Loyalty Costs Phillips His Job
Refusal to fire inept assistants seals Phillips' fate.
by Steve Saslow
January 8, 2001
The official reason Wade Phillips was let go by the Bills is because he refused to fire special teams coach Ronnie Jones. That will be a big part of it, but the reality is, there were many other problems involving his coaching. The loyalty he has to his coaching staff is admirable, but sometimes you have to look past your overly optimistic glow and see people for what they are.
Coaches Joe Pendry, Carl Mauck, and Ronnie Jones were the coaches most likely to be on the firing squad. They may have been pals with Phillips and good coaches but they weren't getting through to the players and that is the number one job of a coach. The offense and special teams were inept this year and changes had to occur. The schemes weren't matching players' talents and when that is the case the schemes need to change. If Phillips was able to stand on his record alone he would not have been fired but his incessant loyalty to his staff was just the event that was the last straw in his firing, but definitely not the only issue.
Despite never having a losing season in Buffalo and having the reputation as a players coach that the team really seemed to like, he struggled with many facets of the job. His handling of the quarterback controversy was terrible and it tore the team apart in the locker room. A team can be fully behind a coach, but if his decisions tear the players apart a team doesn't have a chance to succeed. Phillips decision to go back to Rob Johnson didn't make him a favorite of the legion of Doug Flutie fans. The fans and many in the media were calling for Phillips head because of this situation alone.
Phillips being a players coach perceived that he lacked discipline of the players and that may have had an effect on the team. On the field, penalties were way up this year and the team was very inconsistent in some games. If Phillips was more disciplined the players may have shown up more. Off the field, the recent comments by Steve Christie regarding the locker room split over the QB controversy also shows that Phillips didn't have control over his players.
Phillips also made some decisions during games that made people scratch their heads. Phillips never seemed to have a handle on time management, constantly going to the locker room with timeouts in his pocket and not knowing how to handle the end of games. He was very indecisive at times arguing with Flutie about what to do in critical times of the game. A perfect example of this was the first New England game where the Bills didn't know if they wanted to go for the win or the tie.
Another nail in his coffin was his comments before the Indianapolis game that both teams were out of it. The Colts won the game and went on to the playoffs the Bills lost four straight.
Despite these shortcoming, Phillips 29-19 record over three years was the best in Bills history for a new coach and a case could have been made for him to stay. The volatile situation in the front office also came into play as the new general manager has a right to bring in his own guy which could have left Phillips out in the cold even if he decided to let some of his coaches go. So some might say he did the right thing sticking by his coaches. Wilson also did the right thing by letting go of a coach that refused to deal with the shortcomings of his staff. Phillips is going out for the same reason Marv Levy did, by refusing to make changes. The difference is Levy went off with a classy ceremony and Phillips was just dumped.
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