“Everything rises and falls on leadership.”
I do not know who said that first. I first heard it from a preacher named Lee Roberson, back in the seventies. Then, John Maxwell popularized it in more recent memory. Whoever said it, said it right.
All you can really add to it is, “Amen.”
The Dallas Cowboys are a team in desperate need of a leader. Plenty of players have emerged as positive locker room and field leaders, not the least of which is Keith Brooking. But the dearth of leadership on the sideline is ominous and distressing to the Cowboys faithful.
Last weekend, before the Green Bay game, my wife and I went to dinner with her parents. For my father-in-law and me, the subject turned, as it often does, to the Dallas Cowboys. We were talking about this very subject: the dreadful state of the head coaching position.
Coming off that huge win in Philly, my father-in-law was optimistic and hopeful.
“You know, Gene,” he said, “They don’t really have a head coach. They have an offensive and a defensive coordinator.”
I said that they do have a head coach. His name is Jerry.
He said he thought the team was mature enough and had enough team leaders to compensate for Wade Phillips’ lack of leadership. I said I hoped he was right, but I rather doubted it.
After Sunday’s debacle, he called and said, “I was wrong.”
Now, I do think he is right about being wrong. But I wish he wasn’t.
All of this got me thinking. I wondered who were the worst coaches ever to win a Super Bowl? I thought I would list the five worst Super Bowl winning coaches of all time.
That is a tough assignment. I only came up with two candidates I felt worthy to fill the five slots. But I will fill them anyway.
- Don McCafferty won Super Bowl V with the Baltimore Colts. He only served as a head coach in the league for four years, posting a 28-17-2 record (a .600 winning percentage). Baltimore fired him five games into the 1972 season, just two years after he won his ring. His team was 1-4 at the time of his firing.
- Barry Switzer is number two on my list, but could get serious consideration for number one. The legendary coach of the Oklahoma Sooners may have proved Jerry Jones right when Jones said, “Any of five hundred coaches could have won a Super Bowl with this team.” Jones said that as he was firing Jimmy Johnson. Barry won Super Bowl XXX with the Cowboys. He was fired by Jones two years later, after his team went 6-10. Switzer’s record as a head coach: 40-24 (a .630 winning percentage).
- Brian Billick coached the Baltimore Ravens from 1999 – 2007. He posted four winning seasons and won Super Bowl XXXV. He also built one of the league’s all-time best defenses, with more than a little help from one Ray Lewis. He had a record of 80-64 (a .560 winning percentage).
- Mike Ditka posted a winning record in seven of his 14 years as a head coach. His Chicago Bears destroyed New England in Super Bowl XX, 46-10 on the strength of one of the greatest defenses ever to take an NFL field. Ditka’s record as a head coach was 121-95 (a .560 winning percentage).
- Jon Gruden won Super Bowl XXXVII with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In 11 years coaching the Raiders and Bucs, he posted a 95-81 record.
As you can see, even a list of the “weakest” Super Bowl-winning coaches gets pretty strong after you get past those first two slots. I doubt many would call Billick, Ditka, or Gruden “bad” head coaches.
So how does Phillips measure up? Through the 2009 season, he had posted a 76-52 regular season record (a .594 winning percentage). The rub comes, however, in the post-season, where he is 0-4.
The problem with Wade Phillips is not his regular season coaching record. The problem is his laissez-faire approach to leadership. The problem is his penchant for over-celebrating minor victories and down-playing major losses. The problem is his tendency to become defensive, when he should become determined. The problem is that he is not now, nor has he ever been, the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys.
I just don’t see any way for that not to matter.