Neil Best leaves no stone unturned in the world of sports media.
Troy Aikman on Giants, Jerry Jones, Jon Kitna, Jason Garrett, etc.
I only was able to skim the surface in my newspaper column on everything Troy Aikman and I discussed in a half-hour phone conversation Wednesday.
Here's more of it:
On whether he is surprised by the Cowboys’ 1-7 start:
“Oh, gosh. Am I surprised? Yeah, absolutely. I’d like to know the person who anticipated that the Cowboys would be 1-7. Football is a funny game. Going back to the preseason they never looked good in the preseason, and when I played that was always a concern. If you’re struggling in the preseason it typically just doesn’t happen that you can just turn it on. I think those things are important, coming together as a team in training camp. And this team never did.
“At 0-2 they had an important game in Houston against a team that was pretty confident and they won that game pretty convincingly. You get to 1-2 and you think, all right, bump in the road, they’ll start playing like they’re capable of playing. And they’ve gotten worse and that’s been really surprising to me and I really don’t know why that is.”
On the first game against the Giants:
“I took my girls to the first half of that game . . . I said, ‘Well at 1-4 that’s not good, obviously, but this is a long way from being over at 1-4.' I ran into Matt Millen before the Giants game and said, ‘You know, Matt, 1-4 is not good in typical years but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. But you can’t keep losing games and keep saying, hey, we’re OK.’ I said to Matt that day, ‘If they don’t win this game they’re done. Their season is over if they don’t win this game.’ I believed that.”
On the effect of losing Tony Romo:
“Does it affect them? Absolutely. Tony is a good player and he was playing pretty well but this team was 1-4 when he went down. That’s why it’s hard for me to look at that position and say here’s why they’ve lost three games. I don’t look at it that way.
“Kitna is a veteran guy. This isn’t a guy who hasn’t played. This isn’t Charlie Whitehurst. He came out and he’s hitting guys in the head with the ball, balls are ricocheting off hands. It’s hard for me to point at Kitna in that next game and say it’s on him.”
More on the first game against the Giants:
“I was very impressed with the way the Giants played in that game. Look, the Giants, they play well at Dallas. They well on the road, period. There was nothing about that game that intimidated them at all. That stadium was rocking pretty good down 10-0. Everyone there knew how important that game was for Dallas, yet the Giants hung in there.”
On Jerry Jones:
“I think he’s got to accept responsibility as well. They don’t fire owners, so the constant is Jerry Jones. He’s not going anywhere. What happens in Dallas is everyone says Jerry Jones the owner needs to fire Jerry Jones the general manager. Well, that may be true but that ain’t going to happen. That’s just not going to happen so to continue to belabor that point is kind of pointless.
“Here’s what I look at: I would say there’s probably on one hand you can count the number of times a head coach for Jerry has asked for something from Jerry and not gotten it. That’s a pretty good situation for most people. Most people would say this is really great. I’ve got an owner that’s willing to spend money, willing to get players in here and do everything he can in order to allow us to be competitive, because nobody wants to win more than Jerry Jones.
“Now, what also comes with being the head coach in Dallas is the owner is going to be extremely visible and he’s going to be marketing the football team and you’re going to be flying around the country in preseason and you’re going to be doing a lot of things that for a conventional coach you would look at it and, I was this way as a player: I would look at it and say, ‘What are we doing? How does this help us get better as a team?’ But that’s part of the dinner and you have to accept it.
“How you handle that part of it and how you handle an owner holding press conferences in the locker room following a game and how you handle an owner who’s weighing in on the play of the team during the week, all of those things are not typical for most clubs and that’s what you’ve got to contend with.
“The only thing I know is the two head coaches who have really enjoyed great success here have been Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells and those two head coaches, at least from a player perspective, were viewed as guys the players had to answer to. When we walked into the building, we knew if we didn’t do what Jimmy Johnson asked us to do there was going to be hell to pay.
“When Bill Parcells was the head coach I think those players knew Bill Parcells was the guy they better appeal to or they weren’t going to be around. When that dynamic changes, I think you have problems. There are a lot of owners in this league that want to win and that haven’t quite figured out how to do it. Dallas has won and there has been a consistent model as to how they’ve done that and yet it doesn’t get followed and that’s the thing I guess that’s more surprising to me than anything.”
On how Jason Garrett will handle the interim job:
“He’ll handle it with class. I don’t like the interim coach, period, no matter who it is or what the organization is. I don’t think Jerry likes it, either. It’s not something he really wanted to do. But I think as someone who gets named that guy, how are you being judged? Jerry used the term ‘I’m looking for tangible success.’ Well, the only tangible success that I can identify is wins and losses.
“So you’re being asked to change an environment and change a culture and do it within five days and do it with a locker room that knows they’re out of the playoffs and they’re 1-7. That’s a daunting task for anybody and in all likelihood it won’t happen. So to me it’s unfair for anyone who’s been evaluated in that role. You don’t have the luxury of going through an offseason and implementing, OK, here’s is what we’re going to do on Day One, here’s how we’re going to handle the offeason, etc.'
“Typically you get six months to do that. And players kind of learn. Those transitions are difficult. They’re difficult on players. Players need to understand as you go through those things, OK, this is how it’s going to be now. Well, you can’t do that in five days. You can’t do that in the middle of a season, even over the course of eight games, I don’t think. Is that to imply there is no chance in heck Jason is going to turn it around? No, there’s always a sliver of hope. But in all likelihood this is a monumental effort and I don’t think the evaluation can be fair.
“I think he’s a great head coaching prospect. This guy was the hottest assistant coach in football after the ’07 season and turned down opportunities in Baltimore and Atlanta . . . I think he’s an excellent head coaching prospect. Is he right for Dallas? I don’t think anybody’s right for this situation right now.”
More on Jerry Jones’ next coach:
“People say, ‘Who’s going to coach under Jerry Jones?’ Well, just about anybody he asks will coach for him. I mean, who wouldn’t? I know the national response is who would want to, but the reality is there’s not that many owners that will provide the resources for a head coach to be successful. But with that there are some real challenges, and how you navigate those waters really is what ultimately determines whether you’re going to have success. You better be a strong individual. That’s the challenge. It’s like coaching the Giants, the Chicago Bears, the Cowboys, How does anybody turn down that opportunity if you’re a football coach? There are not many guys who are not going to take that job.”
On whether he is surprised by the Giants' good start:
“Not really, no. I was surprised last year [by their bad finish]. I like Tom Coughlin. I like that type of coach. When you walk in the building you know exactly what you’re getting. There’s no mystery to what Tom Coughlin expects. To me it’s not a surprise why this team is pretty consistent in an era where consistency is hard to come by. They have a toughness about them. I do believe teams, especially in football, end up taking on the identity of a head coach. When we think of the Giants we think of all the things Tom Coughlin stands for and I think those things are good things: toughness, discipline; he’ll battle you, fight you tooth and nail. I like what the Giants have done.
“They look like they’re just enjoying the hell out of it and that is when you know a team is playing with great confidence. It’s easy to enjoy it when you’re beating teams 41-7. To me that’s coaching. To me that’s Perry Fewell coming in with essentially the same players. It goes back to what they looked like a couple of years ago. Coaches can do that. They can inspire players and make them feel comfortable in what they’re doing.
“For most of my career the Giants were four yards and a cloud of dust and there weren’t a lot of big plays. For me on the broadcasting side it’s just a fun team to cover. They have playmakers on offense. And it’s rare that there are defenses that really can be spotlighted and the Giants are one of them.”
On still being a media go-to guy for Cowboys matters:
“I accept it. I understand it and I understand why people would go to Phil [Simms] for the Giants. There are some constants that are here that were here when I played, with the owner being one . . . I have an intimate understanding of how things have been run in the past and what Jerry’s mindset is. I played for a franchise that people care a lot about, whether they care about them because they want to see them get beat every week or they care about them because they want to see them win.
“When we were 1-15 in ‘89 or when the team was 3-13 the year before, I don’t think a lot of people were talking about the Cowboys. The franchise didn’t draw the attention it currently does. And the reason it does is because of the owner. Jerry would much rather get the attention for winning, but he doesn’t mind the attention considering they’re losing, either. It’s not good publicity. I’m not suggesting that. But the reason people are talking about this franchise at 1-7 and basically out of the playoffs is for all the reasons why this job is challenging, and that’s all part of it.”