The seventh coach in team history, Phillips is only the second to arrive in Dallas with previous head coaching experience. The other was Bill Parcells, who retired Jan. 22 after four seasons with the Cowboys.
Phillips, defensive coordinator at San Diego the past three seasons, has a 48-42 head coaching record over three seasons with Buffalo, two with Denver and season-ending interim stints with New Orleans and Atlanta. The 59-year-old son of longtime Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips has been in the NFL for 30 of the last 31 seasons.
"It's great to have these cowboys boots back in Texas," Phillips said, showing his boots from the podium, where his father sat to his right. "I'm excited about it."
Phillips joins Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson as the only Texas natives to be in charge of "America's Team." Landry and Johnson both won two Super Bowls in Dallas.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones interviewed 10 candidates before hiring his sixth coach since buying the team in 1989. Phillips was interviewed two weeks ago, and his chances of getting the job seemed to be fading when supposed favorite Norv Turner was among five more who followed him.
But Jones chose the defensive-minded Phillips over Turner, a two-time head coach who was the Cowboys' offensive coordinator for Super Bowl titles after the 1992 and 1993 seasons.
"We needed to get it right. In my mind we got it right," Jones said, getting emotional as he introduced Phillips.
After Jason Garrett interviewed for the head coaching vacancy Jan. 25, Jones hired him to an unspecified role on the coaching staff. It has been presumed that he will be the offensive coordinator, but Phillips said he didn't want to discuss Garrett's role until he had a chance to talk to the former Cowboys backup quarterback.
Phillips' head coaching record includes 3-4 as a fill-in for the Saints and Falcons. He is 0-3 in the playoffs, most notably the "Music City Miracle," when Tennessee used a trick kick return for the winning touchdown in the closing seconds against the Bills in 2000.
Besides carrying on his family tradition, Phillips has handled the dubious task of replacing Super Bowl coaches Dan Reeves in Denver and Marv Levy in Buffalo. So the idea of following Parcells shouldn't bother him.
Parcells, who won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants, went 34-32 in four years in Dallas and lost twice in the playoffs. The Cowboys haven't won a postseason game in 10 seasons, the longest drought in club history.
Parcells, whose 19-year tenure included two Super Bowl titles with the New York Giants, implemented the 3-4 scheme two years ago. He has built a roster suited for it, higlighted by end-turned-linebacker DeMarcus Ware.
"I love the defense that San Diego plays, and I think our team has guys who could play great roles in it," Ware said Thursday from the Pro Bowl.
Yet the defense was the weak link last season when Dallas went 9-7 and lost in the first round of the playoffs. The Cowboys lost four of their last five games, including the last three, mainly because they couldn't stop teams.
Phillips, meanwhile, was helping the Chargers go 14-2. They allowed the seventh-fewest points in the NFL and were rated 10th in total defense.
Phillips was born in Orange, Texas, and played college ball at Houston. He joined his dad's staff with the Oilers as a linebackers coach in 1976 and has been in the NFL ever since, except for 2001.
He stayed with the Oilers through 1980, then followed his father to New Orleans and became defensive coordinator at age 34. He replaced his father as head coach the final four games of the 1985 season.
Phillips then became in charge of the defense in Philadelphia (1986-88) and Denver ('89-92), taking over as coach of the Broncos for 1993 and '94. His teams went 16-16.
The next three years were spent as defensive coordinator in Buffalo, followed by three years as the Bills' coach and vice president of football operations. The Bills were 29-19 under his guidance.
He was out of the NFL in 2001, then was Reeves' defensive coordinator in Atlanta in 2002 and '03. He went 2-1 as Reeves' replacement at the end of '03, then went to San Diego.
Phillips has a son, Wes, who coaches at Baylor, and a daughter, Tracy, who is an actress.