You don’t have to get very far into Wade Phillips’ new book, “Son of Bum: Lessons My Dad Taught Me About Football and Life,” to figure out that the former Denver Broncos head coach and defensive coordinator isn’t going to recycle the same old coaching platitudes. You don’t even have to read a page, actually. Just look at the inside flap.
“Bum taught Wade from the beginning that coaching isn’t bitching.”
It becomes clear early on that the defensive coaching legend’s football ideology, passed down by his father, Bum, isn’t an authoritarian taskmaster’s. Rather, it’s born of the belief that “support and camaraderie instead of punishment and anger” can effectively motivate and teach.
“Son of Bum” chronicles Phillips’ many, many, many stops in football — seriously, look at all the different jobs he’s held — that he navigates largely by following the lessons of Bum, a rural Texas rancher who went on to become head coach of the Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints.
Bum named Harold Wade Phillips after two ranch-hand buddies, “Harold” and “Wade.” After that, Wade Phillips grew up around the game. He moved from city to city as his dad climbed the coaching ladder from high school to college to the pros. Wade’s worldview seems to be shaped by the simple lessons his dad taught him. Like the difference between coaching and bitching, for example.
“When you spend more time harping on what they do wrong than showing them how to do it right, you aren’t coaching. You’re bitching.”
Wade’s perspective and ability to connect with players from different backgrounds was apparent in his time with Denver. (Who can forget Aqib Talib lending Wade his gold chain the week of Super Bowl 50?) In the book, Wade seems to attribute this to two things: Treating grown men like grown men and not being presumptuous.
The Dallas Cowboys signed notoriously abrasive wideout Terrell Owens when Wade was head coach. The two actually got along well.
“He was seen as being selfish, but I liked him because he worked hard and he played hard. Terrell had some great years in Dallas with us. He’d play hurt. He didn’t know how to say the right things at times. There were a lot of people against him, but I wasn’t one of them.”
One of the first encouraging texts Wade got after the Cowboys fired him in 2010 was from Owens.
Wade made his career by building good defenses — he’s shepherded 20 top-10 defenses at the NFL level — and following the common-sense lessons his father taught him. Bum died in 2013, but his imprint is everywhere. Each chapter begins with one of his quotes.
Bum dispensed advice about commanding respect without being a jerk: “You gotta have rules, but you also gotta allow for a fella to mess up every once in a while.”
About dealing with the haters: “There are people, maybe two or three, that ain’t gonna like you. Not everybody likes everybody. My grandad used to say, “Just nod ‘n grin.”
There are even nuggets in there that aren’t so much advice as much as a potential tremendous Instagram bio for the right person: “There are four things in life I know somethin’ about: pickup trucks, gumbo, cold beer and barbecued ribs.”
Toward the end of the book, Wade, who’s a prolific Twitter user himself, discusses the Broncos’ Super Bowl 50 win over the Carolina Panthers. Wade was out of work the year before he came on as Denver’s defensive coordinator in 2015. The Broncos’ defense would go on to finish as the NFL’s top-ranked unit in the regular season and dominate offenses led by Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and Cam Newton in the playoffs.
“The first thought that crossed my mind after that game was that I had gone from unemployment to the Super Bowl,” Wade writes, thinking back to Denver’s win over Carolina.
“I wrote that in a tweet right after the game and I got over a million retweets, so people recognized it. That was pretty cool.”
“Son of Bum: Lessons My Dad Taught Me About Football and Life” is out now. You can pick it up at your local bookstore if you live in Denver, or find it online here.
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