Wade Phillips, Houston Texans defensive coordinator - for now.
John McClain of the Houston Chronicle reported today on his Ultimate Texans blog via the Houston Chronicle's Chron.com that Phillips has received permission from the Houston Texans to interview for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' vacant head coaching position.
McClain also tweeted that Phillips would interview on Friday, and that former Texans offensive coordinator Mike Sherman would also be up for the position. ESPN.com's John Clayton reports Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray is also being considered.
So Phillips' absence next season is far from guaranteed. The Bucs could go another way, Phillips could decline the position, or the Texans could make him an offer he can't refuse.
But if he does go to Tampa Bay or elsewhere, it spells disaster for the Texans' hopes of dominating next year.
Last season, the Texans' maligned 4-3 defense gave up a 30th ranked 376.9 yards and 29th ranked 26.7 points per game. With a reasonably successful offense, they ended up 6-10.
This season, the revamped 3-4 defense allowed a second ranked 285.7 yards and fourth ranked 17.4 points per game. Despite myriad injuries to players and Phillips himself missing two weeks after major surgery, the defense was ranked first in the league in Week 1 and remained close to it the entire season. They went 10-3 and clinched the AFC South before coasting to a 10-6 record and winning their first ever playoff home game in convincing fashion.
Where will Wade Phillips be next year?
Phillips has a better head coaching win-loss record than Kubiak, and he mentioned his record was "better than most" other candidates, as reported by NFL.com on Thursday, despite not wanting to "toot his own horn."
This was the clarification to an earlier comment in mid-December, when Phillips commented that he felt he deserved another look, and said “I don’t want to be somewhere else, but I’d like to be able to be a head coach again.”
It's not hyperbole to say that some of Houston's knee-jerk fans would rather have Kubiak demoted to offensive coordinator and have Phillips take over as head coach than to have Phillips move on to greener pastures.
It wouldn't be a smart move in any way, and might not even be possible, but that's how much respect Phillips has earned here in one season, and the disrespect Kubiak has with many after six seasons of struggle.
In the end, if Phillips wants to leave, he's gone. Hopefully he'll stay, particularly if the Texans continue to succeed in the playoffs and make an appearance in the AFC championship or even the Super Bowl.
How would the 2012 Texans do without Wade?
Such success could only improve Phillips' chances of netting a better job in 2013 or 2014, but he's not a young man, and if he really wants to be a head coach again, he may take the bird (or the Buc) in the hand.
This would wreck all the progress the Texans have made this season.
I'm not arguing that the Texans would go back to being the train wreck they were in 2010, or would be an 8-8 team again like they essentially were from 2007-2009, but they certainly wouldn't be the potential powerhouse they flashed signs of being this year. If saddled with injuries like they had this season, they wouldn't come out a 10-6 playoff winner.
One need only look at the two games the Texans played with Wade Phillips an absentee due to surgery. Linebackers coach Reggie Herring took the reins, and the Texans lost to the Carolina Panthers and the woeful, then one-win Indianapolis Colts.
Certainly, they didn't need to win those games, but the defense was not the same terror it had been with Wade in attendance.
Without Phillips, the Texans would either need a new defensive coordinator who would run a new system, or they would have to promote from within and hope things could continue as they had.
Neither is an appealing solution.
The strength of this defense is the system, which takes athletic, high-energy players and mixes them up to create havoc, much like the Texans' zone running scheme makes good running backs seem great by providing them the best possible situation to run from.
Changing that system and going to another system would only weaken the defense. Almost every player has been quoted this season saying Wade Phillips' system simplifies things and makes it easier for them to play fast and aggressively.
The way they want to play. The way that makes them better.
And having someone else try to run Wade's system has already been demonstrated to be less successful, even against poor opposition.
Now, the team would still have a core of good young talent, including rookies J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed, third-year standouts Brian Cushing and Connor Barwin, and 2006 stalwarts DeMeco Ryans and Mario Williams (possibly), as well as star free agent acquisitions Jonathan Joseph and Danieal Manning. Other solid players like Shaun Cody and Glover Quin would still be there. The still-young team would be a year older and wiser, with a lot of time playing as a unit.
The talent would still be there.
But half of that talent was on the 2010 team that struggled.
The Texans need a high-quality coordinator to maximize the use of that talent—to organize them strategically and motivate them, to maintain the confidence they've built this year.
They need Wade Phillips.
To remain relevant and truly in the Super Bowl conversation next year, the Texans must retain his services. No amount of money is too much to keep him around for at least one more year.
But money may not be enough.
Update: Wade cancelled his trip to Tampa. (I kind of can't believe they gave permission for him to fly out there.) This is good news for the Texans' long-term prospects but is slightly worse for their focus this week.