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Phillips still has players’ hearts and minds

Discussion in 'Chargers Fan Forum' started by Johnny Lightning, Dec 9, 2009.

  1. Johnny Lightning

    Johnny Lightning Go Bolts

    Feb 7, 2006

    Ex-coordinator a favorite among ‘D’

    Wednesday, December 9, 2009

    As good NFL defensive players should, they had an answer before they ever got the question. Walking through the realm of the Chargers defense, you merely have to mention a name to get the same response.
    Wade Phillips.
    “Love him,” said veteran lineman Jacques Cesaire. “Love him.”
    “I love Wade,” said linebacker Shawne Merriman, popping up from a crouched position in his chair and breaking into a smile at the subject matter. “Love and respect.”
    Sitting in another chair just a few feet away, sidelined defensive end Luis Castillo initially declined to be interviewed at all, citing a policy that injured players who aren’t playing have no cause to talk. And then you say the two magic words.
    “OK, you just hit me in a soft spot,” said Castillo, suddenly back open for business. “I love Wade Phillips,”
    Such affection in San Diego for a folksy fellow who’s being fricasseed throughout his own native state, Texas, not to mention all those other places where the Dallas Cowboys still qualify as “America’s Team.”
    A greater irony yet is the fact that if some of the aforementioned veterans can help the Chargers pull off a victory Sunday at the Cowboys’ new mega-stadium, there’ll be even more people howling for the head of the head coach who was San Diego’s defensive coordinator before taking his dream job in Dallas.
    “Crazy, huh?” said Merriman. “I’m always pulling for Wade. But not this week.”
    How exactly did Phillips — who was fired in previous stints as head coach of the Denver Broncos and Buffalo Bills and wasn’t retained after being interim head coach of the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons — engender the kind of loyalty and admiration found for him in San Diego?
    For one thing, he was the guy who literally changed the way the Chargers played defense in 2004.
    “Just the fact that we play the 3-4 (alignment), that’s Wade,” said cornerback Quentin Jammer. “It took us awhile to catch on, but once we did, it was good for us. He had us playing well.”
    With a defense that immediately became the toughest in the NFL against the run, the Chargers went 12-4 in Phillips’ first season in San Diego (2004), a complete reversal of the previous season’s record. No doubt the league-high 61 sacks notched by the Chargers in 2006 helped convince Dallas to hire away Phillips in 2007.
    As it happens, another esteemed defensive coordinator who interviewed for the head-coaching job in Dallas was Ron Rivera, who now has Phillips’ old job in San Diego.
    “You’re seeing the legacy of what Wade created here,” said Rivera. “It’s attack, attack, attack. He was an aggressive signal-caller.”
    Clearly, the Chargers had lost much of that force-the-issue mentality until Rivera replaced Ted Cottrell as defensive coordinator in the middle of last season.
    “Wade was my guy, a major influence from the time I came here, and I see in Ron a lot of the things I saw in Wade,” said Castillo. “One of the things I got from Wade was figuring out where to be to make plays. That takes awhile to figure out. By my second year in the scheme, I really had a good understanding of where my one-on-ones are.
    “At any position on the field, the biggest thing for a coach is to put you in a position to be one-on-one and let your talent and ability take over and let you win your matchup. He did a great job of getting guys to those situations. Ron does, too.”
    Phillips’ present situation isn’t great, even though the Cowboys are 8-4 and still tied for first atop the NFC East, even though his overall mark there is 30-15. When the calendar turned to December, too, the heat on the skillet under Phillips got dialed up considerably.
    Indeed, he’s now enduring the same sort of scrutiny and criticism that fell on Marty Schottenheimer, the head coach who brought Phillips to San Diego.
    Just as Schottenheimer became known more for the postseason games he didn’t win than the preponderance of regular-season games he did, Phillips is tasked with the Cowboys’ 18-32 mark after Dec. 1 since 1996, including zero playoff wins. For his part, Phillips has a 78-57 record as a head coach, but that includes four playoff losses without a victory.
    Opening this month with Sunday’s loss to the New York Giants has added even greater pressure to end the Chargers’ seven-game win streak.
    “A lot of guys who’ve won 30 games in three years, they’re not talking about their future,” Phillips told the Dallas media before the last loss. “That’s just the way it is.”
    Likewise, Phillips’ plight will get him no mercy from some of the athletes who care about him the most. He’ll always have their endorsement, though.
    “He was a player’s coach; guys loved to play for him,” said Chargers linebacker Stephen Cooper. “You always wanted to play at a high level because he put a lot of time and effort into getting us ready for games. Whenever you did something wrong, you felt you let him down.”

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