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They were a generational mix that helped lead the Rams to the Super Bowl.
After the Rams made the then 30-year-old Sean McVay the youngest coach in modern NFL history, McVay hired Wade Phillips — an NFL coach since 1976 — as his defensive coordinator.
“He jokes that he’s ready for Medicare,” McVay said in January 2017, “and I’m ready for day care.”
The innovative, offense-minded McVay leaned on and learned from the sage Phillips as the Rams made the playoffs their first season together and advanced to the Super Bowl in 2018. But after the Rams finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs this season, the McVay-Phillips era is over.
On Monday, McVay informed the 72-year-old Phillips that his contract would not be renewed.
In a statement, McVay said: “Coach Wade has been a veteran voice in heading our defense for the past three seasons. His wealth of experience, sound advice and helpful demeanor has been invaluable to our coaches and players, and also has set an example for me as a head coach and a leader of men. I thank Coach Phillips for his numerous contributions to the Los Angeles Rams and our community, and I wish he, his wife Laurie, and the rest of the Phillips family the best.”
In a tweet, Phillips thanked the Rams for the opportunity “to be a part of their success” and also the players “who I loved” working with.
“I still want to coach,” he wrote, “and feel I can contribute.”
McVay also made a move on offense by not retaining running backs coach Skip Peete, a holdover from Jeff Fisher’s former staff.
The decision not to retain Phillips was the first major move by McVay since the Rams finished a disappointing season that saw them fall prey to the malaise that has afflicted so many teams the season after losing a Super Bowl. A defeat to the San Francisco 49ers in the second-to-last game ensured that the Rams would not roll with playoff momentum into the new SoFi Stadium next season.
After a season-ending victory over the Arizona Cardinals, McVay gave his assistants nearly all of last week off before coming back together Monday to begin staff and player evaluations.
The Rams, operating in the 3-4 scheme favored by Phillips, ranked 13th in total defense after giving up 339.6 yards per game this season. They were 12th in pass defense (226.6 yards per game), 19th in rushing defense (113.1 yards per game) and 17th in scoring defense (22.8 points per game).
Phillips, an NFL head coach for three teams and defensive coordinator for eight, said in the days leading up to this season’s finale that he was aware of but did not pay attention to rumors he might not be retained by the Rams. Asked if he felt he had performed well enough to be retained, Phillips indicated it was not his decision to make.
“It’s up to somebody else to judge those things,” Phillips said. “You never know what’s going to happen in football.”
McVay said during the season’s final week that Phillips’ knowledge, experience and personality had made for a good partnership.
“He’s always had a great perspective just based on his experience … whether it be as a head coach or as a coordinator,” McVay said. “But it’s never pushed on you. ... Guys love him. He’s got just a consistency that you can’t help but appreciate.”
That apparently was not enough to bring back Phillips after a season with blowout losses to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Baltimore Ravens and Dallas Cowboys, and last-second defeats to the Seattle Seahawks and 49ers.
Rams players reacted to Phillips’ dismissal on social media.
“Truly Enjoyed Every Minute of Everyday coming into Work and Playing For @sonofbum,” tweeted defensive lineman Michael Brockers, a pending unrestricted free agent. “Thank You For Everything Coach Wade!!!”
“Thank you for everything,” safety John Johnson tweeted. “Was an honor and a pleasure playing for you. Wishing you more blessings and success @sonofbum”
Tweeted defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day: “Coach Wade! I can’t thank you enough for the opportunity you gave me this past season. I’m forever grateful to have played for a coach like you!#Legend! #OGwade!”
Tip of the hat to you, @sonofbum. pic.twitter.com/94t5zpK51p
Two current staff members could be considered as candidates to succeed Phillips. Linebackers coach Joe Barry, 49, was the Detroit Lions defensive coordinator in 2007 and 2008. He also is regarded as a possible candidate to become USC’s defensive coordinator. Cornerbacks coach Aubrey Pleasant, 33, interviewed to become the Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator after the 2018 season.
But the mandate from the Rams might be for McVay to look outside the organization for the defense-minded version of himself.
The decision not to retain Phillips could affect personnel moves that will be influenced by the salary cap and also, possibly, a change in scheme.
Brockers, linebacker Cory Littleton and edge rusher Dante Fowler are pending unrestricted free agents. The Rams are also making a decision about whether to retain veteran safety Eric Weddle.