IRVING, Texas – Wade Phillips returns to AT&T Stadium tonight for the first time since he was fired as Dallas Cowboys head coach midway through the 2010 season, coordinating the Houston Texans' defense in the preseason finale for both teams.
It’s a contest that will be played mostly by backups and roster-fillers, and it's a little different than a regular-season matchup, but Phillips' return is worth noting.
Phillips went 34-22 as the Cowboys' head coach from 2007 to 2010. The Cowboys won the NFC East twice, and in 2009 had their first playoff victory since 1996. But a 1-7 record halfway through 2010 led Jerry Jones to do something he had never done as Cowboys owner and general manager: make an in-season coaching change.
Phillips was out, Jason Garrett was in, and the 5-3 mark Garrett posted was enough to land him the job on a permanent basis.
Phillips’ won-loss record with Dallas was excellent. His .607 winning percentage is second in team history, behind Barry Switzer’s .625. Tom Landry had a .605 winning percentage.
Despite the success, Phillips’ time is not remembered for the division titles or the playoff victory. There was the stinging loss to the New York Giants in the divisional round of the playoffs at Texas Stadium after the Cowboys posted an NFC-best 13-3 record in 2007. The Cowboys finished 9-7 in 2008 but team turmoil ripped that club apart. The Cowboys were outscored 80-24 in Phillips’ last two games, losses to Jacksonville and Green Bay.
“Whatever’s happened, happened,” Phillips said. “And you learn from the past, but you go forward in the future with a great attitude. That’s part of life. That’s what you do. That's what you teach players to do and that’s what I believe in. I enjoyed every day. … Jerry Jones was a great owner for me and did all the things that I asked him to do, so I don’t have any regrets.
“Sure, we would’ve liked to have won it all. That would’ve been better, but I know I did the best I could while I was there, and I don’t look back and say, “What if this would’ve happened?’ or ‘What if that would’ve happened?’”
Phillips proudly pointed out the 33 wins in three years, the two trips to the divisional round of the playoffs, and the two division titles.
“Those are pretty significant things,” Phillips said.
But it wasn’t enough, and when things went badly in 2010, he could not be saved.
He carries with him what he called “all the great memories” and the relationships he built with players. In May, he attended a retirement party for longtime Cowboys tackle Marc Colombo at a Dallas hotel. He spoke with Colombo, Leonard Davis, Jason Witten and Tony Romo.
“That’s part of the great thing of coaching, being around the players and liking the players and letting them know you like them,” Phillips said. “I’ve been around a lot of great players. Rickey Jackson, I was at his Hall of Fame deal. I didn’t get to Curley Culp’s this year, but it goes all the way back to Elvin Bethea and guys like that. They worked hard and you appreciated them, and hope they appreciated you a little bit.”
Witten called Phillips “one of the classiest men I know.”
“I never had a coach pull for you as much as Wade did,” the Cowboys tight end said. “He wanted you to have success and he was selfless. It wasn’t about him. It was always about the players.”