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    Thursday, July 18, 2024

    At 76, Wade Phillips hopes to get elusive first title as a head coach in Sunday's UFL Championship

    In a photo provided by the San Antonio Brahmas, San Antonio Brahmas coach Wade Phillips walks the sideline during the team's UFL football game against the Michigan Panthers at the Alamodome in San Antonio, April 20, 2023. Phillips is hoping to win his first championship as a head coach Sunday, June 16, 2024, when the Brahmas take on the Birmingham Stallions in the UFL Championship game in St. Louis. (Alonso Ramirez III/San Antonio Brahmas via AP)

    Wade Phillips has long been considered one of the best defensive coordinators in pro football.

    His track record as a head coach though, especially when it comes to the postseason, hasn't been looked on as kindly.

    However, Phillips has a chance to get an elusive championship ring as a head coach on Sunday in St. Louis when his San Antonio Brahmas take on the Birmingham Stallions in the first UFL Championship Game.

    “Obviously, it would be great. I'd feel great for the players. They deserve where they are now,” Phillips said. “I think they deserve a championship, but they have to play and win it.”

    A UFL title would also be a great early birthday present for Phillips, who turns 77 on Friday. When Phillips was fired as the Los Angeles Rams' defensive coordinator after the 2019 season, many thought that might be the end of his coaching career that has spanned seven decades and started when he was a graduate assistant at the University of Houston in 1969.

    Phillips returned to coach Houston's XFL franchise in 2023. The Roughnecks were 7-3 and made the playoffs, but lost to eventual champion Arlington in the South Division final.

    After the USFL and XFL merged, Phillips moved over to San Antonio this season. Not much was expected though, especially with 30 new players on the roster. The Brahmas bucked the odds and went 7-3 in the regular season. Last week, they upset the favored St. Louis Battlehawks in the XFL Conference final and advanced to the championship game.

    “I believe we’ve been the underdogs in almost every game. So, we like playing that role,” Phillips said.

    Phillips had an 82-64 regular-season NFL record with six teams, but was 1-5 in the playoffs. He won a Super Bowl ring as Denver's defensive coordinator during the 2015 season when the Broncos beat Carolina in Super Bowl 50.

    While Phillips enjoyed plenty of attention coaching the Dallas Cowboys for three-plus seasons, he said there isn't that much difference coaching the Brahmas.

    Well, there is one major difference.

    “Money. Yeah. Jerry paid me a lot more money,” Phillips said with a smile. "But it's not different. It's organization and when you're the head coach everything comes to you.

    “It’s coaching. That’s what I do. I'm probably not good at anything else. I like being around the players, the strategy of the game, and, and the reward for winning is a neat feeling.”

    Skip Holtz — who is trying to lead Birmingham to its third straight spring league title — has also experienced a career renaissance of his own after 17 seasons as a college head coach. Holtz and Phillips did not have any interactions before the UFL, but Holtz said he has looked up to Phillips.

    “It is very difficult to be a head football coach. I think it’s even more difficult to be a head football coach with his type of length and tenure. With the success that he’s had year in and year out. I think he, he does a great job. He’s done it with character,” Holtz said.

    Over the past three seasons, the Stallions are 32-4 in the regular season and playoffs. Their last loss came to the Brahmas on May 25 in San Antonio.

    Birmingham has the league's top offense, averaging 347.5 yards and 26.5 points per game. Quarterback Adrian Martinez was named the UFL's Most Valuable Player, but Matt Corral came in during the second half of last week's USFL Conference final and led the Stallions to a 31-18 victory.

    San Antonio had the UFL's best defense (256.7 yards per game) and allowed only 15.3 points per game.

    Whatever the result of Sunday's game, Phillips has indicated he would like to return next season.

    “I understand my age is a factor, but as long as I'm healthy and can contribute, which I think I have. I don't set a time limit, but I get older every day. I know that,” he said.

    FILE - Birmingham Stallions head coach Skip Holtz celebrates with the trophy after the Birmingham Stallions defeated the Philadelphia Stars 33-30 in a USFL football game for the league championship, Sunday, July 3, 2022, in Canton, Ohio. San Antonio Brahmas coach Wade Phillips can win an elusive championship as a head coach when the UFL has their title game on Sunday in St. Louis. Phillips and the Brahmas will take on the Birmingham Stallions. (AP Photo/David Dermer, File)
    FILE - Birmingham Stallions head coach Skip Holtz reacts to a play during the second half of a football game Saturday, April 16, 2022, in Birmingham, Ala. San Antonio Brahmas coach Wade Phillips can win an elusive championship as a head coach when the UFL has their title game on Sunday in St. Louis. Phillips and the Brahmas will take on the Birmingham Stallions. (AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)

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