Phillips got a lot of defensive education from his father Bum, who coached the Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints from 1975 through 1985. Bum was one of the first coaches to use a 3–4 base defense in the NFL, and Wade, as his assistant from 1976 through 1985, picked up a lot of what worked against the best offenses in the league. He took things a step further as a defensive coordinator for the Broncos, Bills, Chargers, Cowboys, Texans, and Broncos again.
The Denver defense that shut Cam Newton and the Panthers down in Super Bowl 50 was Wade’s baby, and it had a lot of the common principles you’ll see in all his defenses. He runs a base 5–2 front that has its roots in the old Bud Wilkinson Oklahoma defenses, and prefers ridiculously athletic pass-rushing outside linebackers, ends who can alternate between run-stopping and pass-rushing, and nose tackles who are more athletic than the norm. Versatile linebackers and aggressive defensive backs are a must.
Phillips has expanded his sub-package concepts over the years as the NFL has become more of a nickel-and-dime defensive league, and that’s where you’ll see multiple fronts out of a four-man base. Phillips's defenses aren’t terribly complex, but they have worked extremely well wherever he’s gone, and the Broncos’ most recent Lombardi Trophy proves estimably that the 68-year-old coach hasn’t lost a single bit of his genius.