How Long Does it Take for Wade Phillips to Change a Defense?

Let’s assume for a moment that the 2011 season starts on time.  The Colts play at Houston in the first week of the season.  As we’ve discussed many times, the Texans always pose a difficult matchup for the Colts in Houston.  This year, they’ve added Wade Phillips at defensive coordinator.  Phillips is known as a top defensive mind who implements some hybrid 3-4/4-3 concepts. This could eventually lead to a radically different Texans defense than the one the Colts have shredded in the past. 

While a shortened offseason should help the Colts by giving the Texans less time to implement a new scheme, it raised the question in my mind: how long does it take for Phillips to leave his mark on a defensive unit?  Is the improvement immediate, or does it take time to show up? Is there even an improvement at all?  Often a coach’s reputation can outstrip his production.

Bum’s kid has been around for a long time, first serving as the Saints defensive coordinator in 1981.  Here is his track record as a coordinator:

New Orleans Saints:

1980 (Pre-Wade):

Points: 28th, Yards: 28th

1981 (Phillips’ first year)

Points: 24th, Yards 11th

1982 (Phillips’ second year)

Points: 8th, Yards 5th


Philadelphia Eagles:

1985 (Pre-Wade):

Points: 10th, Yards 10th

1986 (Phillips’ first year)

Points: 12th, Yards 17th

1987 (Phillips’ second year and strike season)

Points: 25th, Yards 23rd

Denver Broncos:

1988 (Pre-Wade)

Points: 20th, Yards: 22nd

1989 (1st year)

Points: 1st, Yards: 3rd

Buffalo Bills:

1994 (Pre-Wade)

Points: 22nd, Yards 17th, DVOA: 1.9% (19th)

1995 (1st year)

Points: 12th, Yards 13th, DVOA: -6.8% (10th)

1996 (2nd year)

Points: 6th, Yards 9th, DVOA: -15.7% (7th)

Atlanta Falcons:

2001 (Pre-Wade)

Points: 24th, Yards: 30th, DVOA: 9.3% (27th)

2002: (1st year)

Points: 8th, Yards: 19th, DVOA: -3.0% (12th)

San Diego Chargers

2003 (Pre-Wade)

Yards: 31st, Points: 27th, DVOA: 11.0% (30th)

2004 (1st year)

Points: 11th, Yards 18th, DVOA: -3.9% (12th)

Dallas Cowboys (Head Coach)

2006 (pre-Wade)

Points: 20th, Yards 13th, DVOA: -0.9% (13th)

2007 (1st year)

Points: 13th, Yards 9th, DVOA: -5.8% (11th)

*DVOA numbers unavailable before 1991

In most cases, Phillips turned the defense around within two seasons.  He did struggle in Philadelphia, and in many cases his defenses showed significant regression in subsequent seasons, but since 1988 every defense that Phillips took over showed immediate statistical improvement.  How much the lockout will affect the Texans’ ability to install and perfect Phillips’ schemes remains to be seen, but there’s little question that Houston stands to be much better on defense in 2011.  Phillip’s track record is clear: he can help a bad defense quickly.