IRVING, Texas – Before Wes Phillips joined the Dallas Cowboys' coaching staff in 2007, he was a quarterbacks coach at Baylor for one year and spent two years coaching the position at West Texas A&M. His first official coaching job was as a student assistant at UTEP, his alma mater.
It helped that his father, Wade, was named Cowboys head coach in 2007.
If he got in the NFL door thanks to his father, Wes Phillips’ work has kept him around.
“I think a lot of people look at nepotism and they think, ‘Well, guys get jobs that maybe don’t deserve them,’” said Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones, who, as son of Dallas owner Jerry Jones, heard similar comments when he started in the NFL. “I think that shows that obviously Wes is a sharp guy. He loves football. He works hard at it. He has a passion for it. He’s obviously made his mark around here … I think his arrow is up, and he’s only going to get better in this league.”
Phillips always wanted to get into the family business started by his grandfather, Bum, and continued by his father. Unlike Bum and Wade, Wes is an offensive coach.
“He’s the black sheep of the family,” said Wade, now the defensive coordinators for the Houston Texans, who visit Dallas tonight in the preseason finale for both teams. “He knows that. He went on the dark side, but we still love him.”
Wes Phillips joined the Cowboys as a quality-control coach. He has worked with wide receivers, the offensive line and even was the special-teams coach for a game in 2009 when Joe DeCamillis underwent an emergency appendectomy.
Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett made Phillips the tight-ends coach this year.
“A lot of what you do as an assistant is you sit in the room and you watch other coaches coach,” Wes said. “You do a lot of work behind the scenes in the office and now you’re more involved in all aspects of game planning, preparing your meetings. I was fortunate to sit in that room and listen to some excellent coaches.”
There is also some symmetry to his father’s early coaching career. Wade coached Hall of Famers to-be Elvin Bethea and Curly Culp in his second year on Bum’s Houston Oilers’ staff. Wes’ first time running a position group comes with a Hall of Famer to-be in Jason Witten.
“I coached Elvin Bethea and Curly Culp and I thought, ‘Man, I’m really a good coach,’” Wade said, “but maybe I wasn’t. Maybe that was the players … (but) it gave me confidence to know I could coach. Hopefully that will help him, too.”
Wes is Witten’s fifth position coach in 11 seasons; the tight end has eight Pro Bowl appearances in his first 10 years.
“When you’ve got a guy like that it’s, ‘How can I stimulate him?’” Wes said of Witten. “How can I take a guy who’s had so much experience and so much success and give him one little nugget or something that can help him be more successful? … With him it’s got to be very succinct, very direct on what you’re trying to get accomplished, and you'd better know your stuff because he knows it like a coach.”
Earlier this week Wade (@sonofbum) tweeted about how well-coached the Cowboys tight ends looked as he prepared for tonight’s game at AT&T Stadium. He said he feels the pride his father felt when he became a successful coach.
“The only thing I regret with Wes is I didn’t give him a position a lot sooner,” Wade said.
“Well, I’d make him offensive coordinator first, but that wasn’t my choice,” Phillips deadpanned, an acknowledgment that Garrett was named coordinator before Phillips was named Cowboys head coach in 2007. “No, I just think he deserved a position because of the kind of coach he was and it would’ve helped his career a lot more. But he’s going to have a fine career. Hopefully he’ll be the third NFL head coach in this family. That will be the only family that’s ever done that.”
If Wes Phillips ever gets that far in this profession, it will have been on merit.
“The way I look at it is one way or the other, everyone gets hired because they know somebody,” Wes said. “They have some sort of connection. And it’s not how you get there. It’s what you do once you get there. I do take pride in just doing my job the best I can. The fact that I’ve been able to stay here going on seven years is really a long time in the NFL. I’ve been fortunate.”