Souhan: Vikings’ Phillips remains in the family business
The Phillipses don’t hide their love. Wade Phillips, the great defensive coordinator and occasional head coach, named his Twitter feed “sonofbum,” after his father, former Oilers coach Bum Phillips. Wes Phillips, the new Vikings offensive coordinator, stays in close contact with his father, who is inexplicably not working in the NFL but has been hired by the XFL.
It’s a family of fun football philosophers. When Oilers superstar running back Earl Campbell had trouble with the mile run one training camp, Bum responded to a reporter’s question by saying, “When it’s first and a mile, I won’t give it to him.”
Wade was a successful head coach (82-64) downgraded by a 1-5 postseason record, but his work as a defensive coordinator would land him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, along with former Vikings assistants Tom Moore and Monte Kiffin, if coordinators were considered prime candidates.
With Wes, the apple didn’t fall far from the coaching tree. Like Bum and Wade, he’s a football lifer who loves his players and seeks to blend modern thinking with traditional verities.
“I never really could picture myself doing anything else but coaching,” Phillips said. “I always loved the game. I wanted to be one of those guys running around on the grass, but I was very aware, being around NFL players, what I looked like athletically compared to these guys. So coaching was the next best thing.”
Explosive passing offenses are the rage in the modern NFL, but Phillips channels Moore when talking about the realities of running an offense. Moore would pound on a table and roar, “You must protect the quarterback!” Phillips, who was with the Rams when they won the Super Bowl, agrees.
“Our offense is very quarterback-friendly,” he said. “We’ve got no chance if we can’t protect, and if the QB doesn’t feel comfortable running the offense. Not too many dropbacks on early downs, because it’s hard to pass-protect in this league over and over again.
“If you can stay efficient on early downs, whether it’s running the ball or the screen game, the keeper game, naked [bootlegs], and stay on track, you have a chance to be successful.”
Phillips was the Rams pass game coordinator and tight ends coach. New Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell was Sean McVay’s offensive coordinator. They believe in running the ball effectively to make life easier for the quarterback. McVay also proved that finding the right quarterback is everything if you want to win a Super Bowl.
He made it to Super Bowl LIII with Jared Goff as his quarterback, and the Patriots shut him down, winning 13-3. McVay traded Goff and copious assets to Detroit for Matthew Stafford, who had never won a playoff game, and immediately won a Super Bowl.
A year ago, how did Phillips feel about working with Stafford? “We absolutely thought we had the right guy,” he said Tuesday. “There’s only a handful of guys, really, that can function at that high of a level. They’re so hard to find. And when you have one, you know, right away, and Matthew came in and took ownership and his experience was a big part of that.”
Without being asked, Phillips invoked Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. “It’s a lot like with Kirk,” he said. “He’s got so much experience that he can connect a lot of the things or concepts that we’re talking about with the things he’s done in the past.”
While Bum produced witticisms, Wade simply loves talking football. As a first-year NFL writer, I cold-called Wade in 1989, when he was the Denver Broncos defensive coordinator, and he called back immediately so he could promote star safety Steve Atwater.
Wes said that Wade, while looking for his next coaching job, spent hours in his home office, talking on Zoom with coaches from around the country.
“High school coaches, college coaches, anybody who wants to talk football,” Wes said. “He’ll be in his office and my mom won’t even recognize the person he’s talking to, and he’ll be on there for an hour straight.”
Sonofwade still calls, too.