LOS ANGELES — Wade Phillips smiled and paused for a moment. A proud father musing about the incredible amount of football knowledge accumulated by his family and all of the information imparted and absorbed by his son, Wes Phillips.
Wade Phillips poised to watch his son Wes in Super Bowl 56
Wade Phillips on Rams’ Wes Phillips: “He knows what I know, he knows what he knows, so he knows a lot.”
Los Angeles Rams tight ends coach and passing game coordinator Wes Phillips’ NFL family is steeped in the rich tradition of the game. His grandfather (and Wade Phillips’ father) is the late Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips, a Texas legend and colorful figure who wore a cowboy hat on the sideline and reached a pair of AFC Championship Games while coaching Hall of Fame running back Earl Campbell.
And Wade, 74, was a head coach with the Buffalo Bills, Dallas Cowboys, and Denver Broncos. He was also one of the top defensive coordinators in NFL history, reaching three Super Bowls and earning one Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Now, Wes Phillips, 42, a well-respected coach and a key figure in the Rams’ dynamic offensive machine along with coach Sean McVay, offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell, quarterback Matthew Stafford, and wide receivers Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr., is poised for his moment Sunday in the Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium against an opportunistic Cincinnati Bengals defense.
Wes Phillips has been preparing for this moment his whole life
How ready is Phillips for this experience? Well, he’s been preparing for it his entire life by being around the game and preparing diligently for his time.
“He’s smart,” said Wade Phillips, a former Rams defensive coordinator who lives in Thousand Oaks, California, and attends Rams games with his wife, Laurie, and daughter, Tracie.
“He knows what I know, and he knows what he knows, so he knows a lot. He’s a great coach. I’m living vicariously through Wes. I’m very proud and excited for him and he’s doing a great job.
“I’m so happy to be there with him. I wish my dad would have been there for the Super Bowl we won with the Broncos. He was able to be there for the first one I lost. And I just wish he had been there for the one we were able to win over the Panthers. This is very special for us. Wes has worked so hard and is doing really well. He worked his way up in this family profession.”
A family tradition
For Wes, his coaching journey began after being born in Houston when grandfather Bum was coaching the Oilers during the Luv Ya Blue era and Wade Phillips was the defensive line coach. He played high school football in upstate New York at Williamsville North High School. He then played quarterback at Texas-El Paso.
After playing professionally in the AF2 Arena Football League, he started coaching and hasn’t looked back.
Wes started at UTEP before being hired at West Texas A&M as a quarterbacks coach before moving on to Baylor. He then moved on to the NFL with his father as the Dallas Cowboys’ quality control offensive assistant.
Phillips got promoted to assistant offensive line coach under Jason Garrett before working for the Washington Football Team as a tight ends coach under Jay Gruden. That’s when he began working with McVay and coached Vernon Davis and Jordan Reed.
Wes Phillips wanted to be like his dad Wade
“He got being smart from his mom, not from me,” Wade Phillips said. “He has a real knack for working well with people, and, really, that’s what coaching is all about.”
Since joining the Rams as a tight ends coach in 2019 and being promoted to passing game coordinator, Phillips’ role has continued to grow.
“I just wanted to be like my dad,” he said. “Being around football, you know, kind of learning a lot through osmosis, really, with him, and the conversations I was having as a kid were with an NFL coach, where I was learning a lot of things I didn’t always know I was learning at the time. You end up picking up a lot of things just from those experiences. A lot of my philosophy on coaching is that it’s a teaching job, really, and you’re here to serve the players. All of those things I learned from him.
“Once I got in the league, his reputation as a man and as a coach has really been good for me, just in the fact that he’s well respected, but also really well-liked by both players and coaches that he worked with. So, when they meet me — until they really get to know me — they think I’m a good guy, too.”
Phillips’ time in Buffalo extended from high school to college while his father was running the Bills.
“It was one of those things where you just keep learning over and over that the people make the place,” Phillips said. “It ended up being one of the great stops in dad’s coaching career and my young life.”
Unique place in NFL history
The Phillips family is one of only two third-generation coaching families in NFL history, including the Don Shula family tree.
“Whatever his great grandparents did, what’s in their bloodline for all of them to be great coaches, you know, maybe I need to learn something and get it from them just in case I want to get into the coaching game after I’m done,” Rams tight end Kendall Blanton said.
Wes Phillips broke into NFL coaching with his father. Then, he became the position coach for Jason Witten. All of the time soaking up information at home and at work from his father paid off with major dividends.
Learning all the time
“It certainly helped me a lot, just from conversations with dad watching football games, about clock management, timeouts, situations, those sort of things,” Wes Phillips said. “It wasn’t like I was at home drawing up things on the grease board with him. And then the opportunities I had as a young kid. To be able to go to the facility, to not only kind of sit in the back in some of the meetings with the coaches, but also to watch NFL football players, to see them up close.
“To be a ball boy at training camp and kind of see the athletes in this league, for a long time doing that. I felt like when I actually got to this level, that I maybe had a sense of what these guys were supposed to look like.”
For Phillips, this is a unique situation because his grandfather made it to two AFC Championship Games and never reached the Super Bowl. In 42 seasons and three Super Bowls, Wade Phillips’ biggest moment was with the Broncos, led by Von Miller, who’s now with the Rams, blowing out the Panthers and quarterback Cam Newton.
“So I’m just grateful for this opportunity,” Wes Phillips said. “Fifteen years in the league, and this is my first opportunity to play in a Super Bowl. Actually, it was the first year that I was on a team that went past the Divisional Round.”
Wes Phillips on TE Kendall Blanton
Rams tight end Tyler Higbee caught 61 passes for 560 yards and 5 touchdowns during the regular season. Higbee had 9 receptions for 115 yards in the playoffs before hurting his knee against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. In place of Higbee, Blanton caught 5 passes for 57 yards. With Higbee out for Sunday’s game, Blanton will start in the Super Bowl.
“Kendall has been a guy that it’s been a long time coming for him,” Wes Phillips said. “All he’s really done is work since he started on our practice squad and eventually has gotten to this position. I appreciate the fact that he takes responsibility for his own career, meaning that not only does he take the coaching and work hard, but he’s also coming to me extra, saying, ‘What else can I do. What do I need to do here? What did you think about this?’ Just the extra stuff of a young player that’s trying to make his name in the league and help the team in any way he can.
“And then on a personal level, he’s just a really good human being and a strong part of our team. He kind of has a relationship with all kinds of guys. If we’re not in meetings, he’s usually cutting it up with guys in the locker room or in the training room. He’s just been a real positive to our culture.”
Energy he brings to the room
Playing for Phillips has provided a boost to Blanton’s career after moving up from the practice squad.
“Just the energy he brings to the room every day. I don’t think he’s ever really had a bad day,” Blanton said. “I know people do, but I’ve never got that vibe from him. He’s always ready to go. Always ready to coach. He’s very detailed, which is something I’ve always needed and I’ve always looked for in a coach.”
Phillips has been mentioned as an offensive coordinator candidate in reports, both with the Rams when O’Connell moves on to the Minnesota Vikings and with the Vikings potentially going with O’Connell.
Focused on the task at hand
Chasing jobs or promotions isn’t his focus at all, though. Not at this time nor the family focus at all.
“The ring is the thing,” Wade Phillips said. “When you win, all of that other stuff, the jobs, it all kind of takes care of itself. He’s done a great job and the people that need to know, they know that.”
Focusing on the Bengals’ defense and the big moment is not difficult for Wes Phillips. He simply keeps watching the tape and coaching up his guys.
“I know a lot of coaches say this, but I really try to kind of stay away from a lot of the talk, whether it’s good or bad,” Wes Phillips said. “Certainly you work hard. You try to do the best you can and you hope that at some point you have an opportunity to advance, wherever that might be.
“We all have our ambitions. But really I just try to focus on being a good staff member, helping Sean, in this case, in any way I can, and making sure my guys know that I’m giving them everything I can every day and that I’m the same person every day. I can be a steady force that is going to always do everything I can to help them get better. And, really, that’s my goal as far as coaching.”