ENGLEWOOD — There have been numerous reminders about all the players who have left from that great Denver defense of 2015.
DeMarcus Ware. Malik Jackson. Danny Trevathan. Aqib Talib. T.J. Ward. Sylvester Williams? Him, too.
But perhaps the most significant departure? Wade Phillips.
The Son of Bum, as he refers to himself, was the Broncos’ defensive coordinator during that glorious 2015 postseason run when the Denver D in succession thwarted Big Ben, Tom Brady and MVP Cam Newton. Phillips now holds the same job with the Los Angeles Rams who play the Broncos this Sunday.
“Coach Phillips is football royalty,’’ said Broncos’ pass-rusher Von Miller, one of five starters remaining from that 2015 Denver D that was among the NFL’s generational best.
“Wade is my football father,’’ Broncos head coach Vance Joseph said this week. “He’s a great man, first of all, and a football genius.’’
Here’s why Phillips is no longer here: He wanted to become the league’s highest-paid defensive coordinator by a wide margin. And he wanted the big money for many years. It was his right. But isn’t money near the root of all NFL separations?
His contract expired after the 2016 season and general manager John Elway turned to both Joseph, a new head coach whose coaching background was on the defensive side, and secondary coach Joe Woods to run the Broncos’ defense.
The Broncos received formal communication from Washington seeking to interview Woods as its defensive coordinator and Denver didn’t want to lose him. The brains behind the vaunted No Fly Zone, Woods was promoted from defensive backs coach to defensive coordinator.
Debate whether it was the right call to let Phillips go, but consider this: The Rams’ defense, with all their stars, have given up 31 and 31 points the past two games.
Wade Phillips, 71 years young, does have a special place in Broncos history, going back to when he was their defensive coordinator from 1989-92 and the two-year stopgap head coach between Dan Reeves and Mike Shanahan.
Still, the Broncos would like nothing more than to send their old friend back to L.A. with a defeat come Sunday evening.
“I’m watching this (Rams’) defense and it’s Wade Phillips,’’ Joseph said. “It’s an aggressive front, man-free in the back end, bringing pressure and playing great defense. That’s what coach has been his entire career, so it’s going to be a great challenge for us on Sunday to beat coach out.”