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Phillips Bringing Wealth of Experience, 3-4 Scheme to L.A.

Posted Feb 13, 2017

Having been a part of over 20 top-10 defenses in his four decades of NFL experience, new DC Wade Phillips has a long track record of success.

As Sean McVay and Wade Phillips made the media rounds in Houston during the lead up to Super Bowl LI, the 69-year-old defensive coordinator had an idea to run by his 31-year-old head coach.

As is well known by now, Phillips had come up with a tweet that would poke fun at the ages of both men. Despite his age, Phillips has clearly embraced what some might term Millennial technology, regularly displaying his humor and wit within 140 characters.

“Rams have the only staff with DC on Medicare and HC in Daycare,” Phillips tweeted on Feb. 2.

“I’ll claim that one — I don’t know if I should or not,” Phillips said of the now famous Tweet last Friday. “That’s just my Twitter account — it’s kind of just for fun.”

Of course, Phillips’ social media skills pale in comparison to what he’s bringing to the Rams’ defense. Phillips has earned his reputation as arguably the league’s best defensive coordinator with a track record of success extending to before McVay was even born.

Having entered the league in 1976 as a defensive line coach for the Houston Oilers under his father, Bum Phillips, Wade Phillips has been a part of over 20 top-10 defenses in his 39 years of NFL experience.

“Wade Phillips is the NFL. I mean, that’s history. That’s a walking encyclopedia,” new Rams cornerbacks coach Aubrey Pleasant said. “His head coaching experience, his defensive coordinator experience, the Super Bowls — for me to be able to work for the youngest coach in NFL history, somebody I believe in, and to be able to work with an OG, no, a triple OG like that? It’s a blessing for me as a young coach.”

Pleasant is not the only on who feels that way. McVay has spoken about the somewhat unique situation that brought Phillips to the Rams, which began with McVay developing a strong friendship with Phillips’ son, Wes — Washington’s tight ends coach.

“One of the things that’s tricky about the NFL is, are guys going to be available with their contract situations and things like that,” McVay said Friday. “You look at a Coach Phillips, to get a guy of his caliber, where his contract was running up, we feel very fortunate about that. It kind of worked out where timing ended up being, really, in our favor.”

The respect between coach and coordinator is mutual.

“I think he’s got a great future because I think he’s really sharp,” Phillips said of McVay. “He’s got a purpose. And I think the players are going to feel it.”

But perhaps the biggest adjustment the players will feel is in the defensive scheme. The Rams ran a 4-3 base defense — four defensive linemen, three linebackers — under previous coaching regimes. That will change under Phillips, who favors a 3-4.

“We’re going to run a 3-4, but how we run it depends on our players. So we’re going to try to utilize our talent,” Phillips said. “That’s what we’ve done everywhere we’ve been. And we’ve been pretty successful at it. And we’ll stay with that formula.”

Anyone with Phillips’ résumé doesn’t need to justify his preference when it comes to a base defensive set. But Phillips said he uses the 3-4 because, to him, it’s better.

“When you have a 4-3, you have four linemen — those are the four guys rushing,” Phillips said. “When you have a 3-4, you have three linemen, and somebody else is coming from somewhere, because it’s going to be a four-man rush most of the time. So it gives us an advantage of them not knowing [who’s coming] protection wise.”

“I think it helps you pass-defense wise,” Phillips continued. “If you look at our pass defenses over the years, if you look at our sacks over the years, they’ve all been top of the league. And I think that’s the key to beating people, is stopping the passing game in this league. So that’s why I’ve stuck with the 3-4.”

Even though 3-4 is the base package, Phillips has added tweaks to his system from different schemes he’s worked in over the years.

“I added some of the 4-3 stuff, and the ‘Bear’ stuff that I did with Buddy Ryan — we kind of implemented it into our 3-4 thinking,” Phillips said. “So the concepts are there. But we just line up a little differently.”


No matter the front, the most important principle Phillips uses is fitting the scheme to what his players do best. And that — plus his pervious experience — is why he doesn’t feel the adjustment will take long.

“Four out of the last six times I’ve come in as a defensive coordinator, they ran a 4-3, and we went over to 3-4 and we’ve been very successful,” Phillips said. “So hopefully it’ll be the same thing here.”

As Phillips noted, having success come quickly is vital to longevity in the NFL. That’s part of why the defensive coordinator has been around for four decades — he’s been able to produce quick turnarounds at multiple stops.

“I think we have a great system of teaching,” Phillips said. “We’ve honed that down through the years that [players] can learn quickly, they don’t make many mental mistakes, those kinds of things. And then we can work a lot on technique and how they play the game, rather than assignment football. So that’s always been our philosophy and it’s worked pretty well for us.”

“When you really talk about what makes a great coach, I think, ultimately, everybody has different levels of ability, and it’s our job to help them reach that highest potential,” McVay said. “And that’s why Coach Phillips is a great coach — he’s got that perspective.”

Another element of Phillips’ coaching profile has been his ability to build strong, meaningful, long-lasting relationships with his players — as recently illustrated by the many Broncos reaching out via Twitter once Phillips’ move to Los Angeles was confirmed.

“That’s the way I’ve always been. It’s important to me, and it’s important to them, I think, that comes through,” Phillips said. “So I always tell them, if it’s important enough, you’ll get it done. So if it’s important enough to you, you’ll get better. If it’s important enough to you, you’ll coach well enough to get them there.”

And that’s exactly what Phillips plans on doing in L.A. While the Rams’ defense has been considered the club’s strength in recent years, the new defensive coordinator is looking forward to building an elite unit in Los Angeles.

“It’s not really what they’ve done before,” Phillips said. “It’s what we can do together.”