Source: Phillips' 'insubordination' at issue

PALM DESERT, Calif. -- Is telling your owner "no" grounds for insubordination and a violation of contract? We're about to find out.

Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson Jr. sent a notice dated March 15 to Wade Phillips, informing his ex-coach that he would not honor the final year of his contract in 2001 in which Phillips is due a reported $750,000.

Ralph [Wilson Jr., Bills owner] had no intention of firing Wade. He gave Wade a second chance to change his mind. He feels that Wade maneuvered his own firing, that Wade fired himself.
league source

Phillips said he was "shocked" and "disappointed" by the letter and will challenge Wilson in a grievance with the NFL before pursuing any legal channels. Phillips said he had received two paychecks before the March 15 letter from Wilson. His insurance benefits also were canceled.

"I always thought I said the right things when I was fired, and I'll continue to say the right things," said Phillips. "It's just disappointing ... very disappointing."

A league source familiar with Wilson's stance points to Phillips' refusal to fire special teams coach Ronnie Jones as the motive not to honor the coach's contract.

Wilson has told friends that he had never asked a head coach to dismiss an assistant coach in his 41 years as the Bills' owner. Phillips' refusal was an "act of insubordination" in the owner's eyes.

"It's not the money, but the principle to Ralph," the league source said. "His feeling is that he just hired a new team president in Tom Donahoe. What happens if Donahoe orders an employee to do something and that employee refuses? Does that mean Tom has to still pay that employee even if it was clear grounds for dismissal? If anything, Ralph believes he's sending a message to his organization that there are repercussions for insubordination."

Wilson originally told Phillips in their annual season-end evaluation meeting that he wanted Jones dismissed. Phillips suggested that Jones be "re-assigned" but Wilson insisted on an outright dismissal.

A week later Phillips had just arrived at the East-West Shrine college all-star football game when Wilson called him in his hotel. The league source said Wilson wanted to know why he had not heard any news about Jones being fired. At that point, Phillips stood his ground.

The source said Phillips told Wilson, "If (Jones) goes, I go." Wilson was taken aback and asked Phillips if he really meant what he said. Phillips repeated the line. Wilson ended it by telling the coach, "Then you're gone."

"Ralph had no intention of firing Wade," the source said. "He gave Wade a second chance to change his mind. He feels that Wade maneuvered his own firing, that Wade fired himself. It impacted 10 families of assistant coaches, and Ralph was very fond of a lot of those guys."

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