Super Bowl 50  

 

Wade Phillips makes good on family name in Super Bowl 50

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- A World Champions hat with the tags still on it snug to his head, and with his 38th NFL season now in the books, you could excuse Wade Phillips if his thoughts were elsewhere as the clock ticked to zero on Super Bowl 50.

There's probably no one in the Denver Broncos' organization that this one meant more to. And there's really only one thing that was on his mind as the moment he'd win his first title began to crystallize.

"My dad," he said. "He's influenced everything in my life. I miss him. But we kicked the door in this time. I know he'd be proud of me."

Wade's dad, Bum, passed away a little over two years ago. Wade's son, Wes, is now a Redskins assistant. Between the three of them, the family has logged 63 seasons on NFL sidelines, 20 of them spent as head coaches, and this was the first time one of those ended with a Phillips hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.

It also just so happens to have come in the year after the NFL seemed to put Wade out to pasture.

The 2014 season wasn't easy on anyone in the Phillips family. Fired as part of Gary Kubiak's staff in Houston after the 2013 season, Phillips wanted to keep coaching, but he couldn't find work. He says now that five different guys who were up for head-coaching positions had him lined up as an assistant, and "those guys didn't get those jobs."

How does a guy go from unemployment to leading one of the best defensive efforts in Super Bowl history in 12 months?

The easy answer now: a lot of NFL teams were wrong about him. The Broncos' 24-10 shutdown of the Panthers and the smothering effort of Phillips' star-studded defense is simply confirmation of that to people who know him best.

"It was hard for all of us, that he was out for a year and couldn't get back in," said Wes, the Washington tight ends coach, dressed on this day head-to-toe in Broncos gear. "I know I questioned the profession that I was involved in, that a guy who's had a career like that couldn't be in. He was kind of just pushed out. For him to come back and be able to have this opportunity to be with a great team and a defense, it's unbelievable."

Phillips' wife, Laurie, laughs about it now, saying, "Well, he just pretty much didn't know what to do with himself. And I didn't know what to do with him, either."

This is where you can throw in the old saying -- it's always darkest before the dawn.

Confetti still lying on his shoulder pads and the walk to the locker room through the tunnel nearly complete, Derek Wolfe craned his head around and made a simple, strong statement to defensive linemate Malik Jackson.

"Greatest ever," Wolfe said.

"Greatest defense ever," Jackson responded.

The idea isn't a new one for the new world champions. It's there because Phillips put it there, all the way back in training camp. He raved to his son about the unit's potential. Wes explains, "He's had some great front sevens and he's had some great back ends, but this kind of combination of front seven plus back end, and [the] depth they have, outside 'backer depth, corner depth, he hasn't had before."

And he was open with the players, too, telling them how great they could be. On Sunday night, we all saw not how great they could be, but how great they are.

The game plan was as Phillips usually likes them: simple. "Load the box," explained corner Chris Harris Jr. "And can you beat us man-to-man outside? And their receivers, they weren't good enough."

Von Miller's frightening strip-sack of Cam Newton and Jackson's subsequent fumble recovery in the end zone on Carolina's second possession were simply a precursor for the rest of the evening. The Panthers' potent offense was held to 315 yards, Newton completed less than half of his passes and the Broncos registered seven sacks and four turnovers.

Miller played like a man possessed all night. The secondary sparkled. The linebackers kept Newton in check on the ground. The interior of the defensive line was sturdy in stopping the run.

All that talent Phillips had was turned loose, with his pretty basic philosophy buoying each and every one of them -- put your best players in position to play fast and physical by resisting the urge to overcomplicate things.

"The guys in the middle, like Wolfe and Malik and Sylvester [Williams], not having them just be run-stoppers, but they were pass-rush guys," said outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware, who played under Phillips when both were with the Cowboys, and who had two sacks of his own. "He let Von rush more. And we play a lot more man-to-man because we had those types of corners with [Aqib] Talib and Chris Harris, and then you see T.J. [Ward] and [Darian] Stewart in the middle. He utilized our talents to get us where we are now."

Describing what Phillips has accomplished in a short time, Talib said, "Huge difference, man. We're so aggressive. And it pays off. ... It allows us to play fast."

About an hour after the field was clear, Wolfe told me that because of the person Phillips is, and how he's able to get the most out of guys, the players in Denver genuinely want him to be proud of them. Phillips said a few minutes before that, he'd always just wanted his dad to be proud of him.

Safe to say, Phillips is proud of his players, the same way his dad would be proud of him if Bum were here to see his son's greatest triumph. As for what Bum would tell him, Wade cracked, "I don't know if I could repeat that."

So we can just lean back on one of the old Texan's sayings.

"How do you win?" the former Saints and Oilers coach said. "By getting average players to play good and good players to play great. That's how you win."

And that's how, finally, a Phillips won it all.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer.

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