— Wade Phillips will be fired if the Cowboys lose to the Houston Texans this Sunday.
I like Phillips and think he is a knowledgeable football coach, but owner Jerry Jones expects the Cowboys to advance to the Super Bowl in February and another loss will make that goal nearly unachievable. We are talking about the Dallas Cowboys, a franchise that has won five Super Bowls and strives for excellence each season.
Dallas mailed in the preseason and played with no sense of urgency. I was at Cowboys Stadium for their preseason game against the Oakland Raiders on Aug. 12 and it was clear the Cowboys were just going through the motions. Tony Romo spent more time this summer trying to qualify for golf's U.S. Open than he did running the first-team offense during the month of August. Romo and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett could only manufacture one touchdown in four exhibition games and that should have been a warning sign for the regular season.
Even though the offensive line is banged up, it's clear the Cowboys offense has no sense of identity and can’t balance the running game with their current passing scheme. After two games, Dallas ranks 28th in rushing yards and has only 139 yards and no touchdowns on the ground. Garrett also deserves a lot of criticism because he continues to believe Romo can make plays down field as he runs away from pressure. Dallas has two solid running backs, three quality receivers and one of the best tight ends in the NFL, but it can’t get into a rhythm on offense.
This Sunday's game at Houston is the ultimate test for a team that seems lost and has little to no confidence. The Texans would love nothing more than to embarrass the Cowboys and send them into their bye week at 0-3. Houston fans actually believe this is the "Battle of Texas" and are sick and tired of being considered a second rate franchise to "America's Team".
The Texans (2-0) have opened the season with wins against Indianapolis and Washington. Peyton Manning and the Colts have owned them in the past but struggled in the season opener and lost 34-24. Houston's Arian Foster rushed for 231 yards and three touchdowns and the Texans' defensive line dominated the line of scrimmage. Last Sunday, the Texans trailed the Redskins by 17 points before storming back on the road to win 30-27 in overtime. Quarterback Matt Schaub threw for 493 yards and receiver Andre Johnson caught 12 passes for 158 yards and a touchdown.
Compare that to the Cowboys, who struggled in their opener at Washington, losing 13-7 and turning in the biggest blunder of the young season. On the last play of the first half, instead of taking a knee, Romo scrambled under pressure and lateralled the ball to running back Tashard Choice who was then tackled and stripped of the ball. Cornerback DeAngelo Hall picked up the fumble and ran it back for a touchdown while every player on the Dallas sideline looked on in disgust. Phillips took the blame for the bad decision that clearly cost the Cowboys the game against their rival. Last Sunday, Chicago quarterback Jake Cutler tore up the Dallas secondary as the Bears upset the Cowboys 27-20 and sent them to the basement of the NFC East.
I’m a big believer that great teams rise up and play their best when the pressure is on the line. The Cowboys have no choice but to win this Sunday in order to save their season and build positive momentum into their bye week. A loss would only throw gasoline onto an already out of control oil fire in Dallas.
Here are the four men who should be considered as the leading candidates to coach the Cowboys next season.
Jon Gruden: The former Super Bowl champion coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would be the perfect fit to turn Romo into a championship quarterback. He molded journeyman backup Rich Gannon into an NFL MVP and has worked with several of the great quarterbacks of the modern era. He is an offensive genius and is driven to succeed at everything his puts his mind to. He worked for Al Davis in Oakland and Jerry Jones has always respected the owner of the Raiders. Gruden is fantastic as an analyst on Monday Night Football, but he would be the ideal personality to take this talented roster to the next level while dealing with the intense media scrutiny in Dallas.
Tony Dungy: The former Super Bowl champion coach of the Indianapolis Colts could also teach Romo and the rest of the Cowboys to improve their focus and compete for a championship. He is a low-key man on and off the field but expects excellence from everyone within an organization and could handle Jerry Jones when times get tough. Dungy is a tremendous leader and would instill confidence in a roster that is looking for a head coach who has won big games. Dungy loves the spotlight and would be back on a huge stage where he feels right at home.
Bob Stoops: The coach of the Oklahoma Sooners would bring his winning legacy at the college level and tremendous passion and energy to a team that needs to be motivated and pushed to succeed. Stoops is a winner and would not have a problem standing up to Jerry Jones and his son. The global fan base of the Cowboys would respect this hire and give him time to ultimately win a Super Bowl.
Bill Cowher: The former Super Bowl champion coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers and current TV analyst is still mourning the passing of his wife but will eventually want to get back into coaching. I have the ultimate respect for Cowher's track record. His in-your-face style would wake up the Cowboys locker room and make every player accountable. He is a players' coach and would have every fan buying into his winning vision. Players would run through a wall for him because he is a master motivator who has stayed current with the personal around the league. He might be more interested in the Carolina Panthers coaching position when John Fox is let go at the end of the season.
I respect what Jerry Jones has accomplished as the owner of the Dallas Cowboys and he will eventually get his team back to the Super Bowl, but time is running out on the 2010 season.