Wade Phillips is again in soccer with Houston Roughnecks

ARLINGTON, Texas — In one of many Houston Roughnecks’ first workforce conferences in January following the revived XFL’s launch, a brand new, but acquainted, face addressed his gamers.

Wade Phillips, who regardless of being 75 remains to be proudly often called the Son of Bum, a nod to his Stetson-sporting father, a Texas icon who introduced the Houston Oilers to the cusp of a Super Bowl title within the Seventies, is a head coach once more after questioning if he’d ever get one other alternative to educate in any respect.

Phillips spoke to his new workforce in a giant assembly room beneath Choctaw Stadium, a baseball area that previously was the house of the Texas Rangers, only a brief stroll from AT&T Stadium, the place one in every of Phillips’ previous groups, the Dallas Cowboys, play.

When he acquired as much as communicate, with each participant, coach and assist workers member in attendance, one assistant mentioned the room was fully silent, with each participant “locked in” on Phillips, be aware pads or iPads in hand.

He advised the workforce he believed within the XFL’s motto, “where dreams meet opportunity.” But these weren’t simply reserved for the gamers. It was private for him, too.

“Coach Wade is a Houston legend. He has all gears running,” mentioned Alex Myres, a Roughnecks defensive again and Houston-area native who performed on the University of Houston. “When he came in and told everybody that this is an amazing opportunity for him as well, that put a lot of things in perspective for me and for a lot of guys. It was go time at that point. Everybody understood why we’re all here.”

Phillips hadn’t coached since getting fired by the Los Angeles Rams in Jan. 2020, and was vocal about being open to all alternatives. For this one to return alongside, about 90 miles from the place he grew up in Southeast Texas — the place he later performed linebacker on the University of Houston, then was an assistant for his dad within the biggest period of Houston’s professional soccer historical past — it is even sweeter. And it would not harm that the Roughnecks put on blue and pink with an oil derrick on their jerseys, identical to Bum’s workforce did.

“Houston’s home,” Phillips mentioned. “Being with the University of Houston, then the Oilers, then the Texans and now the Roughnecks… throw me into the briar patch, you know? It surprises me. But it shouldn’t surprise me. I’ve been to every team in every league.”

Phillips’ profession in teaching spans greater than 40 years. He has been the defensive coordinator for eight NFL groups and coached in two Super Bowls. He received 56% of his video games as a head coach, together with three full-time jobs with Buffalo, Denver and Dallas and interim jobs in New Orleans, Atlanta and Houston. He has labored for Marv Levy (born 1925) and Sean McVay (born 1986), with Buddy Ryan, Marty Schottenheimer, Dan Reeves and Gary Kubiak in between. He has coached 20 top-10 defenses, 30 Pro Bowlers, 5 Defensive Players of the Year and two Defensive Rookies of the Year.

Read also  Players Championship - A No. 1 battle, finest bets and extra to look at at TPC Sawgrass

So it harm when even his hometown groups missed him till the XFL got here alongside. Phillips had been handed over by the NFL’s Texans and the USFL, which returned final yr, regardless of a Houston Gamblers workforce that wanted a brand new teaching staffs. But, as he advised the gamers, this was a shock to him too.

“I didn’t think I was going to be a head coach somewhere,” he mentioned. “I did think the USFL might give me a shot, 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 coming into that game? At least your home team is playing at home.

“And I might’ve beloved to have gone again to the Texans as a result of they have been so unhealthy. I used to be there earlier than [as defensive coordinator under Kubiak] after they have been unhealthy and we turned it round fairly effectively.”

After four decades in coaching, Phillips knows the numbers game, and he is sure he knows why he hasn’t gotten a shot again until now.

“No matter what you say, age is an issue, in any occupation,” Phillips said. “Once they suppose you are sufficiently old, they need the younger man.”

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

Just like his players, he’s got something to prove.

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

The Roughnecks’ defensive coordinator, Brian Stewart, is a veteran in both the NFL and college. There are lifers like 67-year old Bill Johnston, a defensive line coach who won a Super Bowl with the Saints in 2009 and a national championship with LSU in 2019, contrasting with offensive line coach Andre Gurode, the former Pro Bowl center 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 was the coach of the Houston Gamblers in the original USFL 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 scoreboards.

Read also  Furious rally by Iowa results in brutal dangerous beat for Michigan State bettors

Pardee, who performed on the University of Houston from 2015-18, is within the infancy of his teaching profession, working for 3 years at Texas A&M-Commerce earlier than getting the decision from Phillips, which he described as surreal.

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

Pardee mentioned it is much more poignant that he is a part of Smith’s offensive workers that’s closely influenced by the Run and Shoot, the identical pass-heavy scheme that his grandfather ushered into the mainstream.

“This an opportunity to show that this system still can be successful, because the bulk of its success was back in the heyday, the mid-to-late ’80s and early ’90s and then with June Jones in the early 2000s,” Pardee mentioned. “So, there’s a couple different layers to this.”

Pardee mentioned the scheme is a hybrid that additionally options Air Raid parts, however after the loss of life of Mike Leach in December, Phillips says he has his personal nomenclature for it.

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

Phillips, who was a part of the “Luv Ya Blue” hysteria that swept Houston in Bum’s period, is aware of the town will get behind a winner if he can get the Roughnecks off to begin. He’ll be again on campus at UH, enjoying within the 40,000-seat TDECU Stadium that opened in 2014, and thinks an thrilling offense paired along with his protection can get followers behind them.

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

PHILLIPS HAS BEEN impressed with the perspective of the XFL gamers he has labored with. He mentioned there is no ego and lots of starvation to get one other shot at soccer. He lived the identical expertise after enjoying linebacker in faculty, leaving Houston because the Cougars’ profession chief in assisted tackles in 1968 — a document that stood till 2011.

Read also  2023 USFL Draft: Follow each decide

Yet he knew he wasn’t ok to play within the NFL, so he regarded for a method to keep concerned by teaching. He desires his gamers to know that too, that their soccer lives haven’t got to finish with their enjoying days. As an instance, Phillips’ son Wes performed area soccer after his faculty profession at UTEP and is now the Minnesota Vikings’ offensive coordinator,

“Sometimes you’re not ready to finish playing,” Phillips mentioned. “Some of them are 24, 25, 26 years old. Maybe they got an opportunity but got hurt and feel like they can still make it. Maybe they’ll make it, maybe they won’t. But they’re great players to coach. They all want to listen and try to try to learn how to get better.”

Wide receiver Nick Holley mentioned the workforce understands the quantity of data and historical past that Phillips brings to their locker room.

“He comes into meetings with great energy every single day,” Holley mentioned. “We all feed off of that. Regardless of what happens, Coach Wade’s going to take it as far as he wants to go. That’s the type of guy he is.”

And he brings immediate credibility to a league trying to entice followers in soccer hotbeds.

With the Arlington Renegades coached by Bob Stoops and the San Antonio Brahmas coached by Hines Ward, the XFL hopes followers will embrace the intrastate battles, very similar to the NBA’s Texas Triangle.

“There’ll be a rivalry. We play each other twice. So it’ll be fun. Stoops wants whoever wins the Texas title to get a box of cigars,” Phillips mentioned, laughing. “I don’t smoke cigars. I guess that’s his deal. I don’t want any cigars. They can keep ’em.”

Phillips is all in on what is probably going his final head-coaching gig, grateful for an opportunity, irrespective of the league.

“It’s different, but it’s the same,” Phillips mentioned. “It’s coaching, teaching them fundamentals and how to improve, all that stuff that you’ve always done. And we’re running the Phillips 3-4 defense, so that hasn’t changed.”

The Run and Shoot, a blitz-happy protection that terrorizes quarterbacks, Texas rivalries, Bum’s son and Jack’s grandson? It’s nearly as if the XFL is aware of there is a group of Houstonians on the market who’ve by no means felt the identical because the Oilers left in 1997 and are pouring on the nostalgia.

“It feels like home for a lot of people that are in Houston,” Myres mentioned. “A lot of people see the logo as the Houston Oilers, and I think that speaks volumes for the city of Houston to get behind it. We’ve got to go out there and perform and bring wins to the city of Houston, but I think that’s one thing that we can do for sure. And then it’ll give the fans something to get behind.”