Texans hand controls to Phillips, who has spun this tune before
Sometime Friday with the firing of head coach Gary Kubiak, Wade Phillips assumed control of the Houston Texans.
The Texans are not quite Phillips’ hometown team. That would be the Houston Oilers, a franchise his father, Bum, coached so iconically in the 1970s that his five-year tenure looks like a misprint. The Texans are a believable likeness, anyway, and with Kubiak gone after eight seasons, Phillips is the head man . . . if on an interim basis.
In a vacuum, this is dream-like success. Can you imagine what a 10-year-old Wade Phillips would have thought of that? He is probably the most notable person to hail from Orange, Texas, although arguments might be made for football coach R.C. Slocum and blues guitarist Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, who won a Grammy.
And yet Phillips is broadly thought of as the NFL’s most lovable loser. Uncle Wade. The Texans are the sixth team to name him head coach for at least a week. Not counting his stint earlier this season, when Kubiak was receiving treatment for a stroke, Friday marked the third time he has been named an interim head coach in the NFL, and the sixth time he has been named head coach, regardless of classification.
That’s an NFL record.
His first go at it was in 1985, when, awkwardly enough, the New Orleans Saints fired his father and promoted him for four games. The younger Phillips was head coach of the Denver Broncos in 1993 and 1994, head coach of the Buffalo Bills from 1998-2000, interim head coach of the Atlanta Falcons for three games in 2003, head coach of the Dallas Cowboys from 2007-10 and now technically begins his second stint this season as interim head coach of the Texans.
The only career like it in NFL history was authored by Jimmy Conzelman, who from 1921-42 coached the Rock Island Independents, Milwaukee Badgers, Detroit Panthers, Providence Steamrollers and had two stints with the Chicago Cardinals.
This all creates the great Uncle Wade Paradox: He is a success because he keeps getting asked to coach NFL teams, and yet he is a failure because it never sticks for long.
You can’t call Wade Phillips a loser. Well, you can, and a lot of people do, but it is factually inaccurate. His coaching record is 83-65-0, and he has won a pair of division championships and 10 games in a season four times as head coach.
His reputation suffers from his 1-5 postseason record and from a certain warmth in his demeanor. He comes off like a substitute teacher, the kind who brings candy and knows all the answers, but still gets spitballs shot at him when his back is turned. When people are being nice, they call him a “player’s coach.” When they’re not, they use words I can only spell out in asterisks. The argument against him is that, my goodness, if this guy was capable of leading a team to the Super Bowl, don’t you think he’d have done it by now?
So to whatever extent perception is reality, every time Phillips gets named head coach, he once again becomes an ideal example of the maxim that everyone inevitably gets promoted one level above their competency.
Except usually not over and over again.
And that’s what makes Phillips’ career so confounding. Has it been a success?
Compared to what?