ATLANTA – Wade Phillips has no issues being in his father’s shadow. To the contrary, he relishes it.
His Twitter handle (@sonofbum) and the title of his autobiography (“Son of Bum") spell it out, clear as dad.
Wade, now 71, lost his dad just over five years ago. Hearing him wax poetic about Bum Phillips, who was a head coach for 10 years in the NFL (five with the Houston Oilers, five with the New Orleans Saints), you’d have thought he passed away five days ago.
“My dad was my hero,” said Wade, the L.A. Rams defensive coordinator. “He wasn’t a just a great coach -- and he was a great coach -- he was a great person, a great role model and for me, a great dad.”
While Bum is most associated with his all-time favorite player, Earl Campbell, his defensive schemes are revered.
Bum was an early proponent of the 3-4 defense, which was seen as a revolutionary response to the increased passing in the league, adding an extra, versatile linebacker to the new “base” defense.
But how we really know Wade’s dad was his style -- the hat and coat -- and, of course, his quips:
"There's two kinds of coaches, them that's fired and them that's gonna be fired."
To a reporter who said, "He sure gets up slow," after Campbell was tackled, Bum replied, "Yes, but he goes down slow too."
Referring to Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula, he said, "He can take his'n and beat your'n and take your'n and beat his'n."
As Super Bowl week began Monday night, Wade honored his father in the best way he knew. He dressed like him.
Wade strode into Atlanta's State Farm Arena for Super Bowl Opening Night sporting a 10-gallon hat and his dad’s actual sheepskin coat.
Wade loved the response, particularly from Twitter.
“Social media was great, and I appreciate that,” he said. “I wanted to do it for my dad.”
Wade's dad never won a Super Bowl in 17 years in the NFL. In consecutive years his Oilers were KO'd by the Pittsburgh Steelers, eventual Super Bowl champs, in the AFC title game.
Wade’s own NFL run has been longer, like 42 years. He got his start a year after Bill Belichick was hired as a gopher with the Detroit Lions in 1975.
Wade was head coach for seven seasons between Buffalo (1998-2000) and Dallas (2007-10), between other NFL stops. Three times -- in New Orleans, Atlanta and Houston -- he was an interim head coach.
His “thing” is defense.
While inexperience is the hallmark of the Super Bowl “rookies” from L.A. and their 33-year-old coach, Wade has plenty of experience.
In fact, his top-ranked defense for the Broncos, and a rag-armed quarterback Peyton Manning, beat the Patriots in the AFC title game in January 2016 in Denver, 20-18.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was sacked four times in that game and threw two interceptions.
“But they never gave up and were a two-point conversion from forcing overtime,” recalled Wade. “The Patriots always come at you. They’re tough beat. If you don’t play your best and make plays, you’ll lose.”
Wade has been a godsend to Rams coach Sean McVay’s staff. He was entrusted with the defense from Day 1, since McVay’s genius is on the other side of the ball.
“We’re a good mix,” McVay said Tuesday. “I’m really wired. He settles me down. He’s always calm.”
Cornerback Aqib Talib was acquired by the Rams in March for a fifth-round pick. He requested the trade so he could be with his former defensive coordinator from Denver.
“The guy has a ton of knowledge,” said Talib. “The reason I’m here is Wade. I love the way he coaches. He knows how to best utilize his players’ talents. … I love Wade.”
The Patriots are an imposing opponent, Wade admits.
“I know people say it, but it’s true, they don’t beat themselves,” he said. “They’re smart. That quarterback is the smartest of them all. You can’t wait with him because he’ll eventually figure stuff out.”
Asked about Brady’s 41 years, compared to his 71, Wade chuckled before emulating his old man.
“I seem to keep getting older while [Brady] keeps getting younger,” said Wade.
You can email Bill Burt at firstname.lastname@example.org.