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Wade Phillips: Inside An NFL Coaching Interview

Wade Phillips: Inside An NFL Coaching Interview

Wade Phillips sat down with The 33rd Team and talked through his history interviewing with different organizations and for HC and DC positions. He had some very interesting takeaways not only just touching on the differences between the interviews between the different organizations/positions but also the stories that have led him to being the incredibly successful coach he is.

What’s the difference between interviewing as a head coach versus a coordinator position? When looking for a head coach, minimal focus is on the X’s and O’s, and the vast majority is about how you want to run the team. This starts with how you dress when you walk into the room and extends to the overall direction you plan to lead the team with as head coach. Your philosophy. How minimally or drastically you want to change the team from its current state. Your day-to-day plans and why you want to be with this team specifically.

The passion behind your interview is paramount because GMs want people leading their team who will embody the spirit of the organization. Being able to convey your commitment to a potential team — and to your GM counterpart — is crucial. Your relationship with the GM can often be a make or break deal. Typically, only the general managers conduct head coaching interviews which underscores the importance of your rapport with the GM. The GMs will then convey their assessments of the interviewees once they’ve narrowed down their head coaching search.

Just like the majority of corporate jobs, the GMs will focus on your resume during the interviews. What makes head coaching resumes a little unique, however, is that they are more rooted in stories and highlights than traditional resumes. For example, in the year before coaching the Cowboys, I was the defensive coordinator for the 14-2 Chargers. Jerry Jones was a big fan of the story we told at the Chargers that year and the contribution it made to my resume.

Beyond your resume, GMs will want to know about your plans for the future of their team. This plan actually begins with the intangibles — your idea for how you want to shape the culture of your organization. To me, trust is a keystone of any team culture. This extends to trust between the head coach and GM, trust among the coaching staff, and trust with the players. When I coached with my father in Houston and then as his defensive coordinator in New Orleans, I learned the value of implicit trust. We were able to be candid with each other without worrying about hurt feelings or ulterior motives as we were evaluating our team, game plans and future match-ups. This experience led me to hire my son and continue developing cultures of trust within my team.

Another one of my father's lessons about culture that I brought to my teams was about the type of people you want in leadership positions. He preached that since you influence the players so strongly as a coach given the amount of time spent together, you need good-natured coaches who will teach these players the right attitude towards football. Setting a positive culture starts from the top.

Getting into the tangibles, you will need to come prepared with a vision for your potential staff when you walk into a head coaching interview. Sometimes teams will have coaches on staff who they want you to retain and this can cause friction for people. When I was in Denver for my first stint, Dan Reeves wanted to keep Mike Nolan and Charlie Waters. In San Diego, I was asked to retain a lot of the defensive coaches. In all instances, I was more than happy having the coaches the general manager recommended be a part of my staff. My attitude is that if you believe in them, I do too.

The best strategy is to be yourself during the interview process and convey your passion for the prospect of this position.

Sometimes you already have the job. When I was hired as the head coach in Buffalo I had served as defensive coordinator preceding the promotion. I wasn’t really interviewed for the job since John Butler knew all he needed to. Owner Ralph Wilson was told by Butler he wanted me to be the next head coach, and I accepted. This happened to me when Dan Reeves asked me to be the defensive coordinator in Atlanta. There wasn’t any interview needed, and he just offered me the position.

I have a funny story about another interview I had. My first interview with the Texans was to be their Head Coach after they first entered the league as an expansion team. I flew to the interview commercial and it went well but didn’t end up working out. The next time I interviewed was for their open DC position and the interview was more of a formality. The owner flew me out in his private jet. When you get the jet, you’ve got the job.

Ethan Useloff contributed to this story