John Niyo and Justin Rogers preview Super Bowl LIII and they take a look at the Lions heading into free agency and the draft. The Detroit News
Atlanta — Wade Phillips doesn’t understand why everybody is so impressed by his ability to bridge generations of people and football knowledge with equal aplomb.
The Los Angeles Rams’ 71-year-old defensive coordinator sees nothing unusual in his ability to quote lyrics from a month-old Future song right after walking off the team plane at the Super Bowl wearing his 10-gallon cowboy hat and an ancient, iconic sheepskin coat once owned by Bum Phillips, his late, great father.
And though he eagerly makes granddad jokes about his advancing age and his millennial boss, Sean McVay, Phillips is undeniably still at the peak of his profession.
The Rams (15-3) are coming off two outstanding defensive postseason performances as they get ready to face New England and Tom Brady, who had one of the worst outings of his playoff career against Phillips’ defense.
During 41 seasons in the NFL, Phillips has survived multiple firings and unsuccessful head coaching stints to become a well-traveled defensive mastermind. He isn’t the type to lecture youngsters on his accumulated wisdom, but a few simple truths underline his life’s work.
“You have to be able to adjust,” Phillips said. “You have to learn and grow and get better. That’s what coaching is about. Life, too. The game isn’t waiting around for you. It’s going into the future.”
Part of Phillips’ future is Future, the Atlanta rapper who gets played in the Rams’ training complex. Phillips says he picked up a few bars from “Rocket Ship” this month and then dropped a verse — “I’ve been poppin’ since my demo” — on a disbelieving Aqib Talib Monday.
But Phillips also carries the accumulated wisdom of his past into this late-career renaissance.
After making the Super Bowl once in his first 37 seasons of NFL coaching, Phillips is back in the big game for the second time in four seasons. He won a championship ring with the Denver Broncos just three years ago.
Phillips’ clever expeditions into another generation’s culture happen too often to be just a goof. He is genuinely interested in learning about his players’ experiences, just as much as he was in the late 1970s as a 30-year-old assistant under his father with the Houston Oilers.
While Phillips listens to whatever music is playing at the Rams’ training complex, he prefers Drake and likes Migos. He plays video games with his grandson, and he showed up at training camp with a “Fortnite Legend” T-shirt, claiming his squad would probably win a Battle Royale if he tried.
When the Rams took the arena stage on media night, Phillips gleefully shot video on his phone for his popular Twitter account, which is full of SpongeBob GIFs and self-deprecating humor.
Phillips jokes that having All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald on his roster has turned him into a genius, but he quickly assembled a solid unit this fall after the Rams made big offseason changes to his 2017 defense, including the departures of leading tackler Alec Ogletree and top cornerback Trumaine Johnson.
The Rams’ revamped pass defense struggled at times during the season, but has been mostly solid ever since Talib returned from injury in December to renew his partnership with Peters.