The Redskins fired defensive coordinator Jim Haslett on New Year’s Eve in 2014. One of the first candidates they interviewed to replace Haslett was Wade Phillips.
It seemed like the perfect fit. The Washington defense needed a shakeup and Phillips is one of the best defensive minds in the game and he has the results to prove it. In his 33 years as either a defensive coordinator or head coach his teams have finished in the top ten 18 times. And it doesn’t take him a few years to make a difference. Nine different teams have made the playoffs in Phillips’ first year on the job.
Phillips was very much available. He had finished the 2013 season as the interim coach of the Texans, was passed over for the permanent job, and spent 2014 out of football. He had a particular interest in the Redskins job because it would give him an opportunity to work on a coaching staff with his son. Wes Phillips is the Redskins’ tight ends coach.
But Jay Gruden was more impressed with Joe Barry’s relative youth (Phillips is 68) and energy. The Broncos, who had just hired Gary Kubiak, the coach who Phillips had replaced on an interim basis in Houston, as their head coach, didn’t have Phillips as their first choice as defensive coordinator either. They wanted Vance Joseph, who was then the defensive backs coach of the Bengals. But Cincinnati blocked the move and Kubiak turned to Phillips.
It worked out pretty well. The Broncos made the Super Bowl two years ago because their high-powered offense, led by Peyton Manning, scored over 38 points per game and just blew teams out. This year they scored just 22 points per game with Manning and Brock Osweiler splitting time at quarterback. But they still managed to go 12-4 and earn the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs thanks to Phillips’ top-ranked defense.
Win or lose on Sunday, many Redskins fans wonder what might have happened if Gruden had decided to go with Phillips last January. Under Barry the Washington defense did improve from 29th in points allowed to 17th and from 19 takeaways in 2014 to 27 last year.
Perhaps Phillips could have done better. But it’s fair to ask if he could have achieved substantially better results without Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, T. J. Ward, Chris Harris, Aqib Talib, and Malik Johnson.
It should be noted that Phillips has not always been a miracle worker. In 10 seasons as head coach or coordinator his teams finished 20th or worse in points allowed. Just like any other coach, he needs good players to execute his schemes.
I think it’s fair to say that in the short term the Redskins likely would have been better off with Phillips. We will see how Barry does if the Redskins continue to upgrade their defensive personnel.