The Case For The Broncos Ring Of Fame: Wade Phillips

In the third of Thin Air’s series on considerations for the Broncos Ring of Fame is Wade Phillips (1989-1994, 2015-2016).

Should Wade Phillips be in the Broncos Ring of Fame?

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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.

  • T. Jensen

    I voted no but I think you can argue for him based simply on SB50. That was such a magical defensive performance I’m not sure it will ever be repeated and he was the cause for it.

  • Yahmule

    I give him credit for being the first NFL head coach to realize that building his football team around John Elway should take precedence over making sure everybody understood he was in charge.

  • Jeremy

    Part of my decision will be how the defense performs this year and the following years. If they falter it will show Wade deserves even more of the credit for that defense. If they continue to perform at a high level, it doesn’t mean Wade doesn’t still deserve a ton of credit, but it will suggest to me that their performances was more a matter of player talent.

    The Broncos currently have only one coach in the rof (Reeves), although Shanahan and Kubiak figure to follow when they are eligible. Electing a guy primarily based on what he did as a coordinator seems iffy to me. I voted no for now, but it was a tough call, and I could definitely change my mind in the future.

    • DragonPie

      Kubiak only has accolades as a coordinator as well.

      • Jeremy

        Yeah it’s not like he won the super bowl as a head coach or anything.

        • DragonPie

          Honestly, the offense was so wretched that year, that I don’t give him accolades for that fact, but you can if you want.

  • Russ

    If you’re including him based on his coordinator duties, you’re running into a slippery slope of other potential candidates. If you’re including him because of his head coaching tenure, well, then you should include pretty much every head coach in Broncos history. I think both he and Collier will probably be in some day, but I don’t agree that they should.

    • Jeremy

      Collier is a name I haven’t heard thrown around much, but you are right he would probably be the next coordinator in line (or arguably before Wade). He’s been retired 15 years and turns 85 in a month, so I’m not sure he ever gets in.

      • ohiobronco

        He is also on the ROF committee.

    • DragonPie

      How is including exceptional coordinators a slippery slope?

  • gobroncos

    What’s with all these difficult questions?

    I like Wade, but maybe I’m too nitpicky and think there should be a high standard for the ring of fame. That being said, if ever there as a non head coach, coach, I’d go with Wade, even though he was a head coach for a short time but that’s not why he’d get in. If he could have coached our defense back in the late 80’s and early 90’s the way he did in 2015, then the Broncos would have a few more rings.

    • Nick

      What’s with all these difficult questions?

      Because the easy questions are boring. Any thread I start on Champ, Shanny or Kubes is going to be like the HOF committee discussing Brett Favre: over in the affirmative before 10 seconds have elapsed.

      • Yahmule
        • PiperAR

          What NFL team might Chuck Long have a good career with? Oh shit, not that one.

          • Yahmule

            I remember when they announced the Heisman that year. Long was not exactly poker faced about his disappointment.

          • PiperAR

            When you come back as a 5th year senior to win a Rose Bowl and Heisman trophy and then do neither….

            With no QBs taken in the first round of the 1985 draft, maybe going back to Iowa was a bad career move.

          • Brian

            weren’t there also no qbs in 1st round of ’84?

          • Yahmule

            Technically there was. Steve Young went 1st overall in the supplemental draft and would have gone first round in the regular draft if not for the USFL.

          • PiperAR

            Bernie Kosar was also a supplemental pick. I didn’t take the supplemental picks into account. Chuck Long on the (I know you hate them) Rams would have been interesting, though I don’t know when Dieter Brock signed with LA. Maybe going in the ’84 draft would have gotten Long in a better situation than Detroit. Maybe he didn’t have what it takes to make it in the NFL on any team. Maybe he hadn’t shown enough as a 4th year Jr to be first round worthy.

          • PiperAR

            Maybe, I didn’t check. My objective was to speculate what would have happened had Chuck Long entered the ’85 draft so ’84 didn’t matter for my purposes.

      • Jeremy

        Is there anyone else who you considered “obvious” candidates?

        • Nick

          As I said in this post, I think Joe Collier qualifies, but is of course complicated by his role on the committee.

          • Jeremy

            How can he be obvious when he’s presumably been eligible for 20 years yet still hasn’t gotten the nod?

          • Nick

            …because he’s been on the ROF committee?

          • Jeremy

            Has he been on the committee for 20 years? None of the other members are worthy of inclusion in the ROF (expect possibly Joe Ellis some day, but that is a long shot). Are we sure being on the committee prevents you from being inducted? There seems to be pretty mixed reaction in the comments here about whether he is deserving. Collier is 85, so if he is an obvious candidate, I’m not sure why the Broncos are still waiting, even if he is on the committee.

          • Nick

            I just figured there’d be a conflict of interest in play. That’s not really in play with us, though, so if you think Collier deserves a discussion for not being as obvious, then I’m willing to do so.

          • Jeremy

            I think he’d be great for the series, especially for younger fans. I’ll admit I didn’t recognize him name when it came up today, but have since learned a lot about him. I think he is worthy of discussion.

          • Yahmule

            The reasons why he was snubbed are probably because:
            A) Pat Bowlen forced pet project Ricky Hunley on him.
            B) Bowlen became furious when Joe wouldn’t play Hunley until he earned it.
            C) Joe was finally scapegoated by Bowlen and Reeves for not building another Orange Crush out of mostly discarded orange peels.

          • BlackKnigh

            Had Dennison played against WA in the SB – those runs by the Redskins would have been curtailed mightily. Hunley was always out of position. Dennison was an intelligent LB and read the offenses pretty well. Hunley – well – not so much.

          • Yahmule

            They ran that Counter Trey all game long and Hunley never wised up.

    • Yahmule

      Joe Collier should have made it years ago. He designed the Orange Crush, which put Denver on the NFL map. Back in 1975, only the Broncos, Patriots and Oilers were running a 3-4 defense, by 1980, the majority of the teams in the NFL were doing it. Collier was also the first coach to expose Bill Belichick to the 3-4 in 1978. Most people credit Collier for being the first DC to fully explore the possibilities of 3/4 hybrids. He had 60 different 3-4 fronts, which nobody ever considered possible, but it created massive confusion for offensive lines.

  • Kush-Lash

    I think the 2015 Defense was the greatest of all time (http://in-thinair.com/2016/07/15/how-lucky-are-we/#more-4266) and Wade’s candidacy should live or die by that measure. Not withstanding his Drake references and his willingness to be drippin’ with players.

    • Kyle Milligan

      Drippin?
      I do not understand the slang nowadays.

  • WhoShotBobbyHumphrey

    I voted “yes” for Wade, but I can easily see why others are against it.

    • Carsonic

      Yeah, that Super Bowl year pushes him over the hump for me, but I guess he does have some minuses on his résumé.

  • Hank Mardukis

    No

  • Kyle Milligan

    Surprised he got 60/40.
    I’m on the fence, but cant argue with those who want to maintain sanctity of the ring by being extremely selective.

  • Brian

    If it’s yes to Red Miller, then it’s yes to Wade (and Collier, and Kubes and Shanny) I’m ok with that.