IRVING, Texas — Jerry Jones is stuck.
The Dallas Cowboys are 1-6, going nowhere fast and there's hardly anything the team's owner-general manager can do about it.
Everyone is talking about him firing coach Wade Phillips. Jones probably doesn't see how that would help, or he would've done it by now, especially with Phillips all but offering up his headset with what sounded like a concession speech following a loss at home to mediocre Jacksonville last Sunday.
Keeping Phillips would be unpopular — heck, it already is — but few people are as well-versed in doing unpopular things as Jones, who fired Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson, hired Barry Switzer and cut Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith.
Criticism doesn't budge Jones, but money usually does.
And that's likely the crux of all this.
If Phillips is fired, he's still due at least $3 million for 2011. That said, he's not likely to walk away, especially if he thinks this could be his last NFL head coaching job. Jones, meanwhile, would expect someone he was paying that much to stay on.
Sure he could go after a Super Bowl-winning coaches Bill Cowher, Tony Dungy or Jon Gruden, but it's not that simple. Sure it would shake up the locker room and, with nine games left, give Dallas a head start on a rebuilding plan. Would that be enough or worth the expense of signing one of them?
Then there's the pending labor war.
Jones is a member of the league's management council executive committee and will have a big role in the upcoming negotiations with the players' association. He's dug in his heels, ready for a fight over the collective bargaining agreement that could scrap the 2011 season.
"The last time around was a tweak, but this time it's structural changes," Jones said. "It's just totally unacceptable the way it is."
Replacing Phillips would be an indication Jones is preparing for 2011, which would go contrary to the negotiating stance that there might not be a 2011 season. It might explain why he would avoid the risk of paying two coaches not to work next year.
The whole CBA-related rationale stems from an interview with Jones last week.
Asked how the labor uncertainty factors into his decision about a coaching change, he said: "I wouldn't try to or weight how that impacts decisions, but certainly you aren't going to see a lot of coaching changes as we go into next year."
He clarified that "we" meant the NFL and that "next year" meant the league's fiscal year. Then he ended that line of discussion, saying, "I'm not going to go into why."
Jones still could fire Phillips without making a dent in his payroll.
The easiest move would be promoting someone already on the staff, such as offensive coordinator Jason Garrett (once viewed as the head coach-in-waiting), receivers coach Ray Sherman or special teams coach Joe DeCamillis, who is loud and profane on the practice field, the antithesis of Phillips' style.
A new voice calling the shots and demanding more discipline might squeeze out an extra win or two. But, with the playoffs a lost cause, each win only means a worse draft pick. So that could swing Jones back in favor of riding things out with Phillips, for better or worse.
In 22 seasons, Jones has made six coaching changes — none during a season. He says research shows it rarely helps a struggling club change directions.
On Sunday, he noted that there are only about 35 "real practice days with pads" left this season.
"You've got really some serious limitations or some serious challenges when you start talking about changing philosophy, which (is) why I don't go there," he said.
Another wretched performance like the last one — a 35-17 loss that felt more like 53-7 — could make Jones change his mind, especially if the worst unit is once again the defense that's personally overseen by Phillips. (That's another issue: firing Phillips means finding another defensive coordinator, although there are two former NFL defensive coordinators on his staff.)
It remains stunning that Dallas could be off to its worst start since going 1-15 in 1989 when there were legitimate reasons to think this could be its first Super Bowl season since 1995. With the upcoming NFL title game at Cowboys Stadium, Jones spoke openly about becoming the first team to play the big game at home.
The hopes were rooted in fact: The Cowboys went 11-5 last season, winning their division and a playoff game. Continuity was the buzzword because they brought back every key member of the coaching staff and 20 of 22 starters, with both replacements backups ready for promotions.
A team that's built to win isn't.
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