ATLANTA — Mention the initials “O.G.” to Wade Phillips, and he smiles.
“Old guy,” the Rams’ 71-year-old defensive coordinator said Wednesday morning at the Rams’ pre-Super Bowl media availability. “I’m an old guy. I know that.”
But that’s not what those initials stand for — at least as far as the Rams’ coaches and players are concerned.
“O.G.” is actually one of the greatest compliments Phillips could want. It stands for “Original Gangster,” a moniker that expresses deep respect — even though it’s a reference to the notorious gangsters of the 1920’s and 30’s — like Al Capone and Lucky Luciano. No, Phillips isn’t one to break the law. But carrying that nickname means he’s considered cool by his much younger peers and players.
“That’s the new lingo,” Phillips said in his southern drawl, a voice that has been heard by NFL players the last 41 years since he first started coaching alongside his father, former Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips. “I still think I’m the old guy.”
He’s not just any old guy. He has a Twitter account to which he regularly posts. “Sonofbum” is a highly entertaining read, even if you’re not a football fan.
“A must follow,” as one reporter suggested.
“Must follow? I like that,” Phillips quipped. “I do it myself. You can tell if you read it, too many dad jokes in there. I just do it for fun. I try to do things that are fun for our fans.”
How about one of his latest tweets, when he posted a graphic of cartoon character “SpongeBob SquarePants” that shows him raising 10 thumbs with the comment, “Many thumbs up.” Phillips tweeted it and wrote, “The Rams have arrived” on the day the team got to Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII against the Patriots.
But Phillips is about much more than his down-home style and fatherly — and grandfatherly — personality. He’s still a brilliant football tactician, and how he defends against the Patriots will likely have a major influence on who wins. He knows it will be a massive challenge.
“They do so many things well,” Phillips said. “They’ve got a great running game, but you try to stop the running game, and then you force Tom Brady to throw, and that’s tough right there. He’s got all the accolades he deserves.”
As much as any coach in NFL history, Phillips has found a way to adapt to today’s players. He has a Super Bowl championship ring as the Broncos’ defensive coordinator, and his head coaching stints with the Bills and Broncos — while not Super Bowl-worthy — have rounded out a highly successful career.
Phillips was one of head coach Sean McVay’s most important hires, and the 33-year-old McVay believes his defensive coordinator has been an integral part of the team’s success. And not just on the field.
“He’s got so many things he can draw on from all the success he’s had in this league, but it never feels like it’s pushed on you,” McVay said. “When you go to him and ask him for advice he’s been so supportive to me. With the inexperience I do have, I feel so fortunate to be around Wade Phillips. He’s a lot more laid back than I am, so it’s good to be around someone like that.”
Phillips appreciates the compliments but praised McVay for having a great sense of what’s required to be a successful head coach.
“He’s brilliant at what he does, not just coaching-wise, but leadership-wise,” Phillips said. “He has command of the team. The players know what he wants, how he wants it done. They’ve bought into what he says.”
They’ve bought into what Phillips says, too, in part because the coach has remained current with this generation of players.
“Calling him ‘O.G.’ that’s just seeing somebody that has more wisdom,” Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman said. “He’s been in the game a long time, and after a while, he’s almost like a father figure to the organization. That’s the type of splash Wade makes.”
How does he do it with players who seem to get younger all the time?
“The world’s changing all the time,” Phillips said. “It’s changed a lot in the 41 years since I got into the NFL. You adjust, or you fall behind.”