Wade Phillips faces quite a challenge in fixing the Houston Texans' defense, but he's excited about it.
Phillips was hired as the Texans' new defensive coordinator Wednesday, assigned to revamp a unit that dropped to the bottom of the NFL this season.
The former Dallas Cowboys coach joins Gary Kubiak's staff two days after the Texans fired defensive coordinator Frank Bush, secondary coach David Gibbs, linebackers coach Johnny Holland and assistant linebackers coach Robert Saleh.
Phillips has an 81-62 record as a head coach with the Cowboys, Buffalo Bills, Atlanta Falcons, Denver Broncos and New Orleans Saints. He also has been a defensive coordinator for the Saints, Philadelphia Eagles, Broncos, Bills, Falcons and San Diego Chargers.
The Texans (6-10) lost eight of their last 10 games, mostly because of a defense that ranked as one of the NFL's worst. Houston finished 30th in yards allowed (386.6 per game) and last against the pass (267.5 yards per game).
Phillips becomes the third defensive coordinator in Kubiak's tenure, which began in 2006 and was on tenuous ground until owner Bob McNair said this week that he was sticking with his head coach.
Bush and his predecessor, Richard Smith, had no previous experience at the position, and McNair and Kubiak both said they needed someone with a more proven track record this time.
Kubiak told KRIV-TV in Houston that he was "very excited" to work with Phillips, whom he has known for more than 30 years. The 63-year-old Phillips, a defensive coordinator for the bulk of his 35-year career, ran the defense in Denver from 1989 to 1992, overlapping Kubiak's playing career as John Elway's backup for the Broncos.
"We had a list of candidates that we lined up, but we wanted to start with the guy that we thought was most qualified and fit our situation," Kubiak said. "So we started with Wade, and that's where it ended."
Phillips and Kubiak first met in the late 1970s, when Kubiak was a ball boy and Wade was an assistant for the Houston Oilers, who were coached by Wade's father, Bum. The elder Phillips showed up at Texans practice a week ago and chatted with McNair, sparking speculation that his son was in line to join the team.
"I don't think they could've picked a better guy," Bum Phillips said in a telephone interview Wednesday night. "And I don't think Wade could've picked a better job to come to. He's going to get to work with a guy who he knows and respects. That, to me, makes all the difference in the world. It's a great deal for Wade and a great deal for Houston."
Wade Phillips was fired by the Cowboys after a 1-7 start this season. But in his three-plus seasons, Dallas' defense gave up an average of 329.9 yards per game to rank 10th in the NFL during his tenure.
From 2004 to 2006, Phillips was the defensive coordinator in San Diego, and the Chargers gave up fewer than 20 points per game each of those years. Phillips was the head coach in Buffalo from 1998 to 2000, and the Bills led the NFL in total defense in 1999, allowing just 266.2 yards and 14.3 points per game.
The Texans' defense was bad from the start this season, yielding an average of 410.5 yards through the first six games. Houston only started 4-2 because the offense topped 30 points in each of the victories.
Pro Bowl middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans ruptured his Achilles' tendon in the sixth game, and the defense never improved.
The plan to start rookie Kareem Jackson and second-year pro Glover Quin at cornerback didn't work out. Houston gave up a league-high 33 touchdown passes and the secondary was beaten repeatedly on long receptions late in games.
The pass rush also was an issue. Defensive end Mario Williams had 8.5 sacks through the first 13 games, but he then went on season-ending injured reserve with a sports hernia. Houston had 30 sacks this season to rank 23rd overall.
Phillips prefers a 3-4 defensive alignment, which would be a change from the 4-3 that the Texans have played the past two seasons. Kubiak said Monday that he didn't care what scheme his new coordinator runs as long as it works.
"Wade feels confident about running a 3-4, and I'm excited about that," Kubiak told the Chronicle. "Wade said he feels good about the talent we have and how he'll use the players. He said Mario has to be one of our most successful players and that it's up to him to put Mario in position to do that.
"Wade talked about some things he did with Bruce Smith in Buffalo compared to what he'll do with Mario, and I like what I hear."
A 3-4 scheme would require Williams and fellow defensive end Antonio Smith to adjust their techniques and attack more to the inside of the line than the outside,.
"It depends on the players we have and the situation (down in distance)," Phillips told the Chronicle. "I'm really excited about working with Mario Williams and seeing how we can take advantage of all that talent."
It's something Phillips will have to think about this offseason. Smith expressed some doubts.
"If it doesn't suit you, it doesn't suit you," Smith said. "I think that sometimes players get a bad rap in making a decision that best suits them and the longevity of their career, and half the time they're looked at and seen in a bad light because they want to keep their career going on the same course that it was going on. And with a change of defense that doesn't suit you, you're going right on the road to ending your career, if you don't perform at that position.
"Now, if it suits, it suits," Smith added. "And if it's feasible, I can do it. But if it's not, it's just not."
Bum Phillips believes Wade will adjust to Houston's personnel.
"He's coached every kind of defensive front you can have, and played every kind of coverage you can play," Phillips said. "You've got to make it fit the guys you've got. Whatever system fits the best, that's what I'm sure they'll try to run."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.