Cowboys' Phillips hears criticism, feels pressure to win in December

IRVING, Texas -- Despite having won 30 of 44 games as coach of the Dallas Cowboys, Wade Phillips knows he better keep winning over the next month if he's going to keep his job.

Phillips is in the final year of a three-year contract. The Cowboys have an option for next season, but team owner Jerry Jones hasn't picked it up -- or even talked to the coach about picking it up.

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The next month or so likely will determine what Jones does. The Cowboys (8-3) lead the NFC East with five weeks left in the regular season. But Dallas has a history of fading over the final month, and Phillips hasn't done anything to solve it: He's 3-6 in December and January. That includes being 0-1 in the playoffs, keeping the Cowboys without a playoff win since 1996.

"When you are in coaching, there is a lot of pressure to win," Jones said Wednesday. "What we do here and how we get into these playoffs and if we can get in with an advantage, if we can have a game here, get a bye, all of those are things that look good for Wade."

Phillips sounded frustrated that his job status is shaky considering how much he has won in Dallas. Only the New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts, New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers have won more games than the Cowboys since Phillips was hired to replace Bill Parcells as coach before the 2007 season.

"A lot of guys who've won 30 games in three years, they're not talking about their future," Phillips said. "That's just the way it is. But I don't worry about that. ... I'm not talking about that. That's of no consequence."

Phillips' .682 winning percentage is the best in team history, surpassing Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson.

Then again, both Landry and Johnson won multiple Super Bowls. Phillips has yet to win a playoff game.

"All I do is try to do the best I can as a coach," Phillips said. "I work hard at that. I don't think I get a lot of respect for that, but that's the way it goes."

In Phillips' first season with the Cowboys, they went 13-3, matching the most wins in franchise history, but lost their first playoff game. They went 9-7 last season, but a wipeout loss in the regular-season finale kept them out of the playoffs.

Now Dallas has won six of its last seven games, but excitement is muted by concerns over a tough schedule and the team's long streak of late-season flops.

"I think -- I think, it's my opinion -- that winning breeds winning," Phillips said. "If you're a winner, you're going to come out fine, whether it's regular season or playoffs. Sooner or later, if you've learned to coach and win games, you're going to do well. I'm confident we're going to do that."

This is Phillips' eighth full season as an NFL head coach, with previous tenures in Denver and Buffalo. He has posted only one losing record -- and it was 7-9.

Phillips' overall record as a head coach, including two interim stints, is 78-56. Only New England's Bill Belichick, Philadelphia's Andy Reid, New Orleans' Sean Payton and Indianapolis' Jim Caldwell have higher winning percentages among active coaches.

But Phillips isn't considered in the same class as other coaches because of his 0-4 playoff record. That includes the Cowboys' loss to the New York Giants two years ago and being on the wrong end of the "Music City Miracle" while with the Bills. (He still insists the miraculous winning play was an illegal forward pass.)

Only Jim Mora won more regular-season games (125) without winning a playoff game. Maybe if Phillips can break that link, he can get Jones to pick up that option.

"I don't know what the determining factor is. I've never known what the determining factor is," Phillips said. "I didn't know when I was at Buffalo and I was 29-19 there through three years that I was going to get fired. I thought I did a heck of a job there."

Phillips noted that all coaches and star players are scorned for not being able to win the big one until they finally do it. He brought up Belichick as an example, pointing out that "at Cleveland, he had trouble winning."

"He's a great coach, but it took a while to show it," Phillips said. "I think he's a winner. It finally showed."

Phillips' chance to show it starts now.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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