Wade Phillips, defensive coordinator of the Houston Texans.
HOUSTON, Texas – He’s both the son and father of an NFL coach.
He himself has 36 years of pro coaching experience, renowned for turning crappy NFL defences into good ones.
He has the coolest Twitter handle ever – @sonofbum.
And he’s the last head coach to take the Buffalo Bills to the playoffs.
Wade Phillips is now 65, and he’s working wonders with the defence of the AFC’s best team, the 6-1 Houston Texans – who play host to the 3-4 Bills on Sunday afternoon.
After six turns as a defensive coordinator and three as a head coach in the NFL since 1981, Phillips a year ago joined the Texans under head coach Gary Kubiak.
He promptly installed his 3-4 attack defence and turned a unit that had ranked fourth worst in the NFL in points surrendered per game (26.7) to fourth best (17.4). Similarly, his 2011 defence allowed the second fewest total yards per game (286) after allowing the third most (377) the year before.
This season his Texans defence remains among the league’s best. It ranks third in fewest total yards allowed per game (283), sixth in fewest points (18.3), second in third-down conversion percentage (27.5%) and is stingiest in pass-completion percentage (52.8%).
Phillips might not be nearly the character his cowboy-hat-wearin’, crew-cut-sportin’, southern-sayings-drawalin’ father Bum Phillips was, when he was head coach of the Houston Oilers in the 1970s and New Orleans Saints in the 1980s.
But despite having experienced a few too many times an old adage his father once famously coined – “There ain’t but two kinds of coaches in the NFL: Them that’s been fired, and them that’s gonna be fired” – @sonofum has done dadgum good in his own right.
Check this out.
When Phillips was both head coach and vice-president of football operations in Buffalo from 1998 through 2000 – after a successful three-year turn as Marv Levy’s defensive coordinator – the Bills won 60% of their games and made the playoffs in two of three years.
What’s more, his Bills were 5-1 in prime-time games, and were 4-2 against New England and 3-3 against Peyton Manning’s Indianapolis Colts.
His 1999 team is the franchise’s only one since Levy’s early-’90s Super Bowl powerhouses to post a winning record on the road (5-3). His teams averaged four Pro Bowl selections per year, whereas the Bills the past four years have had four Pro Bowl selections combined.
On and on we can go with this.
Indeed, Phillips’ defences as Buffalo’s head coach ranked sixth, first and third in the NFL, whereas since then only two Bills defences have been ranked higher than 14th (the 2003 and 2004 units both were ranked second).
His 1999 defence was particularly strong, surrendering just 266 yards and 14 points per game. By pitiful contrast, this year’s sad-sack defence allowed more of both in one half against New England, San Francisco (both halves) and Tennessee.
Phillips, though, was far from perfect.
The way he managed his Bills coaching staff and, especially, his quarterbacks – Doug Flutie (a CFL import from the Toronto Argos, left) and Rob Johnson – exposed himself to ample and justified criticism.
Yet Phillips did not neglect the offensive side of the ball, as many defensive-minded head coaches do. His three offences ranked sixth, 11th and 11th in the NFL. Only two Bills offences since have ranked higher than 14th – namely, the two that immediately followed his (13th in 2001, 11th in 2002).
“We had some great days in Buffalo,” Phillips told me before the Texans crunched the then one-loss Baltimore Ravens, 43-13.
“In fact we have friends coming in from Buffalo to our ball games now. There are great people there. I really enjoyed it there. We were 29-19, in the playoffs, and didn’t have a losing season. I’m proud of what we did there.”
The most memorable game in his regime, of course, was the heartbreaking playoff loss at Tennessee – the “Music City Miracle,” in which the Titans won on a kickoff return for touchdown with 16 seconds left, when tight end Frank Wycheck threw a cross-field lateral to Kevin Dyson, who darted 72 yards to paydirt.
The Bills haven’t been to the playoffs since.
Count Phillips among the disbelievers.
“Until they threw the forward lateral, we had the game won,” Phillips said, shaking his head.
“I think we had a heck of a team while we were there, and I was hoping it’d be longer. But it wasn’t.”
Ralph Wilson fired him in January 2001 – a month after the owner had whacked GM John Butler – because Phillips had refused to fire his assistant coach Ronnie Jones, whose special teams were the league’s worst.
“I felt we needed a change and that my request was reasonable,” Wilson said in a statement after firing Phillips. “I did not want to release Wade, but his refusal left me with no option.”
It should be said that Bills fans, spoiled by their team’s four consecutive trips to the Super Bowl after the 1990-93 seasons, had much higher expectations then. Phillips’ job was to return the team back to that level of excellence. He didn’t.
Phillips went on to run defences in San Diego and Atlanta, before Jerry Jones hired him as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys in 2007. Phillips lasted four years in Jerry’s world.
Phillips’ son, Wes, remains with the Cowboys as assistant offensive line coach.
Now with the Texans, and sporting hair whiter than a Buffalo lawn in January, Phillips is coaching defence as effectively as ever.
And @sonofbum’s dad continues to offer him sage advice.
“He’s doing great. He’s 89 years old, and I still talk to him after every game,” Phillips said. “He’s always telling me what I should have done. And he knows – he’s right.”
THE WADE PHILLIPS FILE:
BORN: June 21, 1947 in Orange, Texas
COLLEGE: Linebacker at University of Houston
DAD: Bum Phillips, head coach of Houston Oilers (1975-80) and New Orleans Saints (1981-85)
SON: Wes Phillips, current assistant offensive line coach of Dallas Cowboys
1969: Graduate assistant, University of Houston
1970-72: Defensive coordinator, Orange H.S.
1973-74: Linebackers, Oklahoma State
1975: Defensive line, University of Kansas
1976: Linebackers, Houston Oilers
1977-80:Defensive line, Houston Oilers
1981-85: Defensive coordinator, New Orleans Saints
1986-88: Defensive coordinator, Philadelphia Eagles
1989-92: Defensive coordinator, Denver Broncos
1993-94:Head coach, Denver Broncos
1995-97: Defensive coordinator, Buffalo Bills
1998-00: Vice-president of football operations/ head Coach, Buffalo Bills
2002-03: Defensive coordinator, Atlanta Falcons
2004-06: Defensive coordinator, San Diego Chargers
2007-10: Head coach, Dallas Cowboys
Since 2011: Defensive coordinator, Houston Texans
BUFFALO BILLS UNDER WADE PHILLIPS:
1998: 10-6, made playoffs. Lost 24-17 at Miami in wildcard.
1999: 11-5, made playoffs. Lost 22-16 at Tennessee in wildcard.
2000: 8-8, no playoffs. Started 7-4 but lost 4 of last 5.
** Wade Phillips regime: 29-19 (.604)
BUFFALO BILLS SINCE WADE PHILLIPS:
2001: 3-13, no playoffs. Gregg Williams head coach
2002: 8-8, no playoffs. Gregg Williams
2003: 6-10, no playoffs. Gregg Williams
** Gregg Williams regime: 17-31 (.354)
2004: 9-7, no playoffs. Mike Mularkey
2005: 5-11, no playoffs. Mike Mularkey
** Mike Mularkey regime: 14-18 (.438)
2006: 7-9, no playoffs. Dick Jauron
2007: 7-9, no playoffs. Dick Jauron
2008: 7-9, no playoffs. Dick Jauron
2009: 6-10, no playoffs. Dick Jauron/Perry Fewell
** Dick Jauron regime: 27-37 (.422)
2010: 4-12, no playoffs. Chan Gailey
2011: 6-10, no playoffs. Chan Gailey
2012: *3-4, no playoffs. Chan Gailey
** Chan Gailey regime*: 13-26 (.333)