Coughlin wants to avoid Dallas jinx on rival coaches

Thursday, October 26th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

IRVING, Texas (AP) _ In preparing to face the Cowboys, Jacksonville coach Tom Coughlin surely detected Dallas' problems stopping the run and the less-than-stellar play of Troy Aikman.

But there's one trend he may have missed or chosen to ignore: The last two teams that lost to the Cowboys ended up losing coaches, too.

Carolina offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave resigned Oct. 3, two days after a 16-13 overtime loss to Dallas. Arizona coach Vince Tobin was fired Monday, one day after a 48-7 loss to the Cowboys.

The fatal flaw for Musgrave and Tobin was a team playing far below expectations. However, compared to Coughlin's team, the Panthers and Cardinals look like overachievers.

Picked by many to reach the Super Bowl, the Jaguars (2-6) go into Sunday's game trying to stop a five-game losing skid.

Coughlin was so distraught after the latest loss that he said ``the football is so bad, that on occasion I don't even recognize it. I don't want to recognize it.''

In midweek, a more-reserved Coughlin said his team is still responding to him and his staff.

``That is something I'm not concerned with at this time,'' he said. ``The players know we are doing everything in our power to help them win. We've been firm when we needed to be firm, we've encouraged when we needed to encourage.

``There's been many times when teams have been in this situation and fought their way ought of it. That's the attribute I'm looking for.''

Dallas is looking for its first two-game winning streak since starting last season 3-0.

The whipping of the lowly Cardinals put the Cowboys (3-4) halfway there, but whatever progress was made in that game becomes meaningless without another victory _ especially at home against another struggling team.

``It's important,'' said Aikman, who received six shots this week to relieve soreness and stiffness in his back. ``For us to try to get back in the race, we need to put some wins together.''

Against Arizona, Dallas relied mostly on its running game for the first time this season and gained 200 yards. Despite that performance against the NFL's 30th-ranked run defense, the Cowboys are still 31st by allowing 171.9 yards per game.

Dallas is the only team allowing more yards on the ground than in the air, making it likely the Cowboys will see a lot of Fred Taylor.

Taylor missed the first three games with a knee injury, but has run for more than 100 yards the last two weeks. Another big effort from him and not adding to their league-worst 21 turnovers could be the spark the Jaguars need.

``They're going to look at this ball game as one they've got to win to get back on track,'' Dallas coach Dave Campo said. ``I would think they'd look at us an improved football team, but a team that they're capable of playing.''

Going into its bye week, Jacksonville is desperate for something positive to chew on for 14 days. Having that long to stew over another loss _ and a six-game skid, one shy of the worst in franchise history _ could be devastating.

``If you go into the bye week at 2-7, it's almost like there's nothing to play for when we get back,'' linebacker Kevin Hardy said. ``We just need to get a win just to stop this. Then, if you get another win, they might start to piggyback. Then, you can start building confidence and see what happens from there.''

Dallas beat Jacksonville 26-22 at Texas Stadium in 1997 in the only previous meeting.

That's not enough of a history to incite a rivalry, but emotions are sure to be high for Jaguars receiver Jimmy Smith. He was drafted by the Cowboys, but never got a chance because of injury and illness.

Smith, playing with a severely bruised knee, caught a pass in his 80th straight game last week. He missed the second half of that game and won't be at full strength if he's able to play this week.

``They're definitely a different team without him ,'' said Cowboys defensive back Charlie Williams. ``He's one of the best in the league. Anytime you have a guy like him out of the lineup, it's going to hurt.''