once were, and Jones ticked off in rapid-fire fashion exactly why he seems so, well, "optimistic" once again:
- He likes the prospects of entering the season with the player (DeMarcus Ware) who set the club record for sacks by a linebacker (11½) last year.
- He likes having seven returning Pro Bowl players, the most since the 1996 season.
- He likes that his quarterback, Romo, is the first NFC East quarterback not named Donovan McNabb to be named to the Pro Bowl this decade.
- He especially likes that Romo became the Cowboys' first Pro Bowl quarterback since Troy Aikman last held that honor in 1996.
- He likes the team is returning two guys coming off 1,000-yard receiving seasons and a running back coming off a 1,000-yard rushing season - only the second time that's happened in club history and the first since 1979.
- He likes that Julius Jones is the team's first 1,000-yard rusher since Emmitt Smith last turned the trick in 2001, and that Terrell Owens led the league with 13 touchdown catches, matching the second-most in club history, and that backup running back Marion Barber led the NFC with 14 rushing touchdowns, most by a Cowboys player since Smith stuffed a club-record 25 into the end zone in 1995.
- He likes that his team scored 425 points last year, most since that 1995 season.
- Jones didn't say this, but certainly he liked what he saw from his defense over the first 11 games last year, resting there ranked fourth in the NFL.
- And darn tootin' Jones likes that his team is coming off consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 1995-96, that it's constructed three winning seasons in the past four years for the first time since 1995-98 and that it has been to the playoffs in two of the past four seasons.
That's progress, and Jones is excited, and while this is not a perfect team heading into Wednesday's first workout of training camp by no means, this certainly seems to be a team on the right track.
Now I'm guessing there are 31 other teams rather optimistic at this point, er, maybe just 30, since the Atlanta Falcons can't be feeling too good about losing quarterback Michael Vick indefinitely and possibly for good, and the fact star running back Warrick Dunn just underwent back surgery the other day. How much should one team have to take?
So for proper perspective on just where this Cowboys team is today, please scan back; please realistically see the progress. Because man, when I look back to the start of that 2003 training camp and recall where this team Parcells inherited was and where it had been, this had been the first time since 1986-90 this club had experienced four consecutive non-winning seasons since the five 1986-90.
Progress has been made.
And now that handoff to Phillips, unlike most teams' new head coaches, not facing a tear-down-rebuild, but more of an improve. He just needs to run with the team a little bit better.
And you should have seen the smile on the owner's face when Phillips made it perfectly clear he's not just happy to be a head coach once again, only the third time he's had that opportunity in this his 31st year of coaching.
"I will go down as a great defensive coach, but I'd like to go down as a great head coach," Phillips said somewhat surprisingly since he normally seems so modest and understated. "And I'm going to do it for him."
So a 60-year-old guy who has worked in coaching 30 years and has been in the NFL since 1976 is still trying to prove himself? Still has the fire in his belly, not looking at this as some ease-into-retirement job or a lark coming off his couch?
"Sure, sure, I think I can prove I'm one of the best coaches in the National Football League," Phillips said, eventually pointing out, "this is a great opportunity for me and a great opportunity for the players."