Brian Stewart: 'The Apprentice'

IRVING, TX - Brian Stewart understands the perception. His job as defensive coordinator will be to watch head coach be the defensive coordinator. He will be the Fluff to the head coach's Tiger Woods, the Vice President Spiro Agnew to the head coach's Richard Nixon, the Howard K. Stern to the head coach's Anna Nicole Smith.

OK, erase that last one.

But you get the idea. Conventional wisdom has it that the new head coach, Wade Phillips, will be the one overseeing the Dallas defense. It will be Phillips who oversees the restructuring of the Cowboys' 3-4 attack. It will be Phillips who will make the personnel decisions on defense. It will be Phillips who implements the defensive gameplan. It might even be Phillips who calls the plays on Sundays.

Now, all that "conventional wisdom'' is probably true -- and we wouldn't want it any other way, not with Wade referring to the Cowboys' new defensive system as "The Phillips 3-4.'' (Which still, by the way, cracks me up because of Wade's general humility; I'm wondering if even Einstein bicycled around New Jersey mentioning that the "Theory of Relativity'' is actually "Einstein's Theory of Relativity.'')

But there is also this: Young Mr. Stewart must have very little to do around Valley Ranch, right? He must be kind of a "yes man,''' right?

Wrong. And wrong.

Let's allow Stewart to handle the "responsibility'' angle.

"I think I'm in a good situation coming back with Wade again," Stewart said this week when he and the rest of the staff met with the media -- which was enough to cause any holdover from the ousted Parcells Regime to have to first check with team doctors to make certain his larynx is still operational. I feel like it's going to be a good relationship again. He's a great coach and I'm excited about this opportunity and learning from him again. ... With us running his defense, he's not really going to let me stumble. ...''

Ah, out of the mouths of (relative, because Stewart is only 42) babes.

"With US running HIS defense, he's not really going to let me stumble.'' In one sentence, Stewart makes clear the tight relationship between mentor and pupil, acknowledges that:

a) this is after all "The Phillips 3-4'' and not "The Stewart 3-4.''

b) they will be doing this together, a good thing because there is plenty of work to go around.

c) Stewart is in a sense serving an apprenticeship as he further learns the craft from a (hopefully) master.

Remember, this isn't like Angelina Jolie adopting some kid. Stewart has credentials. He was climbing the ladder in San Diego where he worked for three seasons as the secondary coach. He got his feet wet in the NFL working for the Texans before that. And he raised his profile as the secondary coach for a year at Syracuse, where he was hired by then-Orangemen head coach Paul Pasqualoni, who will now be working under Stewart as Dallas' linebackers coach.

That's just one of the personality twists on this defensive staff. Pasqualoni was Stewart's boss five years ago and now assists him? Is defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers still here because he's under contract or because somebody actually thinks Dallas' young D-line played well last season? Can freshly-minted defensive aide Dat Nguyen really coach? There are four Parcells holdovers now teammed with nine newbies. How will they mesh? And most of all, will Todd Bowles accept being a Stewart underling just weeks removed from having been interviewed by Jerry Jones for the head-coaching job?

Jones will do his part. Bowles is being pacified/rewarded, I say, with a contract extension.

Stewart will do his part -- and I predict, in some cases, Stewart will do things his way.

Which takes me to the "yes man'' thing.

For the last few years, thanks to a mutual friend, Stewart has appeared with me numerous times as a radio guest. Each and every time, he was prompt and witty and insightful and frank. We talked X's-and-O's, we talked race in the locker room, we talked about which NFL players struck fear into defensive coaches, we talked life, you name it. Once, off the air, I asked him if his taskmaster boss, Marty Schottenheimer, knew if his Chargers secondary coach was taking 10 minutes of an off-day in San Diego to phone a radio show in Dallas. I had been told Marty was almost as uncomfortable with assistants doing media as Parcells was. Wasn't Stewart bucking the system just a little bit?

"Maybe a little bit, because I'm not sure if Coach knows or not,'' Stewart told me. "But don't worry, it's not an issue. I'm a team player but I have no problem telling it like it is. Coach knows he can trust me.''

And if the NFL coaching hierarchy trusts him, so do I.

CowboysHQ Top Stories