Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips recently arrived in Southern California to take on the task of turning a good defense into an elite unit. He also has a new book titled Son Of Bum: Lessons My Dad Taught Me About Football And Life, which chronicles what it was like growing up as the son of legendary coach Bum Phillips. Wade has a gentle, friendly demeanor but takes his craft seriously, which is why he has become a master of maximizing the talent on his roster. I sat down with Phillips recently, and here is what he had to say about improving the defense, why he took the job with the Rams, and his overall career:
Rams Talk – Rams fans are pretty excited about your arrival, considering your track record of quickly improving defenses. What is the key to being able to turn things around so rapidly?
Wade Phillips – Football and pro football especially is all about what have you done for me lately, so we gotta get it done quickly. Part of why we’ve done well is that we have a teaching progression that we utilize where we can teach the players what to do, and then let ’em play fast. That’s basically our philosophy. They know what to do quickly so they don’t make many mental mistakes, and let ’em play as fast as they can play.
We’ve always gone by the individual. We play with individual techniques for each player. One guy may play the same position, but play it differently because he’s a different person. He may be shorter, may be taller, may be stronger, or he may be quicker. We try to utilize each player’s individual talents to play a position. It’s all about us learning what the players can do and then letting them utilize that to do well. Also, if there are things that they don’t do well, we try not to ask them to do those things.
RT – As far the personnel goes on the Rams defense, what do you see and how do they fit?
WP – Well, we’ll be going from a 4-3 to a 3-4, so we feel like that’s going to give Robert Quinn a chance to rush a lot more and give him more room to rush by lining up wider than he would in a 4-3. Aaron Donald can just keep do the same thing in the same position because he’s still going to be be a three technique. He’s still going to be be doing his thing. Brockers, we think, is a good player. Easley is a good player. Westbrooks is a good player. We brought in Connor Barwin and then we’ve got two inside backers, Ogletree and Barron, who we think are really good players. I think our front seven is going to be very strong.
RT – And what’s your expectation for the secondary?
WP – Well, we’ve moved LaMarcus to safety, although he can play about anything – he’s a very good nickel corner. Any time we play nickel we can put him against any slot receiver and feel pretty good. We feel like Trumaine is going to do a really good job for us outside. Kayvon Webster is going to compete with some of the guys who have already been here. I feel really good about where we are right now. We got Mo [Alexander] coming back at safety and then we drafted John Johnson. The secondary, I think, we’re going be a lot stronger in that area.
RT – Hopefully McVay’s offense will actually give the defense a chance to catch their breath this season. That has been an issue in the past with the Rams…
WP – I’m not worried about that too much. If you play good defense you don’t really need to worry about it. You know, we won a world championship (in Denver) with Peyton Manning at quarterback, but we didn’t really have a great year offensively. But we played really well on defense, and I think that’s the first thing: don’t worry about what the other side of the ball does, you gotta do your job to win.
RT – You’re part of the Sid Gillman coaching tree along with your dad. What kind of influence does your father (Bum Phillips) and Gillman have on your coaching in 2017?
WP – Well, my dad coached with Sid a couple times, so he was a great influence. But when you grow up as a coach’s son, that’s really why I wrote the book, it’s about me and my dad and how he influenced basically everything I did coaching wise, and just growing up in life. It’s certainly a nice legacy to have, someone who teaches you the right way to coach, and he did that for me.
RT – You’ve been a coach for a long time now and have endured the ups and downs. Is there anything Bum taught you that has helped you navigate the terrain so well?
WP – It’s a rough life that way sometimes, because there’s only winning and losing and no in between. There’s no “well, we played well” or “we did a good job, or whatever”. Everything is on the scoreboard. But you learn to just do the best you can do, and then go from there. That’s what you try to teach the players, to do the best they can do. My dad actually never talked about winning, or losing. He just talked about getting everyone to be their best and then letting the scoreboard take care of itself. I believe that too.
RT – And what led to you ultimately taking the Rams defensive coordinator position? Was it the personnel? Was it Coach McVay?
WP – It was Coach McVay first. But Les Snead also – I had worked with him before. I knew he was heading up a really good organization, so that was a big part of it. But the football part came first. I wanted a place where I would really have an opportunity to do my job, and Sean gave me the best opportunity to do that. And also, my daughter lives here, so that was important too.
You can read about Wade Phillips’s story in Son Of Bum: Lessons My Dad Taught Me About Football and Life, which is available at many bookstores as well as on Amazon.com.
You can follow Skye Sverdlin on Twitter @Skyeattolah.