In the third of Thin Air’s series on considerations for the Broncos Ring of Fame is Wade Phillips (1989-1994, 2015-2016).
Wade Phillips first came to Denver at an interesting time. He succeeded the legendary Joe Collier after 17 seasons as defensive coordinator, who likely will be in the Ring of Fame himself once his duties on the committee are finished. In his first year on the job, the Broncos rebounded quickly on defense from second to last, according to DVOA, to 4th. Phillips also put together the #4 defense in DVOA in 1991. (Unfortunately, those two years had to come against the juggernauts of the 1989 49ers and 1991 Redskins.)
Phillips then found himself the unintended beneficiary of being in the middle of one of the greatest dramas in Broncos history in 1992 that involved John Elway, Dan Reeves and Mike Shanahan. The departure of Shanahan, and then Reeves, led Phillips to secure the head coaching job in 1993. However, Shanahan’s immense success in San Francisco that led to a Super Bowl in 1994 could not be warded off by 9-7 and 7-9 seasons put up by Phillips.
But as contemporary fans know well, the story of Phillips and the Broncos doesn’t end there. He reacquainted with another Broncos coaching legend in Gary Kubiak in Houston. Then, after both were fired from there, they came back into Denver in the wake of yet another coaching drama involving John Elway. Phillips promptly took the talent that Elway acquired to build one of the greatest defenses in NFL history. This defense was integral to the Broncos’ third Super Bowl victory, one that was achieved in spite of unusual offensive struggles under Kubiak’s watch.