Wade Phillips is back in football with the Houston Roughnecks

ARLINGTON, Texas — At one of the Houston Roughnecks’ first team meetings in January, following the launch of the revived XFL, a new, yet familiar face addressed their players.

Wade Phillips, who despite being 75 years old is still proudly known as the Son of Boom, a nod to his father, a Stetson player, a Texas icon who led the Houston Oilers to the cusp of a Super title Bowl in the 1970s, he is a head coach. again after wondering if he would ever get another chance to train.

Phillips spoke with his new team in a large meeting room below Choctaw Stadium, a baseball field formerly home to the Texas Rangers, just steps from AT&T Stadium, where one of Phillips’ former teams, the Dallas, plays. cowboys.

When he rose to speak, with all the players, coaches and support staff in attendance, one attendee said the room was completely silent, with all the players “locked” into Phillips, notepads or iPads on the table. hand.

He told the team that he believed in the XFL’s motto, “where dreams meet opportunity.” But those weren’t just reserved for gamers. It was also personal to him.

“Coach Wade is a Houston legend. He’s got all the gears rolling,” said Alex Myres, a defensive back for the Roughnecks and a Houston-area native who played at the University of Houston. “When he came in and told everyone that this is an amazing opportunity for him too, it put a lot of things in perspective for me and a lot of guys. It was the time to go at that point. Everyone understood why we’re all here.”

Phillips hadn’t coached since the Los Angeles Rams fired him in January 2020, and he was open to every opportunity. For this one to appear, about 90 miles from where he grew up in southeast Texas, where he later played linebacker at the University of Houston, then was an assistant to his father in the greatest era of Houston pro football history, is even sweeter. And it doesn’t hurt that the Roughnecks wear blue and red with an oil rig on their jerseys, just like Bum’s team did.

“Houston house,” Phillips said. “Being with the University of Houston, then the Oilers, then the Texans, and now the Roughnecks…throw me into heather field, you know? It surprises me. But it shouldn’t surprise me. I’ve been on every team in every the leagues”.

Phillips’ coaching career spans more than 40 years. He has been a defensive coordinator for eight NFL teams and a coach in two Super Bowls. He won 56% of his games as head coach, including three full-time jobs with Buffalo, Denver and Dallas and interim jobs with New Orleans, Atlanta and Houston. He has worked for Marv Levy (b. 1925) and Sean McVay (b. 1986), with Buddy Ryan, Marty Schottenheimer, Dan Reeves and Gary Kubiak in between. He has coached 20 top 10 defensemen, 30 professional bowlers, five Defensive Players of the Year and two Defensive Rookies of the Year.

So it hurt when even his hometown teams passed him by until the XFL came along. Phillips had been overlooked by the NFL and USFL Texans, who returned last year, despite a Houston Gamblers team in need of a new coaching staff. But, as he told the players, this was also a surprise to him.

“I didn’t think I was going to be a head coach somewhere,” he said. “I thought the USFL might give me a chance, but I’m glad they didn’t because I think this is a better league. Nobody wants to see the Houston Gamblers play the New Jersey Generals in Birmingham. Who’s going to get into that game? • At least your home team is playing at home.

“And I would have loved to go back to the Texans because they were so bad. I was there before [as defensive coordinator under Kubiak] when they were bad and we turned it around pretty well.”

After four decades as a coach, Phillips knows the numbers game, and he’s sure he knows why he hasn’t gotten a chance again until now.

“No matter what you say, age is an issue, in any profession,” Phillips said. “Once they think you’re old enough, they want the young guy.”

When the XFL begins its restart with eight teams playing 10 regular-season games, the Roughnecks begin their season Saturday at home against the Orlando Guardians (8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN, FX, ESPN+), Phillips will be a full-time player. head coach again for the first time since 2010.

Like his players, he has something to prove.

PHILLIPS COACHING STAFF It is an interesting mixture of experience and youth. His offensive coordinator is AJ Smith, 33, who first impressed Phillips when they met at the Angelo Clinic in Texas when Smith was 20 and asked Phillips’s opinion on how to attack certain defenses. Since then, he has been a high school and college assistant, coaching wide receivers under June Jones, who was the Roughnecks’ head coach in 2020 before the league suspended operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. 19.

Roughnecks defensive coordinator Brian Stewart is a veteran of both the NFL and college. There are players like Bill Johnston, 67, a defensive line coach who won a Super Bowl with the Saints in 2009 and a national championship with LSU in 2019, contrasted with offensive line coach Andre Gurode, the former center for Pro Bowl who played for Phillips in Dallas and is in his first full-time coaching job.

But one name stands out: wide receivers coach Payton Pardee, the 26-year-old grandson of Jack Pardee, who coached the original USFL Houston Gamblers in 1984, at the University of Houston, where he coached Andre Ware. to a Heisman Trophy, and the Houston Oilers, when Warren Moon lit up the scoreboards.

Pardee, who played at the University of Houston from 2015 to 2018, is in the infancy of his coaching career and worked for three years at Texas A&M-Commerce before receiving the call from Phillips, which he described as surreal.

“It means the world to me,” Pardee said. “A big dream of mine has always been to coach in the city of Houston. Coach Wade has obviously had that opportunity. I grew up loving the Oilers and the Gamblers, even though they were done at the time, because my grandfather coached for everyone.” . three teams in the city. And being able to work for Coach Wade is amazing, because you learn so much. Everybody in Texas knows him. My grandfather knew him very well. So that’s been very special to me.”

Pardee said it’s even more poignant that he’s part of Smith’s offensive staff that is heavily influenced by the Run and Shoot, the same passing scheme his grandfather ushered into the mainstream.

“This is an opportunity to show that this system can still be successful, because most of its success came in its heyday, in the mid to late ’80s and early ’90s and then with June Jones at the beginning of the decade. 2000,” Pardee said. saying. “So there are a couple of different layers to this.”

Pardee said the scheme is a hybrid that also features Air Raid elements, but after Mike Leach’s death in December, Phillips says he has his own nomenclature for it.

“I call it the Mike Leach offense now,” he said. “No offense to [Air Raid inventor Hal] Mumme and those guys, but it’s a tribute to Mike, so we’ll call it the Leach offense here.”

Phillips, who was part of the “Luv Ya Blue” hysteria that swept Houston in the Bum era, knows the city will root for a winner if he gets the Roughnecks off to a good start. He will return to the UH campus, playing in the 40,000-seat TDECU stadium that opened in 2014, and he believes that an exciting offense combined with his defense can get the fans behind them.

“The Texans have struggled, so for a professional football team to win in Houston, we know what it’s like when they’re winning,” he said. “We’d like to have that feeling. I mean, it’s training in my hometown. It couldn’t get any better than that. I’m just worried that we’re trying to play well and represent our city and even Texas.”

PHILLIPS HAS BEEN impressed with the attitude of the XFL players he has worked with. He said that there is no ego and a lot of hunger to have another opportunity in football. He had the same experience after playing linebacker in college, leaving Houston the Cougars’ career leader in assisted tackles in 1968, a record that stood until 2011.

However, he knew he wasn’t good enough to play in the NFL, so he looked for a way to stay involved as a coach. He wants his players to know that too, that their soccer lives don’t have to end with their playing days. As an example, Phillips’ son Wes played arena soccer after his college career at UTEP and is now the offensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings,

“Sometimes you’re not ready to finish playing,” Phillips said. “Some of them are 24, 25, 26 years old. Maybe they had a chance but they got injured and they feel like they can still make it. Maybe they’ll make it, maybe they won’t. But they’re great players to coach. Everybody wants to listen and try to learn how to improve”.

Wide receiver Nick Holley said the team understands the amount of knowledge and history Phillips brings to his locker room.

“He comes to meetings with great energy every day,” Holley said. “We all feed off of that. Regardless of what happens, Coach Wade will take him as far as he wants to go. That’s the kind of person he is.”

And it brings instant credibility to a league looking to attract fans in soccer hotbeds.

With the Arlington Renegades led by Bob Stoops and the San Antonio Brahmas led by Hines Ward, the XFL expects fans to enjoy intrastate battles, just like the NBA’s Texas Triangle.

“There’s going to be a rivalry. We’re going to play each other twice. So it’s going to be fun. Stoops wants whoever wins the Texas title to get a box of cigarettes,” Phillips said, laughing. “I don’t smoke cigarettes. I guess that’s their deal. I don’t want cigarettes. They can keep them.”

Phillips is fully invested in what is likely to be his last head coaching job, grateful for an opportunity, no matter the league.

“It’s different, but it’s the same,” Phillips said. “It’s training, teaching them the fundamentals and how to get better, all those things you’ve always done. And we’re running the Phillips 3-4 defense, so that hasn’t changed.”

The Run and Shoot, a happy defense that terrifies quarterbacks, Texas rivalries, Boom’s son and Jack’s grandson? It’s almost as if the XFL knows that there is a group of Houstonians who have never felt the same way since the Oilers left in 1997 and are pouring out nostalgia.

“It feels like home to a lot of people who are in Houston,” Myres said. “A lot of people see the logo as the Houston Oilers, and I think that says a lot about the city of Houston behind it. We’ve got to go out there and take action and bring wins to the city of Houston, but I think that’s something we can do.” for sure. And then it will give the fans something to get behind.”

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