Coaching can be a tough business. One year you’re leading one of the NFL’s best defenses, the next you might be looking for a new job. This is the predicament Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips finds himself in.
In Phillips’ two years with Denver, the Broncos limited opponents to less than 19 points per game, racked up 94 sacks and ranked first in the NFL in yards per play allowed both seasons. Oh yeah, and that defense also carried Denver to a win in Super Bowl 50.
Still, Phillips’ position with Denver next season is uncertain. His contract expired at the end of the season. That and Gary Kubiak’s surprising retirement has left Phillips wondering where — and if — he’ll be employed in 2017.
Broncos general manager John Elway said Monday he’s optimistic the new head coach will keep most of the team’s assistants, including Phillips, in 2017. But nothing is guaranteed.
“That’s going to be up to the next coach,” he said. “I’m sure he will retain a lot of them. Hopefully he’ll retain a lot of them because obviously we’d like to keep as much continuity as we can, too. So if we can keep much of it together, we’ll try to do that.”
The Broncos would be wise to hire someone who’s comfortable with keeping Phillips and the rest of his staff on board. Elway is smart. I don’t doubt he knows this. Because whatever Denver’s doing on defense the last two seasons is working.
The Broncos’ pass defense was dominant again in 2016. It allowed a microscopic 185.8 passing yards per game, which ranked first by more than 15 yards per game. Opposing QB’s threw more interceptions (14) than touchdown passes (13). And while Denver’s run defense did fall off — giving up the fifth-most rushing yards per game — Football Outsiders still rated Denver’s defense the best in the NFL for the second year in a row.
The Broncos’ problem was their offense. Denver ranked 26th in yards per play (5.1), 28th in first downs per game (18.1) and 22nd in points per game (20.8), a metric that would’ve looked worse if the defense wasn’t so good at generating turnovers. Denver’s run game was one of the worst in the league, and its passing game was maddeningly conservative. The offense could use some revamping. Which is why the team meeting with offensive guru Kyle Shanahan about the head coaching vacancy looks so appealing.
Shanahan could come in, focus on fixing the offense and allow Phillips to continue tinkering with one of the best units in football. Shanahan’s track record leading productive offenses is proven. So is Phillips’ with defenses. It’s not hard to see them having a successful partnership.
Whoever Elway and Co. select as this team’s head coach will hopefully be on board with retaining Phillips. Denver’s defense since Phillips took over has been special. Phillips, for what it’s worth, did express some optimism about the situation as well. A couple minutes after he sent the “unemployed to SB victory to unemployed” tweet, he fired this one off.
It would be best for all parties involved if he’s back with the Broncos in 2017.
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