Phillips vowed changes were coming in the wake of an 0-2 start, but wouldn’t say what they’d be. After talking through various options with his staff, he ended up making only subtle shifts such as shaking up the players’ schedule and running more plays in practice.
“I don’t want to panic, but I do want to try to do something that helps our team get better,” he said. “Sometimes, those are minor changes.”
He did not make any lineup changes because he still believes the Cowboys can live up to their lofty expectations.
“I’ve never been around a team that has any better attitude, that’s worked any harder to try getting it back on the right track,” he said. “Those are good signs.”
Players refused to discuss what was said at a players-only meeting Monday, but all indications are that practice habits were a big topic. Cornerback Terence Newman said so immediately after losing to Chicago and several players brought it up Wednesday while talking about how they expect to improve.
“We’ve just gotten to sharpen the little things up,” linebacker Anthony Spencer said. “That’s the biggest thing for us right now, making sure the little things get done during the week and get ready for the game on Sundays.”
Defensive end Marcus Spears brought up a line he often heard from his college coach, Nick Saban: “We’ve got to start stacking the bales of hay into the barn. Then once you get to the game on Sunday, you’ve got the hay in the barn.”
Spears and linebacker Keith Brooking both said the team isn’t facing a crisis. However, they realize they are getting closer to that stage. The Cowboys are headed to Houston, where they are hated as much as anywhere, to face the undefeated Texans. With a bye week after that, falling to 0-3 would be devastating.
“Our focus is getting to 1-2,” Brooking said. “There is a sense of urgency. Guys realize that. We know this is a big game. But you can’t make it bigger than what it is, and you dang sure can’t make it smaller than what it is.”
Phillips also brought up urgency and being more focused in practice. He said the mistakes that need to be eliminated go far beyond obvious things such as dropping passes or missing tackles. It’s things such as hand placement, footwork and the crucial element of being in the right place at the right time.
“The only way to get better is to work at it,” he said. “Practice is not the cure-all. But you’ve got a better chance if you practice well.”
Phillips certainly wasn’t going to change his style.
He thinks screaming at players makes them tune out, not listen to what’s needed to correct their mistakes. Spears said if anyone needs a whipping, “you go give it to yourself.”
“I think we’ve already been doing that as players,” he said. “Whatever facet you can get better in and whatever you can do to become productive and start winning, then that’s the whipping that you should be giving yourself. We are grown men. It’s never been Wade’s way to come in and close all the doors and start bashing and cursing. That’s never been our way, and when you are winning none of that is even talked about.”