Cowboys axe head coach
IRVING, Texas - Chan is no longer the man running the Dallas Cowboys.
Team owner Jerry Jones fired Chan Gailey as coach yesterday, two days after the team was knocked out of the playoffs in the first round.
''This decision I had to make is about football,'' Jones said. ''It wasn't about egos. It wasn't about contentiousness.''
Jones gave no specific reason for firing Gailey, but said it would take too much time and energy to get ''everyone on the same page'' for next season.
''Chan Gailey, relative to when he accepted this job, burned the midnight oil,'' he said. ''He worked hard, he was diligent, he was honest. He did everything I imagined.''
Gailey led Dallas to an 18-14 record in two regular seasons, but the Cowboys were eliminated from the playoffs in the first round both years. He said during an afternoon news conference that he believes postseason failure led to his dismissal.
''We didn't make it. I'm disappointed we didn't. I understand it's my responsibility,'' Gailey said.
Gailey said he has no specific plans.
''I've never been fired, so it's a new experience for me,'' he said.
Gailey, the fourth coach in the team's 40-year history and the third Jones has hired, leaves with the dubious distinction of being the first without a Super Bowl victory. His tenure also was the shortest.
There was no immediate word on a replacement. Washington coach Norv Turner, a former Dallas offensive coordinator, is still beloved by many players, especially quarterback Troy Aikman, but he's still under contract with the Redskins.
Jones is likely to seek an offensive-minded coach. Other hot commodities this offseason include St. Louis offensive coordinator Mike Martz and Gary Kubiak, Denver's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Martz could not be interviewed until the Rams' season is over.
Jones was looking for a creative offensive mind who also could be a disciplinarian the last time around, when he sought a replacement to Barry Switzer. After a long search, Jones proclaimed ''Chan's the man!'' at a news conference announcing Gailey's hiring in February 1998.
But the 48-year-old Gailey wasn't the answer in either area.
The offense fizzled late in his first season and rarely clicked this past season. In '99, Dallas led the NFL in penalties and penalty yards.
Gailey, who also was the offensive coordinator, believed in mixing things up to keep defenses guessing. It was in his contract that he called the plays, and his choices wavered between too radical and too conservative.
Gailey's approach didn't highlight the strengths of Aikman and running back Emmitt Smith.
The quarterback was often frustrated and he resorted to way too many dump-off passes. The biggest example of Smith being misused is the fact Dallas went 4-5 in his 100-yard games this season after being 53-9 in them the previous nine years.
The Cowboys went 10-6 in Gailey's first season, winning the NFC East and becoming the first team to go 8-0 in division play. But division rival Arizona got even by winning a first-round playoff game 20-7 in Texas Stadium. It was Dallas' first home playoff loss since 1993.
This past season opened with three wins followed by losses in nine of the next 14. Four teams beat Dallas by scoring just 13 points; all four were on the road, where the Cowboys lost eight straight, including a 27-10 loss to Minnesota in a wild-card game.
The Cowboys wasted six fourth-quarter leads and were within a touchdown in the final quarter of two more. They were 1-7 in games decided by seven points or fewer, including 0-3 in games decided by three or fewer.
To Gailey's credit, the team never gave up on the field or became divided in the locker room. If players didn't like the offense, none of them said so publicly.
Jones also steadfastly supported Gailey. Midway through the season the owner said: ''Our coach is one of the hardest-working people there is, and not just in sports. He's also one of the most creative.''
But Jones started clamming up after December losses to the New York Jets and New Orleans Saints. He said after the playoff loss that it would be inappropriate to comment on his coach's future.
The pair met for an hour the day after Minnesota knocked Dallas out of the playoffs, yet Gailey's job status never was discussed.
The coach said he knew it was in jeopardy, though, because Jones ''gets asked the question and he doesn't deny it. That's what I read in the paper.''
When hired, the soft-spoken, even-tempered Gailey seemed like the perfect antidote to the stormy Switzer.
Although he'd never been an NFL head coach, Gailey had been an assistant for 10 years, the last two as Pittsburgh's offensive coordinator. He'd also been a head coach in the World League and he'd won an NCAA Division II championship at Troy State.
However, he may have been too laid back. Jones tried inspiring the team before its season finale by calling about 20 veterans into his office for a fiery pep talk.
In his 11 years as the Cowboys' owner, Jones has turned one of the most stable positions in pro sports and one of the most high-profile into one with a quick turnover.
The next coach will be the fourth in eight seasons; Tom Landry was coach for 29 years until Jones fired him the day he bought the team.
Gailey, who was believed to be among the NFL's lowest-paid coaches at $500,000 per season, has three years left on his contract.
The Cowboys are the fifth team to change coaches this offseason, joining New Orleans, Green Bay, New England and the New York Jets. All continue to have head-coaching vacancies.