HOUSTON -- Wade Phillips didn't have anything to prove to anybody. Though he now regrets calling himself "Mr. Fix It" upon his arrival in Dallas, Phillips is exactly that.
In 2010, the Houston Texans ranked 29th in points allowed, 30th in yards allowed and 32nd in passing yards allowed. This season, in Phillips' first season as their defensive coordinator, the Texans were fourth in points allowed, second in yards allowed and third in passing yards allowed.
It is the 13th time in his career he has had a top-10 defense, which is why the Texans, who have played four quarterbacks this season, are in the playoffs for the first time.
"Sure, it's personally gratifying," Phillips said Thursday after practice. "I think you want to prove that you can do what you say you can do or that you think you can do, and you want to prove you're a good coach. That's all coaching is really, you want to prove what kind of job we can do coaching-wise. I'm proud of what we did in Dallas, but I think this year has been special."
Phillips' work in Houston this season just verified that his Cowboys' defense of a year ago was an aberration. Last season, the Cowboys had the worst defense in team history and finished 31st in scoring (27.3 points allowed per game) and 23rd in yards (351.8). Phillips was fired at midseason in what likely will be his final NFL head coaching job.
"I was [only there] for half a year; I had no chance to change it," Phillips said. "We were second in the league after two or three games. Once the quarterback [Tony Romo] got hurt [early in the sixth game], we didn't play as well defensively, for whatever reason. Yeah, I always feel like I can help them."
Phillips is exactly where he needs to be. He is back home in more ways than one.
Phillips was born in Orange, grew up in Port Neches, played linebacker at the University of Houston and began his NFL coaching career as a linebackers coach for the Houston Oilers under his father, Bum.
This is where he started. This should be where he finishes, by helping Houston's NFL team finally "kick in the door" sometime in the next couple of years.
Though he still wants to be a head coach, saying he should be considered for some of the current openings, Phillips is best suited right where he is.
He was not a failure as a head coach, but he was not a success either. Though he did finish with an 81-56 regular-season record in his three full-time head coaching stints, Phillips had only five playoff appearances and one playoff win in 10 seasons with the Denver Broncos, Buffalo Bills and Cowboys.
Phillips, 64, is a better defensive coordinator than he is a head coach.
And he has been very, very good at his current job. If the Associated Press honored an assistant coach of the year, Phillips would be the runaway winner.
He saved head coach Gary Kubiak's job.
"He's got everything under control all the time, and when the game gets crazy, and it's a big play in the game, somebody's got to make a call," said Kubiak, 37-43 in his career before this season. "That's what players are looking for. They're looking for somebody who has confidence, who is going to put them in the right position to be successful, and Wade's done that for many, many years."
Phillips' stock went up even more when he got sick. A few weeks ago when Phillips fell ill, team internist James Muntz ordered tests and found immediate surgery was necessary.
Phillips has declined to reveal much about his condition other than to confirm his gallbladder was removed. The Port Arthur News has reported that Bum Phillips told a crowd last weekend that his son had a non-cancerous tumor removed.
In the two games Phillips missed, linebackers coach Reggie Herring played the part of coordinator, and the Texans gave up 47 points and 636 yards in losses to the Carolina Panthers and the Indianapolis Colts.
"They changed some things defensively that I wasn't all for, but that's what happened," Phillips said.
Phillips has returned, though not yet 100 percent, and the Texans' defense is expected to follow. He's still Mr. Fix It, whether he likes the name or not.
"It's the confidence he comes in the building with," Texans nose tackle Shaun Cody said. "He makes you feel so confident as a player. Anytime we give up a first down, we feel like we've let Wade down. It's like 'let's go, man.' To have a guru of defense like that around all the time, it's something special."