Phillips heads back to Denver

IRVING, Texas — Sixteen years ago, Wade Phillips had embarked on his first season as a head coach, replacing Dan Reeves in Denver.

It was a win-win situation, according to Phillips' father, Bum.

"If they win, it's gonna be OK," Bum explained. "And if they lose, he's still my boy."

Two seasons later, well, Phillips was still Bum's boy.

It just so happens that Bum's 86th birthday on Tuesday coincided with Wade preparing for his first trip back to Denver as a head coach.

Those two events are not mutually exclusive to Wade Phillips. He has nothing to prove to folks in Denver. A Cowboys victory will not mean vindication. Fourteen years after Phillips' departure, the Broncos have reloaded with first-year coach Josh McDaniels.

"It doesn't seem like it was 25 years ago that my dad last coached," Phillips said, shaking his head. "It goes by fast. You better enjoy it."

For Phillips, ruminating over history is a waste of time. He chooses to recall his two-year stint in Denver as a valuable learning experience.

Promoted from defensive coordinator, Phillips led the Broncos to a 9-7 record and a first-round playoff loss in 1993. His second season taught him a lot about adversity — an 0-4 start, an injury to quarterback John Elway, a 7-9 record, unemployment.

"I think you always learn," Phillips said. "It was a short tenure. We got in the playoffs the first year, and we didn't the second year and I was gone. We went 7-9 and our quarterback was out four games. I learned to keep the quarterback in as much as you can."

The strong chemistry that led to Broncos owner Pat Bowlen hiring Phillips transformed into "a lack of confidence in the coaching staff" after the 1994 season. Phillips found work as defensive coordinator in Buffalo.

Three years later, Phillips became the Bills' head coach. His replacement in Denver, Mike Shanahan, was celebrating the first of consecutive Super Bowl victories.

"It worked out great for Denver," Phillips said. "They got a great coach in Mike Shanahan and they won Super Bowls."

Does Phillips ever wonder if he could have done the same had he not been fired?

"I don't know and I don't care," he said. "It's gone. I don't look in the past except to try to learn from the past."

Phillips' tenure in Denver taught him to not get too comfortable in his chair.

His Bills teams went 10-6, 11-5 and 8-8, and he was out on the streets. His overall record as a head coach, excluding two shifts as interim, is 69-46 in the regular season and 0-4 in the playoffs.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones called Denver's Bowlen, among others, during his coaching search.

"There wasn't a pointed criticism that would have changed my mind," Jones said Thursday. "It was more about the positive things. Certainly, I spent a lot of time asking about his staff and those things that can impact a coach as well."

In Phillips' first season with the Cowboys, a 13-3 record was clouded by a quick playoff exit. Last year's 9-7 mark brought criticism.

As much as things have changed since Phillips left Denver, the more things have stayed the same.

"Hopefully, I learned to win," he said. "I'm a better coach. It's hard to win in this league, and I've been lucky for 11 years to not have one losing season. I'm just lucky to be where I am now."