Pat Summerall has written a book about playing for legendary coaches Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi.
Legendary broadcaster and former New York Giants placekicker Pat Summerall has a pretty strong opinion on the decision this week by Dallas Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones to fire head coach Wade Phillips and promote Jason Garrett.
"Under Phillips, and I like Wade, he's a very, very nice man and he's a good friend of mine, but they were starting to lose interest," Summerall said.
"Cowboys magic as you know has been world wide, not just city wide. They were starting to lose that, and I think Jerry Jones sensed that, sensed that he was losing the fans as well as the team and he made a change to Jason Garrett, who I like so far."
I had a chance Friday to speak with Summerall, who is now 80, as part of his promotional tour for his new book 'GIANTS: What I Learned About Life from Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry.'
As an end and placekicker, Summerall turns out to have been the only Giants player directly coached by both legendary figures. Throw in Summerall's long broadcasting career, which began in 1962, and the fact that he lives in Dallas, and he is uniquely positioned to offer an opinion on the situation with the 1-7 Cowboys. As of now, Summerall has been impressed by Garrett.
"He sounds like he's all business, and Wade Phillips was not all business. Wade Phillips was an excuse for the players who performed poorly, he always had an excuse for them," Summerall said. "That's maybe a good approach for some teachers, but not for Jason Garrett and not for the people that I wrote the book about."
Lombardi, of course, was the fiery, no-nonsense tough guy who went on to build the Green Bay Packer dynasty and became the coach against whom all NFL coaches are inevitably judged. Landry was the quiet, dignified teacher who became a Hall of Fame coach while building Dallas into a perennial power.
"Both had one thing in common, that they were very prepared. Neither one of them ever went into a meeting without intense preparation. I tried to use that in the broadcasting world when I became a television announcer," Summerall said. "You never can over-prepare.
"Both were so confident of what they were teaching and so sure that their way was the best way, they were great teachers. Totally different methods, but they were both intensely prepared and very confident in what they were trying to teach you."
For 22 seasons, beginning in 1981, Summerall was paired in the broadcast booth with another coach, John Madden. They became a legendary combination in their own right.
"John had such great respect for the game and such knowledge of the game that he reminded me of sitting down in one of Lombardi's meetings or one of Landry's meetings," Summerall said. "John had such a great passion for the game.
"I think that's an important thing that made both of them effective, both Landry and Lombardi and John Madden, too. He (Madden) had such respect for what he was talking about and also such a passion for presenting it in a manner that most people could understand."
In a recent article for The Washington Post, I wrote that this is shaping up to be the worst season in the history of the Cowboy franchise. I asked Summerall if that was overly dramatic, and he said "No, I don't think it is at all."
He then proceeded to point a finger directly at Jones for the mess the Cowboys are in.
"Jerry thinks that his approach and his knowledge of the game is such that he doesn't need a go-between, that he could probably coach the team himself -- he thinks. That's not necessarily true," Summerall said. "I think he does need a go-between and I think he made a good choice in picking Jason Garrett to take over."
NOTE: I have to mention that, on a personal level, spending a few minutes on the phone with Summerall Friday afternoon was a thrill for me. He still has that unmistakable voice, the voice I basically grew up with as a football fan. I never want to lose perspective on just how cool it is to spend a few minutes talking with people like him, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.