in the organization, working for every coach but Phillips. Two of Jason’s brothers are on his staff: tight ends coach John and Judd, the director of pro scouting.
“I think he’s very consistent, very to the routine. I like him as a coach,” receiver Miles Austin said. “Hopefully it changes things for the better.”
Even if Jones wanted to make Garrett the permanent coach right now, he couldn’t because of the Rooney Rule, which requires interviewing minority candidates. Still, Garrett obviously has a chance to show what he can do starting Sunday.
“I want to see the kind of effort (involved) in playing to win — extraordinary effort, that you might not expect to see on a team that’s 1-7 right now,” Jones said. “That kind of action goes beyond a resume.”
The 63-year-old Phillips went 34-22 over 3½ seasons, plus 1-2 in the postseason. Dallas won the NFC East twice on his watch. He has another year at more than $3 million left on his contract.
His career record as a coach with Dallas, Denver and Buffalo is 79-57, with only one losing record in eight full seasons. He made the playoffs five times, but won only one playoff game. Counting a 3-4 mark over two stints as an interim coach, Phillips has 82 regular-season wins, matching his father, former Houston and New Orleans coach Bum Phillips.
Wade Phillips released a statement thanking the fans and the Jones family “for all of the support” and thanking assistant coaches and players “for their loyalty and dedication.”
“I told the team today that I have been proud to be a part of their family and that will never change,” Phillips said. “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.”
This leadership handoff wasn’t very smooth.
Jones told Phillips around 1:45 p.m., shortly before players arrived at team headquarters. The story was first reported about that time by KTVT of Dallas-Fort Worth, so many players found out through the media.
About 2:15 p.m., Phillips walked through the hallway near team headquarters and said nothing was going on, that he was just going to check on injured players; he indeed went to the training room. Players finally heard it officially from Jerry and Stephen Jones around 3 p.m.
“It feels terrible that it has gotten to that point at the midpoint of the season,” quarterback Jon Kitna said. “We have a chance to do something about it going forward. But it doesn’t change magically overnight. ... I’ve said it since I got here — this is the most talented team I’ve been around. But talent isn’t the only ingredient.”
Defensive players took it even more personally because they worked closest with Phillips.
Jay Ratliff went from a backup defensive lineman under Parcells to Pro Bowl nose tackle under Phillips, so he was especially upset.
“We fought like hell for him,” Ratliff said. “Things just didn’t go our way.”
Pasqualoni was coach at Syracuse from 1987-2004, then joined the Cowboys as a tight ends coach under Parcells. He switched to linebackers in ‘06 and ‘07, Phillips’ first season, then spent the last two seasons as defensive coordinator of the Miami Dolphins. He returned to Dallas earlier this year.
“I think that Paul’s disposition, his approach, his skill ... brings something to the table to institute for us this week, next week and the next eight weeks,” Jones said.
Speculation will persist on the club’s next permanent leader. Obvious candidates include former Super Bowl winners Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden, both working in broadcasting.