ATLANTA — You might have noticed his snazzy get-up upon his arrival to this Super Bowl LIII town on Sunday, Rams good-old-boy defensive coordinator Wade Phillips rocking the 10-gallon hat and gaudy ’70s sheepskin coat as he disembarked the team plane.
Phillips, looking like the 71-year-old rock star that he is, was paying tribute to his father, the late and legendary coach Bum Phillips. The lid, he said, is his, but the sheepskin coat was his dad’s. He said it was the first time he’s ever worn it.
“I thought it was dope, man, a great tribute to his dad,’’ Rams cornerback Aqib Talib said Tuesday of his impossibly hip coach, who’s more active on Twitter than most millennials. “I know a lot of people on Twitter were talking about it. He gave the fans what they wanted.’’
What Phillips, a Texas native, has given the Rams since they hired him to run their defense in 2017 is a defense that very well might be the difference in delivering Los Angeles a Super Bowl by stopping the Patriots and Tom Brady on Sunday.
Phillips has done it with his own unique style, which is by deftly melting away any trace of a generation gap between himself, a coach in the NFL since 1976, and his players, most of whose parents weren’t born back then.
“Like the players say, he’s just that ‘OG’ ’’ Rams head coach Sean McVay said.
Phillips’ 177,000 Twitter followers — his handle is @sonofbum — is more than many of his players have. He’s in his 41st season coaching in the NFL, having worked for 10 different teams, two of which — the Houston Oilers and the San Diego Chargers — no longer play in those cities. He’s 82-64 as a head coach.
“He’s so upbeat and so lively. … I don’t look at him as a 71-year-old human being,” Rams defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh said.
“It don’t really matter how old you are,’’ said Talib, who was in Denver when Phillips was the defensive coordinator there. “If you’re passing knowledge and guys want to listen, guys are going to be all for it.’’
Rams defensive lineman Michael Brockers said that in a Super Bowl week like this, with only four players on the roster who’ve made it to this game, a calming veteran presence like Phillips is priceless.
“It makes the room light when you have a coach like that,’’ Brockers said. “You’re not stressing moments like these, big moments.’’
As for Phillips’ his uncannily hip nature at 71, Brockers said, “I think he just wants to be in the know, man. When you feel like you can be up to date and you can connect with your players … it makes us connect with him when we see him on Twitter and we see him trolling people. It’s cool.’’
Phillips’ mantra is rather simple.
“I try to be myself,’’ he said. “I try to have fun with everything. I love what I’m doing. That’s the main thing.”
Brockers said Phillips practices what he preaches.
“You get a lot of coaches who try to change who you are to fit their scheme,’’ Brockers said. “The biggest thing about Wade is he lets you be you. He trusts that you’re going to go out there and make the plays that he puts you in position to make.
“Coach Wade, man, he’s seen everything, he’s gone up against every quarterback and offensive coordinator in the league. He’s been there and he’s been at the top level of defenses for a long time.’’
One person who’s taken great notice of that over the years has been Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
“I have a ton of respect for what he’s done,’’ Belichick said. “He’s been doing it for 30 years in multiple organizations with multiple groups of players against every kind of offense he could see. There’s not many of us that have a system that can last that long.’’
In these playoffs, the Cowboys and Saints combined for 98 rushing yards against the Rams, who also took Drew Brees’ top weapon, New Orleans receiver Michael Thomas, out of the game in the NFC Championship. It’ll be fascinating to see how Phillips tries to shut down New England’s seemingly uncoverable receiver Julian Edelman.
“Wade’s system is his system, and then within that system, there’s plenty of variety,’’ Belichick said. “They do what they do in their system, they do it well, they have a lot of confidence in it, which they should. He’s been successful everywhere he’s been.’’
Phillips credits whatever success he’s had in the game to Bum.
“Everything I learned,’’ he said, “I learned from him.”
Right down to the “dope’’ wardrobe.