Wes Phillips admits he wasn’t all that excited about the idea of heading east to Buffalo.
It was the summer before his junior year of high school in 1995, and Phillips moved to Western New York from Denver because his dad, Wade, had taken over as the Bills’ defensive coordinator.
Spain, 30, initially signed with the Bengals’ practice squad after leaving Buffalo, but was promoted to the active roster a short time later.
Wade Phillips had been with the Broncos for the previous six seasons, so his family had established some roots in the Rockies. Wes Phillips was forced to leave all that to go to a new school, in this case, Williamsville North.
He soon understood, however, that he landed in a pretty good spot.
“I was technically only living there for two years, but my whole college career, I was going back to Williamsville for Christmas break, summer break,” he said this week. “It was one of those things where you just keep learning over and over that the people make the place. … It ended up being one of the great stops in dad's coaching career and my young life.”
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Phillips played two years for the Spartans’ football team before graduating and continuing his football career as the quarterback at UTEP. From there, not surprisingly, he’s followed in the footsteps of both his dad and grandfather, Bum, by getting into coaching. He’s currently in his third season with the Los Angeles Rams and first as both the tight ends coach and run-game coordinator.
“It's really special for us,” Wade Phillips said Thursday of getting the chance to watch his son coach in Sunday’s Super Bowl against the Cincinnati Bengals. “He's worked hard at his profession. He's been in the league a long time. He's really doing well, so we're happy for him. He had to make his own way, that's for sure, although it has been a family profession.”
There are only two third-generation coaching families in NFL history – the Phillips family and the Shula family.
“Whatever his great grandparents did, what's in their bloodline for all of them to be great coaches, you know, maybe I need to learn something and get it from them just in case I want to get into the coaching game after I'm done,” Rams tight end Kendall Blanton said.
Wes Phillips said following the family business was a natural fit.
“To keep it open air is part of the Buffalo bravado,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said in January, “which people love to showcase.”
“I just wanted to be like my dad,” he said. “Being around football, you know, kind of learning a lot through osmosis, really, with him, and the conversations I was having as a kid were with an NFL coach, where I was learning a lot of things I didn't always know I was learning at the time. You end up picking up a lot of things just from those experiences. A lot of my philosophy on coaching is that it's a teaching job, really, and you're here to serve the players. All of those things I learned from him.
“Once I got in the league, his reputation as a man and as a coach has really been good for me, just in the fact that he's well respected, but also really well liked by both players and coaches that he worked with. So, when they meet me – until they really get to know me – they think I'm a good guy, too.”
Wes Phillips had a solid career at Williamsville North. The Spartans were undefeated in his senior year heading into a Section VI Class A semifinal against Niagara Wheatfield. The Falcons came away with an upset win, but Wes Phillips looks back now on his time here fondly.
“I still have a lot of great friends there,” he said. “I'm still very close with a lot of those Buffalo guys – still on the text chain. I’m still feeling that heartbreak in the playoffs this year with those guys. I'm still a Bills fan. Fortunately, they're not in the same conference, so I can still root for the Bills, especially when they're playing any NFC teams. It was really a good time in my life. Really enjoyed going to North, being in that area. Of course, a lot of the great food. Just good friends and good people out there.”
Those pleasant memories are shared by Wade Phillips.
According to the Bills, their average season ticket price is 14% below the league average. At least 20 teams have announced planned price increases for the 2022 season.
“We loved being in Buffalo,” he said. “We've still got good friends there. We still get back when we can. It was a great experience for our family. Having Wes play there and having success – they had a real good team, and they played on Friday nights, so that's the night pro coaches are off, so we got to see his games.”
Wes Phillips graduated from UTEP with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy after a successful playing career that included a trip to the Humanitarian Bowl during the 2000 season. He got his coaching start at UTEP as a graduate assistant before spending two years at West Texas A&M and one year at Baylor. He broke into the NFL on his dad’s staff with the Dallas Cowboys in 2007.
“It certainly helped me a lot, just from conversations with dad watching football games. About clock management, timeouts, situations, those sort of things,” Wes Phillips said. “It wasn't like I was at home drawing up things on the grease board with him. And then the opportunities I had as a young kid, to be able to go to the facility, to not only kind of sit in the back in some of the meetings with the coaches, but also to watch NFL football players, to see them up close. To be a ball boy at training camp and kind of see the athletes in this league, for a long time doing that. I felt like when I actually got to this level, that I maybe had a sense of what these guys were supposed to look like.”
After seven seasons coaching with the Cowboys, Wes Phillips moved to Washington, where he coached tight ends for five seasons. During that time, Phillips coached with current Rams head coach Sean McVay.
When McVay came to Los Angeles in 2017, he hired Wade Phillips as his defensive coordinator and brought Wes Phillips ahead of the 2019 season.
“The bottom line on it is we have to get a new stadium in Buffalo,” Goodell, a Jamestown native, said. “The governor has recognized that. It has to be a public private partnership. … She has shown great leadership in bringing the parties together … but there’s a lot to negotiate here.”
“He's real smart,” Wade Phillips said of his son. “He didn't get that from me, he got it from his mom. He's got a knack for working with people, to make them better. That's what coaching is.”
Rams tight end Tyler Higbee had a big regular season, catching 61 passes for 560 yards and five touchdowns. He also had nine catches for 115 yards in the playoffs before suffering a knee injury in the NFC championship game against the 49ers that leaves his availability for the Super Bowl in question.
In his place against the 49ers, Kendall Blanton had five catches for 57 yards – not bad for a player who spent the last two seasons on the practice squad and played just about 20% of the snaps in the regular season.
“Kendall has been a guy that it's been a long time coming for him,” Wes Phillips said. “All he's really done is work since he started on our practice squad and eventually has gotten to this position. I appreciate the fact that he takes responsibility for his own career, meaning that not only does he take the coaching and work hard, but he's also coming to me extra, saying, 'What else can I do. What do I need to do here? What did you think about this?' Just the extra stuff of a young player that's trying to make his name in the league and help the team in any way he can. And then on a personal level, he's just a really good human being and a strong part of our team. He kind of has a relationship with all kinds of guys. If we're not in meetings, he's usually cutting it up with guys in the locker room or in the training room. He's just been a real positive to our culture.”
Blanton spoke highly of the job Wes Phillips has done in helping him be ready when his number was called against the 49ers.
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“Just the energy he brings to the room every day – I don’t think he’s ever really had a bad day,” Blanton said. “I know people do, but I’ve never got that vibe from him. He’s always ready to go. Always ready to coach. He’s very detailed, which is something I’ve always needed and I’ve always looked for in a coach.”
Phillips turns 43 next week, but said Thursday he hasn’t thought about what might come next in his coaching journey.
“I know a lot of coaches say this, but I really try to kind of stay away from a lot of the talk, whether it's good or bad,” he said. “Certainly you work hard, you try to do the best you can and you hope that at some point you have an opportunity to advance, wherever that might be. We all have our ambitions, but really I just try to focus on being a good staff member, helping Sean, in this case, in any way I can, and making sure my guys know that I'm giving them everything I can every day and that I'm the same person every day. I can be a steady force that is going to always do everything I can to help them get better, and, really, that's my goal as far as coaching.”