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Wade Phillips just doesn't get it

Wade Phillips
Wade Phillips was set to interview with Tampa Bay before changing his mind Thursday.
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Jen Floyd Engel

Jen Floyd Engel, selected as the top columnist in the 2012 Associated Press Sports Editors annual contest, started working at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1997 and became a columnist in 2003 before joining FOXSports.com. Sports opinions? She's never short of them. And love her or hate her, she'll be just another one of the boys. Follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook.

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I have criticized Wade Phillips for many coaching foibles. Rightly so, I must add. He is, how do I say this, not a strong head coach.

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Laziness is not one of his flaws.

I have no doubt that he has spent a good hunk of every day since Saturday with film of Joe Flacco and Ray Rice playing on a loop, trying to figure out how to pressure and blitz and harass Baltimore's offense enough to give the Houston Texans a fighting chance in Sunday's playoff game. He undoubtedly, by this point, has a plan — a mix of blitzes and zone coverages and previously unseen wrinkles.

Phillips does this exceptionally well, this defensive coordination, as he proved once again in Houston.

Barely a year after being booted from head coaching duties in Dallas in disgrace after his team gutlessly quit on what frankly had been a gutless four years, he is the toast of Houston.

This is where his daddy coached and so they were bound to love him. He made them love him more by transforming a Texans defense that ranked 30th in 2010 into one of the best in the NFL this season. They won a playoff game, finally, in large part thanks to his defensive abilities. His side of the ball held things together as injuries forced them to start a rookie quarterback.

So what does it say that Houston is wary of him right now? What does it say that the Texans do not think he has done everything to prepare them?

It says that Wade has not learned, and never will.

What he once again failed was the perception test, because in a playoff week, Phillips was planning on going to Tampa to interview for the Buccaneers' head coaching job — until he changed his mind on Thursday night. Forget for a second that this was a horrible idea. What Wade forgot is how this looks.


Does defense still win championships in the NFL, or is offense the new standard? We'll find out in these playoffs.

He should know this by now. In his first year in Dallas, the Cowboys were unbelievable. They had a 13-3 record and had earned a first-round bye. And good old Wade gave his players freedom that off week. There were no restrictions.

So quarterback Tony Romo and a few other players went to Cabo with Jessica Simpson. There were photos, too. Then there was the loss to the Giants, who had barely snuck into the playoffs but eventually went on to win the Super Bowl when everybody had been predicting Dallas. Those days in Cabo were not why the Cowboys lost, but they became the sign of how they were unprepared to win.

Perception matters. It does. And so it does with Phillips and the Texans. Again, this is not about actual preparation. The plan is in place. It is unlikely that anything Flacco or Rice does on Sunday has any origins in where Wade may have spent his Friday.

What Wade should have done was demur, saying he had finally come home and settled into the perfect job for him. He lacks this self awareness, even now, even after that spectacular failing in Dallas. The ego is a funny thing, his convincing him he needs a Super Bowl as a head coach for his legacy and failing to inform him that such an outcome is highly unlikely.

It is like kicking a dead horse to go over all of his failings in Dallas.

Coach Cupcake, as I called Phillips in Dallas, is not a bad guy. He was just not a very good head coach. Here was a guy who never could seem to win in the playoffs and failed to properly understand the perception this created when he acted like big things had been accomplished based on stats and regular-season accolades.

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After the Giants loss, he talked of the better team losing. And in trying to defend it the next year, he said the bye week was like a playoff win. This was a football coach who on the eve of his last training camp said he did not want anybody to be uncomfortable.

The players defended him because they liked him — but never fought for him. In what turned out to be his last game, they quit. And when Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had to backtrack and take the unprecedented (for him) step of firing his coach during the season, the players all talked of a leaderless team and how this probably needed to happen long ago.

It is odd then for Phillips to want to interview for a team that quit on its coach this season, and yet, he was still planning to interview. The perception is his brain is not focused on beating Baltimore.

That Wade fails to recognize these matters has always been his biggest failing.

You can follow Jen Engel on Twitter, email her or like her on Facebook.

Tagged: Cowboys, Ravens, Texans

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