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- Feb 2:
- Panthers coach Ron Rivera draws on lessons from
- 1985 Bears
- Fred Pagac, Broncos' outside linebackers coach, keeps eye on ultimate prize
- Brandon Marshall hopes Peyton Manning can "ride off into the sunset"
- Jared Allen, Thomas Davis move closer to playing for Panthers in Super Bowl 50
- David Bruton Jr.: Broncos "battle-tested," hungry for Super Bowl title (First Person)
- Denver Post, Charlotte Observer lay down bets, taunts on Super Bowl 50
- Jordan Taylor helps keep Peyton Manning sharp as his private receiver
A 68-year-old man with a Texas drawl and a Broncos windbreaker with a logo melted from the dryer made this week possible. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips arrived in Denver as a second choice to Cincinnati Bengals assistant Vance Joseph. Phillips spent the next 13 months turning the Broncos into the No. 1 defense.
It has been a truism of the NFL for decades: when a defense needs a jolt, Phillips wanders into town with jumper cables and self-deprecating jokes. In 1981 in New Orleans, his first as boss, he restored the team's dignity as fans removed sacks from their heads. During the 2015 season, he put AFC champion caps on his players' heads as the Broncos transitioned from a robotic run-stopping scheme to a moshpit of mayhem.
"That's the good thing about being old and being in the league a long time. They think, 'This guy is a good coach.' Whether I was or not, they thought it. So they believe in everything I am saying," Phillips said, smiling. "And they know I love my job and I love them."
The defining statistics of the Broncos' defense are yards allowed per game, 283.1, easily the best in the league, and points surrendered per game (18.5). The staples of Phillips' defense are fundamentals and friendship. Phillips has lost plenty of games in his career, but he hasn't lost his touch. He implements a plan, unique to the skillset to each player, and trusts his coaches to convey it. Denver offers a dose of nasty every Sunday, but the of beauty of execution can't be lost in the flurry of fists.
"The worst thing, what really bothers me, is when coaches say after a game we made too many mistakes," Phillips said. "That goes straight back to the coaches. It's on us to teach them better. Assignment mistakes we don't allow around here."
The Broncos won the AFC championship because they caused Tom Brady to see ghosts. They hit the New England Patriots quarterback 20 times, the most punishment he's absorbed in a game since 2006. Bread crumbs of this victory can be followed to 1986 when Phillips joined Buddy Ryan in Philadelphia and learned the famed '46' defense. There are traits of the "Bear" scheme in Denver, illuminated in one of the most impressive coaching jobs of Phillips' 24-year career as a coordinator.
"That defense, what Wade Phillips did in terms of dropping eight and rushing three or rushing four and dropping seven, was amazing," said former NFL quarterback and CBS radio analyst Boomer Esiason, who called the game. "He never blitzed, except for once against a run on first down. A lot people have said, and rightly so, that the best offseason signing of any team could be Wade Phillips."
Phillips works because he defies convention. He will turn 69 on June 21, but he's the Dick Clark of defensive coordinators. He still knows what the kids like, stays young at heart. Evidence arrived recently before a practice. Phillips, as he is wont to do, walked through the locker room and pulled up a chair with DeMarcus Ware, Von Miller and T.J. Ward. No one blinked.
"He's hip to everything. He's on social media. Instagram. In the locker room, he'll just sit on the couches and talk with us. Most coaches might say a few words and leave. He actually sits down and engages in conversation," outside linebacker Von Miller said. "You can only imagine what we talk about. He gets us and it's been instrumental to our success."
Trust goes both ways, Phillips likes to say. He learned under his father, Bum Phillips, a 10-year NFL coach in Houston and New Orleans, whom he misses dearly. Bum inspired loyalty through his kindness and outgoing personality. Son of bum — Wade's his Twitter handle — offers an accurate facsimile. In the celebratory locker room after the Patriots game, Phillips revealed how he relates to players who are more than 50 years younger.
"I was surprised because he told us he liked Drake. We asked why and he said 'I started from the bottom and now I am here,'^" said Malik Jackson of Phillips' correctly reciting the rapper's lyrics. "He knows about 2Chainz. Maybe he listens to it in his truck when he leaves practice. Who knows. He probably taught Drake his stuff."
The easy going manner of Phillips belies his intelligence. His defense is a backlash to former coordinator's Jack Del Rio's think first, react second philosophy. Phillips demands his guys play fast.
"See ball, get ball," explained defensive end Derek Wolfe.
"He's not scared to call anything," added cornerback Aqib Talib.
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Behind the simplicity exists connecting threads that explain the philosophy's success. Phillips finds what a player does best and fits that skill into the defense.
"I just thought that was coaching. You don't have to tell me how many coaches who believe there's only one way to do things," Phillips said. "I love teaching. You can have one guy play a certain technique and different guy covering the same area doing it differently."
Phillips plays the sidekick, the Ed McMahon on every coaching staff, but he's far from it. If not for the defensive players' response to Phillips, the Broncos would be watching Sunday's game on television.
"People always say, 'You like your players too much.' I can coach that way. I get them to be better that way," Phillips said. "You don't like everyone all the time. But with special groups like this one, we have all worked toward a common goal. We come from different backgrounds, and there we are hugging each other after the game. It's exciting to be part of. It keeps me young."
In his 24th year as an NFL defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has done a masterful job in his return to Denver. He has gained the player's trust with a personality that is 68 going on 28. NFL reporter Troy E. Renck with some examples:
—Phillips recited rapper Drake's lyrics after the AFC championship game. "I like Drake because I started from the bottom and now I am here."
— He was pictured wearing two gold chains before media day. He knows songs by 2Chainz.
— He dances. Not great. But he dances with the players after games. "I have some rhythm," he said.
— He is a riot on Twitter at @sonofbum