Veteran Coach's Unretirement Adds to D Coordinator Options

Wade Phillips has directed defenses for eight NFL franchises, is ready to work after having sat out 2020.
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One of the first things Mike Vrabel did when he became Tennessee Titans head coach was to talk Dean Pees out of retirement.

Vrabel wanted an experienced hand and someone he knew well to run his defense. It turned out to be one of the better moves he has made over the past three years.

Well, Wade Phillips does not need any convincing. The 73-year-old who has been defensive coordinator for eight different franchises and head coach for six announced Friday that he is ready to “retire from retirement.”

It is a notable development at a time when the Titans are seeking someone to run their defense. According to reports, they have interviewed at least one experienced coordinator, Teryl Austin who was a position coach at Baltimore when Pees was defensive coordinator there.

Pees retired following the 2019 season and the Titans navigated 2020 without anyone hired to replace him, although Vrabel said outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen performed those duties throughout the campaign. Tennessee finished the season 28th in total defense, 24th in scoring defense, 30th in quarterback sacks and last in third-down defense.

“I make a lot of decisions,” Vrabel said. “It's a great honor to be in a position to make decisions for the team and sometimes people agree with them and sometimes people don't, but we’ll keep doing them with the best interest in the team in mind.”

Phillips sat out the 2020 season after having served as the Los Angeles Rams’ defensive coordinator from 2017-19. That included the Rams’ appearance in Super Bowl LII.

He and Vrabel never worked together, which is important because with the Titans, Vrabel consistently has tapped coaches with who he has a direct connection to fill spots on his staff. Pees, for example, was one of his position coaches and defensive coordinators when Vrabel was a player for the Patriots.

Phillips was defensive coordinator at Houston from 2011-13 (he was interim head coach for the final three games of 2013). The Texans finished among the NFL’s top 10 in total defense each of those three seasons. Vrabel’s first job in the NFL was Texans linebackers coach beginning in 2014.

As a head coach, Phillips is 82-64 with one playoff victory in five appearances. One of those postseason defeats was when he led the Buffalo Bills in 1999 and they faced the Titans in the wild card round, a game that is known as the Music City Miracle.