Except for Jimmy, Year 4 Has Been Frustrating for Dallas Coaches

Most Dallas coaches, including Tom Landry, have experienced disappointment in their fourth seasons at the helm. In 1963, high hopes were dashed by an 0-4 start en route to a 4-10 season.

Year 4 of the Jimmy Johnson regime gave the Cowboys their first Super Bowl title of the 1990s. Johnson’s success in 1992 significantly contrasts with experiences of the four other head coaches who coached at least four seasons with the Cowboys. This assumes, of course, that the current team is not going to go 13-1 from this point on to equal the 1992 team’s 13-3 mark.

In 1963, the Cowboys were entering into the fourth year of Tom Landry’s tenure. The Cowboys had a combined record of 9-28-3 between 1960 and 1962, but Year 4 was supposed to be different. Sports Illustrated ran a cover story indicating that Dallas could win the Eastern Conference title that season. Instead, Dallas started 0-4 en route to a 4-10 season.

Fans called for Landry to be fired, but Clint Murchison Jr. signed Landry to a 10-year contract. The rest is history, of course, as the Cowboys were a winning franchise by 1966.

There are plenty of obvious differences between Landry then and Wade Phillips now, though. Landry was 39 years old and was in his first job as a head coach. Phillips is 63 and is serving as head coach of his third franchise. His fate is probably the same as two more recent predecessors.

Barry Switzer was a generally unpopular coach from 1994 to 1997, but it was hard to argue with the success he had in his first three seasons– a 34-14 regular season record and a Super Bowl title. The initial focus of Year 4 was on taking back home-field advantage from the Packers, but the Cowboys instead fell apart and finished with a 6-10 record. Jerry Jones fired Switzer right after the season.

Bill Parcells was hired to resurrect the franchise, and the team’s 10-6 record in 2003 was quite an accomplishment. Hope were high by Year 4 that the Cowboys could take a step forward, but the team struggled to avoid mediocrity all season. Dallas finished at 9-7, and a heartbreaking playoff loss at Seattle prompted Parcells to step down.

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Phillips has never made it to year 4 in his previous stops in Denver or Buffalo. The reason he never made it to year 4 was because his teams tended to regress. The 1995 Broncos followed up a 9-7 season by going 7-9, which led to Phillips’ dismissal.  His Buffalo teams went 10-6 and 11-5 in his first two seasons only to drop to 8-8 in 2000. He was gone after year 3.

The discussion has already started about whether Wade will be back, and I personally don’t think he should unless the team turns things around. I don’t necessarily trust Jerry to make the best hire, given that nearly every decision made during the 2010 offseason had backfired.

  • I used to think Jerry’s ego prevented him from turning the reins over to a “real” GM, but I know now I was mistaken.

    In fact, Jerry is completely blind to his shortcomings as GM and has deluded himself into thinking that the fault for the Cowboys’ lack of success is entirely due to his coaches and players. He thinks he has put the best group of players and coaches together and he can’t seem to understand why they fail.

    Its because he has TOO much control over personnel matters and playing decisions, thereby undercutting his HC’s authority.

    This team will never succeed with Jerry as GM.

    But since that won’t change as long as Jerry lives I guess fans have to resign themselves to years of mediocrity waiting for Stephen to take over and finally hire the real GM this team so badly needs.

  • I agree on all points, Fred. Jerry is the one who hired the offensive coordinator/head-coach-in-waiting and then subsequently brought in Phillips to serve as the head coach. That isn’t how any successful team or coach hires assistants, a fact apparently lost on Jerry the GM. Phillips’ teams have done plenty of things to hurt his chances for success, but I still can’t avoid the conclusion that he was destined to fail here. And talk about mediocrity– the Cowboys’ record since winning Super Bowl XXX: 116-110.



  • Jason Neighbors

    Let’s not throw in the towel on this season yet! We’ve won the NFC East two of the last three years. That’s not exactly mediocre, imho. I think Jerry Jones has been taking the right steps over the last several seasons, other than the Roy Williams trade. Which was a huge mistake, I admit. 
    Garrett has taken a lot of heat for being too predictable. If that’s true, then the offense won’t improve any this season, and let’s see how Jones handles that. But the players have to take some heat here, too. Jones isn’t on the field. I’ve never really believed this team is as talented as the hype has made them out to be. We still have some holes to fill.