Rams assistant coach Wes Phillips knows all too well how difficult — and rare — it can be to reach a Super Bowl.
His grandfather, Bum, never saw the NFL’s biggest game, losing two AFC championship games as coach of the then-Houston Oilers. His own father, Wade, coached 42 seasons and appeared in three Super Bowls, winning just one.
“So I’m just grateful for this opportunity,” said Wes Phillips. “Fifteen years in the league, and this is my first opportunity to play in the Super Bowl. In fact, it was my first year on a team that made it past the divisional round.”
As former Miami coach Brian Flores sues the NFL alleging racist hiring practices, this Super Bowl serves as a reminder that family ties can play a big role in creating business opportunities for men in the this league.
— Rams coach Sean McVay. His grandfather John not only served as head coach of the New York Giant for three seasons in the 1970s, but he also served as general manager for five Super Bowl championships with the San Francisco 49ers in the 1980s and 1990s.
– Cincinnati offensive coordinator Brian Callahan. His father Bill is a former head coach of the Oakland and Washington Raiders. The elder Callahan was the Raiders’ head coach when they lost to Tampa Bay in the 2003 Super Bowl.
— Bengals coach Zac Taylor. He started as a graduate assistant at Texas A&M for Mike Sherman and followed his stepfather into the NFL when Sherman was hired as the Miami Dolphins’ offensive coordinator. Taylor remained with the Dolphins after Sherman was fired. His brother, Press, is a senior offensive assistant for the Indianapolis Colts.
There is more.
The father of Rams offensive assistant Zak Kromer is former Rams offensive line coach Aaron Kromer, who was recently hired by Buffalo. Linebackers coach Chris Shula is the grandson of Hall of Fame coach Don Shula and the son of former Bengals head coach Dave Shula. Phillips and Kromer remained with the Rams even after McVay essentially fired their fathers.
Phillips is the Rams’ tight ends coach and passing game coordinator. He made his NFL debut in 2007 as a quality control/offensive assistant with his father as the head coach at Dallas. Phillips stayed three more seasons in Dallas after Wade was fired.
He worked his way up to assistant offensive line coach, special teams assistant, and eventually landed his first group position as a tight ends coach in 2013 working with Jason Witten.
Being the son and grandson of NFL coaches certainly helped Phillips a lot. Imagine all the conversations at home, especially when watching a football game together. Clock management and timeouts were important topics.
A master class in football.
“It wasn’t like I was at home drawing things on the fat chart, really, with him,” Phillips said.
The coaches’ sons have other opportunities. Phillips visited team facilities, attending some meetings. He was also a ball boy during training camp.
Darrin Simmons, the Bengals’ special teams coordinator, had the good fortune to help out with the Browns’ training camps for a few years. His link? His uncle, Jerry Simmons, longtime Cleveland Browns coach.
“Throughout my high school days, we would hang out during boot camp and help him out…with stuff in the weight room,” Simmons said.
Callahan also grew up around the NFL. Watching his father influenced his decision to become a coach, especially when his own playing career peaked as a quarterback at UCLA, which went on to earn a scholarship.
His dad called him to congratulate him when the Bengals beat Kansas City in overtime in the AFC Championship Game, earning Cincinnati the No. 1 Super Bowl berth since the 1988 season. father was to concentrate on his work and do his best, without worrying about what happened next.
“Certainly, my dad was a huge influence on me personally and professionally,” Callahan said. “He is sort of my mentor in all areas. There’s probably a long list I could provide, but this is probably one of the most important.
Growing up inside the NFL also means having the chance to meet other coaches. Phillips credits Dan Reeves, his father’s boss in Denver and later Atlanta, as a big influence. Thanks to his grandfather and father, Phillips was well aware that Reeves was playing for Dallas coaching legend Tom Landry.
“You could see the attention to detail on the training ground,” Phillips recalled of Reeves, who died on New Year’s Day. “He was demanding, but also a great person, and he was an influence on me as a young child, how well he even treated me.”
The one thing all of these coaches have learned well from their loved ones is how difficult it is to win the NFL’s ultimate prize. Phillips noted that has been made even more difficult over the past two decades thanks to Tom Brady limiting those opportunities for anyone unaffiliated with the seven-time NFL champion.
It makes this moment even more special.
“Really just trying to appreciate and be grateful for the opportunity,” Phillips said.
AP professional football writer Josh Dubow and AP sportswriters Greg Beacham and Joe Reedy contributed.
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