Continuing Texans 101’s comparison of the Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys and the Texans’ subsequent superiority, today is a look at Wade Phillips. The reigning NFL Coordinator of the Year joined the Texans staff prior to the 2011 season after being fired midseason in 2010 as the Cowboys’ head coach. Phillips spurred a historic turnaround in Houston, improving the Texans’ defense from 30th to 2nd in total defensive ranking in his first season. During his time with the Cowboys, Phillips had regular season success, but ultimately underachieved with a very talented Dallas team. During Phillips’ tenure as an NFL coach, he has proven to be a much better defensive coordinator than a head coach. In the case of Texans vs. Cowboys, the Texans are getting the better part of the deal.
For his career, Wade Phillips is 82-59 as a head coach for the New Orleans Saints, Denver Broncos, Buffalo Bills, Atlanta Falcons, and Dallas Cowboys. Phillips had his most prolong success with the Cowboys, going 34-22 in his three and a half seasons as their head coach. However, the big knock against Phillips as a head coach is that he hasn’t has much success in the postseason, making the playoffs in only five of his eleven seasons with a record of 1-5. As somebody that could potentially be considering Phillips as a head coach, that has to be alarming. He has a .581 winning percentage in the regular season but made the playoffs less than half the time and when he got his teams there, they fell flat on their faces with first round exits all but once.
One could argue that Phillips time with Dallas was a case of fools gold. If you don’t include the 1-7 start to the 2010 season that got him fired, Phillips was an astounding 33-15. He did pick up the only postseason win of his career with the Cowboys, going 1-2 in playoffs contests. But true Cowboys fans will tell you Phillips was simply the beneficiary of stepping into a great situation. Just like Barry Switzer a decade earlier, Phillips took over a team that was assembled by a true football genius a season after they had finally had enough of Owner/President/GM Jerry Jones and left town. Switzer replaced Jimmy Johnson and Phillips had the good fortune of succeeding Bill Parcells. Under Phillips, the Cowboys stayed stagnant at best. They enjoyed victories with the Parcells’ built team, but did little to improve upon the roster and the on-field product. The Cowboys got progressively worse under Phillips’ direction. If you look at the current group of Cowboys under now head coach Jason Garrett, all the best or promising players were brought in by either Parcells or Garrett. Next to nothing remains from the Phillips era in Dallas, just a handful of underachieving players the Cowboys are looking to unload or replace.
There are numerous theories about why Phillips hasn’t been a good head coach during his NFL career. Some point to his relaxed attitude and “player’s coach” label saying that players become comfortable and begin to slack off. Others blame it on his lack of ability to handle all the added responsibility a head coach has that a coordinator does not. It’s probably some combination of the two. But this is a good transition into why Phillips has been a much better defensive coordinator. For starters, his responsibilities are significantly reduced. Phillips is only concerned with his defense as a coordinator and isn’t forced to simultaneously oversee the offense and deal with all the administrative duties of a head coach. Furthermore, he isn’t the ultimate disciplinary as a coordinator so his laid back demeanor has less of an effect on his players, both positively and negatively.
The Texans have the found a very good balance between Phillips and head coach Gary Kubiak. Kubiak is an offensive minded coach, a bit more of a fiery personality and disciplinarian, and hasn’t shown any glaring problems in the day-to-day administrative dealings of a head coach. This allows Wade to be Wade, just focus on the defense with his good-natured manner and allow Kubiak to take care of keeping the players in line. Another key to Phillips’ success with the Texans’ defense and its turnaround is the drafting abilities of Kubiak and GM Rick Smith. Phillips’ has a specific 3-4 defensive scheme that calls for certain characteristics at each position. Once Kubiak and Smith came to understand what Phillips was looking for, they went out and brought in those types of players via free agency and the draft. Kubiak and Smith have as much do to with the defensive turnaround as Phillips does. Yes, Phillips is the one calling the defensive shots, but Kubiak and Smith provide him with the players the circumstances to allow Phillips to do what he does best.
Baring a total defensive collapse, Texans fans should expect to have Phillips around for years to come. Just this offseason, Phillips declined to interview for the vacant Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coaching job. Some may view this as Phillips simply not feeling this was the right opportunity for him, but it could be construed that Phillips believes he is in an excellent situation with Houston and that at this point he can have a much larger impact on a franchise as its defensive coordinator.
Regarding the upcoming season, Texans fans should expect continued dominance on the defensive side of the ball. It’s probably unfair to expect to finish second in total defense again, but a top ten finish is very realistic. All the pieces are in place for Phillips and his defense to maintain their performance.
There is no question that Wade Phillips is a better defensive coordinator than head coach. There also isn’t any question that the Texans have gotten more out of Phillips than the Cowboys did although in fairness, the Boys asked more of Phillips. When it’s all over, Phillips will be better remembered for his time with the Texans, especially if they win the Super Bowl in the upcoming seasons. The leader of the Bulls on Parade is back in his position of expertise, exciting for Texans fans and nauseating for Cowboys fans.
Tomorrow is the final Texans 101 analysis of the differences between the Texans and Cowboys, taking a look at each team’s upcoming season and predicting how each will fare in 2012. Building off the first three articles, the Texans have all the makings of once again being the best team in the state of Texas.
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