Wade Phillips Returns to Football as Head Coach of XFL's Houston Roughnecks

In the first of our new "Friday Q&A" series, we discuss Texas, football, and Texas Football as part of the new XFL league with the legendary coach.

By Jessica Lodge February 10, 2023

Image: Devin Finch

If a team is only as good as its leader then the 2023 version of the XFL’s Houston Roughnecks ought to be pretty darn good. With a career spanning more than 40 years, native Texan and University of Houston alum, Wade Phillips, returns to his home state as both head coach and general manager of the new franchise. The new season marks Phillips’ return to pro football after leaving his post as defensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Rams in 2019.

Following an almost three year hiatus, due to the pandemic in 2020, the new season marks the return of the XFL as well.  This time with a new ownership group (led in part by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), new rules, and even a new team (the San Antonio Brahmas).

The Roughnecks’ season opener is February 18 at TDECU Stadium in Third Ward against the Orlando Guardians (tickets still available!). And with Phillips calling plays from the sidelines, they’re looking to continue the success they experienced before the league shut down.

Houstonia was able to sit down with the accomplished coach and ask him about his time away from football, his thoughts on the team and upcoming season, and what fans can look forward to.

Houstonia: You’ve coached at every level of football, including college and pro. What drew you to want to be the head coach of an XFL team?

Coach Phillips: Well, I love coaching. Six times I’ve been a head coach. I enjoyed it. I got this opportunity, and I didn’t want to pass it up.

What is it about the XFL that excites you the most? What does the XFL offer that the NFL, in particular, doesn’t?

There’s a lot of different rules, which I think are good rules. Some of them may even be adopted by the NFL. There’s a lot of really good players out there. We want to give them an opportunity to try and make the NFL and show their talents and we can do that with this league. Definitely a stepping stone, an opportunity that they normally wouldn’t get. They’re gonna find a few diamonds in the rough.

Having had success as a coach in the NFL, including winning the Super Bowl in 2016 as the Broncos defensive coordinator, what are your expectations from your players and staff going into this season?

We’re gonna win it all. We expect to win … everyone loves a winner. And so, that’s what our goal is, to win the championships. We want to have a winning franchise here, which is important to the city.

You left coaching for a while after the 2019 season. What did you miss most about it? 

Winning football games number one. But really it’s about the people. Life is about people. Football is all about relationships—coach-to-coach relationships and coach to player. J.J. [Watt] is retiring and he sent me his jersey with his autograph and it’s the things like that.

How has the transition or the adjustment been as both head coach and GM for a brand new league and franchise?

There’s a lot of similarities [to the NFL]. We have a lot of people with a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge. The president of the league and most of the administrative people have worked in the NFL or similar jobs.

What are your core values as a coach?

I want people to be the right kind of people. I talk to my players about doing the right things the right way, not only in football but in life as a whole. I think it’s important to convey that to them because I do think that’s the way we should live and treat people with respect: teammates, opponents, and everybody else.

Were you able to choose Houston as your landing spot?

They told me the teams and they knew I wanted Houston. So I think I got the first pick. The President of the league was my general manager during my time with the Buffalo Bills. So I had a little insight and he felt I was a good coach. Houston is home for me as I’ve coached both the Oilers and the Texans.

With this being the first season since 2020, how will you measure the team’s/organization’s success at the end of the season? Will it solely be based on playoff contention?

It’s football but I think sometimes people outside can’t measure it. If the players play as hard as they can play, that’s all I ask. The scoreboard will take care of itself. The more talent you have, the better chance you have to win, but even teams with less talent can win. We can teach them the ways and coach them to play the right way.

Who are some of the players on the Roughnecks that you think Houston fans will be excited to watch during the season?

We’ve got a wide receiver named Justin Smith, fastest guy, one of the best guys ever. I’ve coached for 42 years in the NFL so I think he’s gonna run by a lot of people. He’s definitely one guy to look out for.

What is something you would like to tell Houstonians in order to get them excited ahead of the season opener?

We’re back and I’m back! It’s home and it’s great to be here. I love the people and have always loved the fans.

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