When Wade Phillips’ XFL Houston Roughnecks were victorious in its opener, it marked his first win as a head coach since September 2010.
That victory also came in Houston, when Phillips was the coach of the Cowboys.
Houston is where Phillips played college ball for the Cougars.
It’s where he was on his father’s coaching staff with the Oilers.
And it’s where he was defensive coordinator for the Texans.
But Phillips was nowhere in the NFL in 2020. Or 2021.
In fact, nobody hired Phillips after the Rams let the defensive coordinator go following the 2019 season, despite helping Los Angeles make the Super Bowl a year earlier.
“I hate to say it but I think it’s age. It’s hard to beat my record as a coordinator so there’s got to be another reason,” Phillips, 75, said. “But that’s ok. I’m glad to be doing what I’m doing.”
Phillips’ Roughnecks are off to a 2-0 start, allowing the second-fewest points in the eight-team league.
The defense leads the league in sacks, tackles for losses and interceptions.
The day before the opener, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner declared it Wade Phillips Day.
“It really should have been ‘Houston Roughnecks Day,’” Phillips said.
The coach said working with the players is the best part of the job.
“They’ve got great focus,” Phillips said. “They’re trying to accomplish something and they’re looking for you to help them.”
There was also putting together a 51-man roster from scratch.
“In the NFL you draft but you have 35, 40 players already. We had none,” Phillips said.
Phillips said there has been no problem with players prioritizing impressing scouts with stats, instead of serving the team.
“We’re going to give you a chance to show what you can do but it’s not going to be selfish,” Phillips said. “That’s what a team is. You’re still happy when somebody else does well.”
“You want all the opportunities you can get but I tell them ‘they’ll be there for you.’ Just do what you’re supposed to do and do it well and people will recognize it.”
Winning has followed Phillips.
The Oilers made back-to-back AFC title games when he was on the staff.
The Eagles won the 1988 NFC East title when he was Buddy Ryan’s defensive coordinator.
The following season, the Broncos made the Super Bowl when he was on Dan Reeves’ staff.
There were more playoff appearances as a member of the Texans, Broncos, Falcons, Chargers and Rams staffs and as a head coach of three different teams.
But in October 2020, he took to Twitter looking for a job.
“Watching and waiting the League not one team. Just looking to see if I can get an opportunity to help someone win,” Phillips wrote.
And in January 2021, he tweeted, “I am ready to retire from retirement! I am ready and available. Let’s win.”
Now he’s back as a head coach.
The reputation from fans and media was that he was a great defensive coordinator — just see his masterclass with Denver in the 2015 postseason — but just alright as a head coach, even with an 82-64 career record and leading the Broncos, Bills and Cowboys to the playoffs.
“My niche in the NFL was defensive coordinator,” he said. “My record’s pretty good as head coach. It was fun being a head coach. I didn’t do terrible.”
For a man coaching for half a century his passion for coaching hasn’t waned at all.
“It’s not work,” Phillips said. “It’s a family tradition. I love doing it.”
His father, Bum, was head coach of the Oilers and Saints.
And now Wade’s son, Wes, is the Vikings offensive coordinator.
“I’m not mad because I’m not in the NFL,” Wade said. “I’m glad I got an opportunity.”
Now, the XFL is an opportunity and a return for one of Houston’s favorite sons.
“The NFL used to be the No Fun League,” Phillips said. “This is the Xtra Fun League.”
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