Ah, the “player’s coach.” The guy who treats his players “like men.“ You know him. He usually comes in after the coach who has “disrespected” too many spoiled millionaires. Think Flip Saunders. That mean old Larry Brown had barged into Detroit, held everybody accountable, yelled a lot, and generally stepped on a lot of size 15 toes and hurt a lot of feelings. He was a mean person, that Larry. Oh, he won an NBA Championship in the process, but the players weren’t “having fun,” which is after all the most important thing, right? (Note: I always thought winning was where the fun came in.) Anyway, Flip came in, coddled the players, everyone was having fun again, nobody’s feelings got hurt, and the team generally eroded over time. Oh yeah, they were good for a year or so, riding the culture that Brown had brought to the team, but eventually they became ordinary again in the grand tradition of Detroit sports.
Does this scenario ring a bell? Remember the Marty Schottenheimer Chargers of 2-years ago? Yeah, Marty was a tough guy, wasn’t everybody’s buddy, didn’t smile a lot. Warm and fuzzy he wasn’t. He also went 14-2. Marty pissed off a lot of people, including the owner, and was axed in favor of “player’s coach” Norv Turner. That’s worked out well, huh? It happens every time. The new guy rides the coattails of the hard-ass for a year or so and then things start to catch up and go sour.
Players would like you to think they don’t need pushed, that they’re professionals who are self-motivated. Right. Pete Carroll’s touchy-feely “treat ‘em like men” approach worked well in the pros, didn’t it?
Which brings me to Dallas, Texas, home of the most dysfunctional group since those Ewings from the 70’s. You’ve got owner Jerry Johnson at the top, he of the extreme face makeover who also happens to be the biggest media whore south of you-know-who (Brettfavre). Then there’s Mr. Jessica Simpson. I think it’s time to say it - the boy is from Eastern Illinois and he’s in w-a-y over his head in more ways than one if you know what I’m sayin’. That brings me to T.O., the single biggest team chemistry killer in the history of professional sports. Toss in a couple of felons and a coach who couldn’t discipline a class of kindergartners and you have a team that you can’t take your eyes off of but is crumbling like a 2-week old Pop Tart.
But let’s back up a bit. With the Cowboys coming off three straight 5-11 seasons, Bill Parcells rolled into Big D in 2003 with a perennial chip on his shoulder and a no-nonsense approach to the game. He basically grabbed the team by the scruff of the neck and held them accountable. Play hard or go home. They immediately went 10-6 but it didn’t take long for Parcell’s “my way or the highway” philosophy to wear thin with the players. Not enough ass-kissing, ya know? Multi-million dollar contracts aren’t enough, a guy needs a pat on the head occasionally. In T.O.‘s case a shoulder rub and a hug is sometimes necessary. The fact that Jerry Jones kept bringing in guys who weren’t Parcell’s type of players didn’t help matters, and soon Bill was a goner. Enter Wade Phillips, a laid-back, soft spoken father figure of a Michelin Man if there ever was one. No yelling, no pushing players to their limit. He treated them “like men.” Hey, they’re professionals! They don’t need any of that college stuff. No “disrespecting” from old Wade. Well, with remnants of Parcell’s system and work ethic still around, the ’Boys went 13-3 and all was well in Big D. Until . . . the inevitable eventually happened. Without discipline the team slowly disintegrated. Attention to detail eroded, personal responsibility vanished, and infighting slowly destroyed the team. Oh sure, the Cowboys are 9-6 and could still make the playoffs, but this is clearly a team in disarray and on the decline. They‘re Texas Toast.
As long as certain owners continue to let the players run the team, we’re going to see the same old story repeat itself over and over. Tough coach (Parcells, Larry Brown, Schottenheimer, etc.) comes in, lays down the law, builds a successful team, players get tired of being controlled, tough coach gets the axe, new “player’s coach” comes in, babies the players, team loves him, team wins for awhile, team slowly rots internally, turns on itself . . . and dies.
Rest in peace Cowboys. Nah, T.O. will never let that happen.