Recently on Twitter, veteran NFL coach Wade Phillips has mused about starting his own podcast, but what he’d really like to do is get back into coaching. If there were any doubts, he made that perfectly clear in a Tweet on Jan. 15:
Phillips has been an NFL coach since 1976, and the 2020 season was just the third in which he wasn’t with a team. What did he do instead? For one thing, Coach Phillips spent every Wednesday hanging out with us on our 33rd Team calls. For those of you who don’t get to hear him on those calls, we invited him to offer a few words here…
For anyone wondering how I spent this last season out of football, it wasn’t much different than any other year: I watched a lot of football. It’s kinda what I do. My son Wes is the tight ends coach for the Rams, so I watched him a lot. And I still have plenty of friends around the league that I pull for.
I’m sure I watch differently than the average fan, because I’m not watching the ball all the time. I’m watching what certain players are doing, looking at different formations, splits, stuff like that. You can’t see everything on TV, so that’s the only challenge sometimes.
I wonder why people are doing certain things sometimes. I guess I second-guess like any other fan. But I enjoy watching players, see how they play. It’s fun watching guys I’ve coached.
I’d certainly like to get back into coaching. I’m trying to, but for whatever reason it hasn’t come about. The last time I was out for a year was in 2014, then I went to Denver in 2015 and we won the Super Bowl. I’ve had a lot of success wherever I’ve been — it’s not because of me, but I feel I’ve helped wherever I’ve been.
I think I’ve still got a lot to offer. Everywhere I’ve been, we’ve won. Everywhere I’ve been, we’ve been at the top of the league in sacks, in defense. The last seven teams I’ve gone to, we went to the playoffs in my first year there. I think I have some things that can help people. But it’s up to them, obviously.
Somebody just needs to make me an offer.
Defense isn’t easy in the NFL these days. People want to see offense, and the league knows its product. It was clear going into last season that the league told officials they’re not gong to emphasize holding. Holding penalties can be drive-killers. When you don’t get those penalties, the offenses are better.
I think it came to bear in the middle of the season, when they were at an all-time low for holding penalties. On the offense, at least – they were still calling defensive holding, pass interference and all that.
So scoring went up and up and up. And don’t be fooled by Tampa Bay’s defensive showing in the Super Bowl. People like to throw around the saying “Defense wins championships.” Well, that’s not true most of the time. We like to say that when it happens, but offense has really taken over, because of the rules and so forth. The high-scoring teams will win a lot of games every year. The more you score the more games you win.
What do you do to stop today’s offenses? The same thing we’ve been doing for a while. You start with defensive fundamentals. People talk about schemes and so forth, but it’s really about the players within your scheme. Make sure they’re able to utilize their ability to the max.
Some people over-scheme in my opinion. Their scheme is more important than the player and it shouldn’t be that way. If you have a scheme and you have a great player that’s not playing good in it, then you’ve got a bad scheme. You’ve got to make sure the players fit.
It sounds easy, but people get carried away with thinking, “We have to have a guy that does this or does that.” But if you’ve got a great rush guy, you’ve got to make sure he’s not dropping into coverage all the time. That sounds simple, but some people, because of their scheme, don’t do that.
If you’re going into your first year, you’ve got to get as much out of your talent as possible that first year. You can’t bring in a scheme that takes three or four years to get everybody playing good. When you hear a coach say, “It takes time for the players to fit our scheme,” that’s a bad sign. Coaches don’t get three or four years anymore. You want them to play good early. And a lot of that is utilizing the talent, in my opinion.
I’ve had quite a few opportunities to go into my first year with a team. The last time was in 2017 with the Rams, and we won the NFC West (and went to the Super Bowl a year later). And as I mentioned earlier, my first year with the Broncos in 2015, we were Super Bowl champs.
Winning Super Bowl 50 with Denver was outstanding. But I’d have to say my proudest moments have been the opportunity to coach with family. I coached 10 years with my dad when we were together with the Houston Oilers and then the Saints. That was great. And then I had my son coaching with me when I was with the Cowboys and the Rams. Those things are really important to me.
As for moments I might like to have back, well, I don’t look back. All the decisions we made, we thought they were the right decisions at the time. I don’t ever second-guess myself. I just feel like I do the best I can do, and that’s all I can do. If somebody doesn’t think that’s good enough, that’s their prerogative.
But I’ve been involved in something like 380 wins either as a head coach or assistant coach in the NFL. So those have ball been fun.
Aside from watching football these days, I do try to stay up on the game as much as possible. I talk with my son after each game. Apart from that, being involved with the 33rd Team has been really good. Because these guys are so up on what’s going on, especially with the draft and some other things I wouldn’t otherwise be aware of. During the season, I’m able to learn a lot by watching what people are doing, what offenses are doing, what defenses are doing.
The whole conglomeration of the 33rd Team is really informative. These guys have been general managers, scouts, coaches, and all people involved are football people. So it’s very informative for me.
The statistical stuff they do is really intriguing as well. The NFL has certainly gotten into analytics, so I get a lot out of that. I understand analytics drives a lot of what coaches do these days.
But I don’t think the profile of what a good coach is has changed all that much. To me, coaching’s coaching. All coaches have their own ways of doing things, and there are a lot of good, young coaches these days. I just worked with Sean McVay with the Rams, and he’s an outstanding young coach. Wait, he’s not an outstanding young coach. He’s an outstanding coach.
He really gets the John Wooden philosophy of culture and team building, and that’s something that I think is important. It’s a common thread of all good coaches. How John Wooden taught his philosophy of coaching, doing the right things the right way.
The Wooden philosophy – his pyramid of success — covers almost everything a coach deals with, whether it’s football, basketball or any other sport. We’ve seen a lot of great coaches, but I don’t know that anybody’s won as much as he did. And he’s got it all laid out for you. He obviously had some great players, but he also had a great team attitude, a great team culture.
I’d love the opportunity to help a team’s culture, along with its defense, next season. I’ve done it before, and I look forward to doing it again.
WATCH: Wade Phillips on John Wooden: