Lunch With Brian Stewart

If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude. Don't complain. - Maya Angelou. It is time to pay the bill for lunch, and out comes the wallet of new Cowboys defensive coordinator Brian Stewart. Protruding from the wallet is a wrinkled piece of paper carrying the poet Angelou's inspirational words.

"I look at it every day,'' Stewart explains. "I live it every day. And I try to teach it every day.''

How much more obviously can fate provide an analogy that suggests the leadership style at Valley Ranch has changed? Imagine a reporter being allowed to peek inside Bill Parcells' wallet? Imagine Parcells admitting to learning something from the powerfully lyrical Angelou? Imagine Parcells even ALLOWING an assistant to dine with a reporter? (Don't you sometimes wonder if Parcells allowed servile underlings to eat at all?)

"I think communication is everything,'' says Stewart while enjoying the salmon at an eatery near the Cowboys headquarters. "I think some coaches think that means they should talk. I think it means they should also listen.''

Stewart is the Wade Phillips disciple who follows the new Dallas head coach from San Diego. Stewart had been the secondary coach with the Chargers, so this is his first job as a coordinator, his first job with an extremely high profile, his first job where won-loss expectations are balancing directly on his shoulders.

"I'm not surprised at all to be here,'' says Stewart, responding to a question about what seems like a suddenly rapid career track. "I get the benefit of coming up under Wade. He was the D-coordinator and I was the DB coach in San Diego, and now he takes a step up and I take a step up. So I've got his guidance the whole way, and I've got his back the whole way. It's a great situation for me, for someone who has always dreamed of being a coach.

"But I'm not surprised. Because along with dreaming about doing this, I've been preparing to do this.''

Brian Stewart is 42. But, I joked to him, because of his combination of new-age hip and old-school standards, he seems to be 42 going on 22 going on 62.

"I like that!'' Stewart laughs. "I do believe in some concepts of living life that, I suppose, would be considered old-fashioned. At the same time, I think I come across as a guy who is young enough to relate to the players. Hopefully I can pull off both things at once.''

An example of Stewart's old-school ways: He is clearly the patriarch, the protector, the guide, of his young family. He notes teasingly that his wife "is Asian. … so that means she can't drive very well. I come home, and the side mirror will be ripped off the door. Or there will be a new dent. Or maybe she's driven too near the wall and there's a hole in the wall. And I look at her and she just shrugs and smiles and says, ‘Sorry.'

"All I know is, I've gotten her the biggest, safest car possible. That's the best I can do.''

An example of Stewart's new-age ways: He recently got a phone call in his Valley Ranch office. "I'd like to speak to Coach Stewart, please,'' said the polite voice on the other end. "Coach. … this is LaDainian.''

Stewart wondered why LaDainian Tomlinson didn't simply refer to himself as "LT.''

"Because I didn't know if you'd know it was this LT,'' Tomlinson answered.

"Now,'' Stewart says, grinning as he finishes the tale, "maybe that story isn't a very good example of my people skills after all. I mean, how many ‘LT's' does LT think I'd know?''

It is, however, an excellent example of Stewart the communicator. Because the reason Tomlinson was calling was to ask Stewart to be a guest speaker at LT's kids football camp in North Texas.

Think about this: Of all the huge names LaDainian Tomlinson could have asked to volunteer. … arguably the biggest star in the NFL this side of Manning/Brady selects the guy he knew only in passing as his team's low-profile secondary coach?

Stewart's relationship-building skills with players are well-known inside football circles. In San Diego, their other offensive All-Pro, Antonio Gates, would on a daily basis huddle with Stewart to ask questions about coverages, about double-teams, about defensive philosophies.

"What's neat,'' Stewart says, "is that now in Dallas I'm having the same sort of conversations with Jason Witten. Great tight ends already, both of them, but they want to learn more.

"The offensive linemen here, they're the same way,'' continues Stewart. "Sometimes on a team, there is a separation between offense and defense. Like they're two different teams. But it doesn't have to be that way. Now, it's taking me a little longer to learn all those guys. But Cory Proctor, I've got him down. He was talking to me every day, so I finally decided I'd better figure out who this kid was. Turns out he went to Montana. And I'm from Northern Arizona. So there you go: We have a bond.''

By the time Stewart gets rolling in Dallas, he figures to have cemented lots of bonds. He says he wants "to make sure Wade and Jerry (Jones) feel like they got the right guy, the best guy. So I try to prove that every day.''

There will be time in the near future to discuss with Stewart things like the 3-4, and Dallas' personnel, and comparisons between this defense and the one he left. But right now? We're convinced enough at this early stage that at lunch's end, told him to put away his wallet. If he can provide the Maya Angelou-like change of attitude with the Cowboys, the least we can do is provide the salmon.

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