ATLANTA – Last time Wade Phillips coached in a Super Bowl, his Broncos defense shut down the Panthers and Cam Newton, the constantly dabbing quarterback.
After the game, Phillips wrote on Twitter: “A little Dab will do you but too much Dab will undo you.”
Phillips has become a legend because of his work as a defensive coordinator. He has become beloved because of his personality, which he acknowledges is inherited from his father, Bum. He remains underappreciated. Few coaches in NFL history have matched his combination of wit and grit.
Phillips is a 71-year-old who tweets, with glee. His cornerback, Aqib Talib, said he wants to do a reality show with Phillips in which they drink wine and tell stories. Phillips tweeted of working for 33-year-old Rams coach Sean McVay, “Rams have the only staff with DC on Medicare and HC in Daycare.”
Phillips is one of the funniest people in football, and his résumé demands he be taken seriously. He has coached in three Super Bowls and was the 2015 NFL Assistant Coach of the Year when his Broncos defense beat Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and Newton en route to a title.
He has also worked as a head coach for six franchises, including three interim jobs. In part because of his personality and in part because of a 1-5 playoff record, he is casually regarded as a failed head coach.
His career winning percentage is .562, including a few hopeless stints with bad teams. His record as head coach of the Cowboys: 34-22 (.607). With the Bills, he was 29-19 (.604).
Phillips is not exactly a head coaching failure, yet he was easily cast into a clichéd NFL category: coordinator too fun-loving to be an effective head coach.
He pleads guilty to the first part of that description. “I think just be yourself in coaching,” he said. “And do unto others as you’d like them to do unto you. That permeates me. That’s my life.
“I like to have fun. This is not life and death.”
Said Talib: “I love playing for him. I love his personality, just being around him every day. He always wakes up in a good mood and he puts the guys around him in a good mood. On top of that, he’s the mastermind on defense and he always puts his guys in position to make plays.
“And I definitely follow him on Twitter.”
Phillips credits his father for his attitude. “I had coaches who coached differently, and some of them had no fun at all,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to play for my dad in high school and in college, and I saw the difference. You could enjoy the game and still play well and win. That’s what I heard so many times — you can’t have fun and win. I never believed that. It hasn’t held to be true in my case, that’s for sure.”
A reporter once asked Bum about star back Earl Campbell failing to finish the mile run in training camp. Bum’s response: “When it’s first and a mile, I won’t give it to him.”
Phillips took to Twitter when he coached the Cowboys. He wanted to share innocuous information directly with fans.
The Broncos won the Super Bowl after the 2015 season, then changed coaching staffs after a disappointing 2016, when current Vikings assistant Gary Kubiak retired as head coach for health reasons.
Wade’s son, Wes, was coaching tight ends for Washington. McVay asked Wes to ask Wade if he would coach with McVay if McVay landed a head coaching job. Bum asked Wes about McVay’s age — then 30, which made him the youngest head coach in modern NFL history.
“Wes told me that if Sean interviews for a job, he’s going to get it,” Wade said. “I said, yeah, sure. Then a little while later I’m reading about Sean interviewing with the Rams, and then having dinner with the owner, and then Sean called me and said, ‘Want to come work with me?’ I was lucky, that’s for sure. He’s as sharp a guy on offense as I’ve ever been around.”
The 33-year-old wunderkind runs the offense. The 71-year-old wit runs the defense. “Wade Phillips is dope, man,” Rams cornerback Marcus Peters said. “He’s a Hall of Famer. When you get to spend time with someone who knows and cares so much about the game, you’ve got to enjoy it.”