HOUSTON – Wade Phillips is finally coming home.
Phillips was hired as Houston's new defensive coordinator on Wednesday, assigned to revamp a unit that dropped to the bottom of the league this season.
The former Dallas Cowboys coach has strong ties to the city and head coach Gary Kubiak. He grew up in the area and played linebacker at the University of Houston in the 1960s. He began his NFL coaching career in the late 1970s with the Houston Oilers, who were coached by his father, Bum. Kubiak was a ball boy for the Oilers back then, and the two have remained friends across 30 years.
Phillips joined Kubiak's staff two days after the Texans fired defensive coordinator Frank Bush, secondary coach David Gibbs, linebackers coach Johnny Holland and assistant linebackers coach Robert Saleh.
The Texans (6-10) lost eight of their last 10 games, mostly due to a defense that ranked as one of the NFL's worst. Houston finished 30th in yards allowed (386.6 per game) and last against the pass (267.5 yards per game).
"I don't think they could've picked a better guy," Bum Phillips said in a phone interview on Wednesday night. "And I don't think Wade could've picked a better job to come to. He's going to get to work with a guy who he knows and respects. That, to me, makes all the difference in the world. It's a great deal for Wade and a great deal for Houston."
Phillips becomes the third defensive coordinator in Kubiak's tenure, which began in 2006 and was on tenuous ground until owner Bob McNair said this week that he was sticking with his head coach.
Bush and his predecessor, Richard Smith, had no previous experience at the position, and McNair and Kubiak both said they needed someone with a more proven track record.
Kubiak told KRIV-TV in Houston that he was "very excited" to work with Phillips. The 63-year-old Phillips, a defensive coordinator for the bulk of his 35-year career, ran the defense in Denver from 1989-92, overlapping Kubiak's playing career as John Elway's backup for the Broncos.
"We had a list of candidates that we lined up, but we wanted to start with the guy that we thought was most qualified and fit our situation. So we started with Wade, and that's where it ended."
Phillips was fired by the Cowboys after a 1-7 start this season. But in his three-plus seasons, the Cowboys' defense gave up an average of 329.9 yards per game to rank 10th in the NFL during his tenure.
From 2004-06, Phillips was the defensive coordinator in San Diego, and the Chargers gave up fewer than 20 points per game each of those years. Phillips was the head coach in Buffalo from 1998-2000, and the Bills led the NFL in total defense in 1999, allowing only 266.2 yards and 14.3 points per game.
The Texans' defense was bad from the start this season, yielding an average of 410.5 yards through the first six games. Pro Bowl middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans ruptured his Achilles' tendon in the sixth game, and the defense never improved.
The plan to start rookie Kareem Jackson and second-year pro Glover Quin at cornerback didn't work out. Houston gave up a league-high 33 touchdown passes and the secondary was beaten repeatedly on long receptions late in games.
The pass rush was also an issue. Defensive end Mario Williams had 8½ sacks through the first 13 games, but then went on injured reserve with a sports hernia. Houston had 30 sacks this season to rank 23rd overall.
Phillips prefers a 3-4 defensive alignment, which would be a change from the 4-3 that the Texans have played the past two seasons. Kubiak said Monday that he didn't care what scheme his new coordinator runs as long as it works.
A 3-4 scheme would require Williams and fellow defensive end Antonio Smith to adjust their techniques and attack more to the inside of the line than the outside.
"If it doesn't suit you, it doesn't suit you," Smith said. "Now, if it suits, it suits. And if it's feasible, I can do it. But if it's not, it's just not."
Bum Phillips thinks Wade will adjust to Houston's personnel.
"He's coached every kind of defensive front you can have, and played every kind of coverage you can play," Phillips said. "You've got to make it fit the guys you've got. Whatever system fits the best, that's what I'm sure they'll try to run."