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At the Onset: Wes Phillips on Role as Vikings OC & Personnel Possibilities

EAGAN, Minn. — The NFL river runs deep in Wes Phillips' family.

The new Vikings offensive coordinator's grandfather O.A. "Bum" Phillips was the head coach of the Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints. Wade Phillips, famed in the Twitterverse as @sonofbum, was a defensive coordinator or head coach in the NFL for the better part of four decades.

Wes is feeling right at home in Minnesota, relaying an anecdote Thursday in his introductory press conference for how he learned the passion people here have for Vikings football.

Phillips was informed shortly after his hire, which became official Monday, that he'd be asked to participate in an introductory press conference. Part of his preparation included getting a haircut.

"I'm sitting there waiting for a haircut, and people getting haircuts and the people cutting the hair, all they're talking about is the Minnesota Vikings," Phillips said. "I didn't get as much of that in L.A."

Phillips just turned 43 on Feb. 17. His answers to questions illustrated his approach of relating to players as well as his potential philosophies on game days.

"My grandfather was like, 'I'd rather have a guy who wants to do it than who was scared and scared of me and try to make him do it.' These guys understand the 'why,' " he said. "Really, all we're trying to get these guys to understand is why we want to do it, and if they understand the 'why' most of the time, that means they're going to be performing better. They're going to be playing better for themselves, for their team and ultimately, we're going to win more games."

He later emphasized in a follow-up that he believes coaching is just as much about the people as it is the scheme.

Phillips first entered the NFL in 2007 with Dallas. After four seasons as an offensive assistant, he became the Cowboys assistant offensive line coach from 2011-12 before pivoting to tight ends in 2013. He's coached that position group every year since, including in Washington (2014-18) and Los Angeles (2019-21). This past season, he additionally held the title of pass-game coordinator for the Super Bowl LVI Champions with new Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell as the team's offensive coordinator. Phillips and O'Connell also overlapped in Washington for two seasons.

O'Connell, who plans to call offensive plays for the Vikings, highlighted Phillips' experience with multiple positions.

"A really, really good mind from a standpoint of how we want to throw the football and marry it with the running game on early downs," O'Connell said. "But more importantly how to go score. He's been a huge part of building every offensive red zone plan I've had working alongside him over the past few years both in Los Angeles and in Washington.

"I've seen him develop and take good players and make them great and take young players and turn them into really high-quality, starting-caliber players when not a lot of people in the building may have thought that was possible. What does that tell me? He can develop. He can teach. He can lead. He can obviously motivate," O'Connell continued.

The 2021 Rams ranked 23rd in the NFL with 420 rushing attempts and 10th in the league with 607 pass attempts during the regular season, but it yielded results. Los Angeles ranked fifth in passing yards, second in passing touchdowns and seventh in scoring.

Asked directly for his thoughts on the importance of a running game, Phillips said, "I think any coordinator who's good will tell you the running game is important, but I would say that winning the game is most important."

"You're going to play some teams who, scheme-wise, they make it very difficult to run based on their personnel and their scheme," Phillips added. "A guy that comes to mind, Todd Bowles, always had one of the best defenses against the run, and you see a lot of people's press conferences after they play Todd Bowles' defense, and they say, 'Why did you abandon the run, why did you abandon the run?'

"It's like a broken record. Well, there's a reason for that," he continued. "They're daring you to throw it a lot of times, and sometimes that's what you've got to do to win the game, so the running game is certainly important, and you always feel better about staying on track, not being in second-and-longs, third-and-longs [to make sure] more of your playbook is available."

The Rams played the Buccaneers (where Bowles is defensive coordinator) in Week 3 of the regular season and rushed 24 times for 76 yards (including two kneel-downs by Matthew Stafford) but completed 27 of 38 passes for 343 yards and four touchdowns.

A rematch occurred in the Divisional Round of the NFC Playoffs, and the numbers were quite similar as Los Angeles completed the sweep. The Rams rushed 30 times for 73 yards (with a touchdown by Stafford) and completed 28 of 38 passes for 366 yards and two scores.

Game days this season and potential personnel groupings

O'Connell did not call plays in Los Angeles but was positioned to be the first phone-a-friend for Rams Head Coach Sean McVay if the offense stalled. Phillips likely will operate in a similar capacity because of the preparation work he will share with O'Connell, the staff and players during the week.

"Obviously the play-calling aspect is extremely important on game day, but when you're in this thing you realize … the collaboration it takes to get those plays on the page and to detail out what's important from week to week based on the scheme, the defense, the plays that you're trying to execute," Phillips said. "So there's a lot of things that kind of lead up to the final product there where Kevin will be calling the plays."

O'Connell said from a scheme standpoint, "there's nobody else I could've brought with me that would be more aligned with how I see the game and can be an extension of me up in front of the offensive unit and a guy that I trust to not only lead our group but help me lead on the offensive side with the rest of our coaches."

As for personnel groupings, the Rams led the NFL in usage of 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, three receivers) last season. Los Angeles used that grouping 83.6 percent of the time, and AFC Champion Cincinnati ranked second (11 personnel 77.4 percent of the time), per Next Gen Stats.

The Bengals, by the way, led the NFL with a 110.4 passer rating when in 11 personnel, and the Rams ranked third with a passer rating of 104.4.

So it's a reasonable conclusion that the teams were that prevalent in that usage because of their roster and success, but Phillips pointed out the Rams were nimble at different times of the season and playoffs when injuries struck their team.

"When you're looking at what we were doing in L.A., at one point we had Robert Woods, we had Cooper Kupp and then we kind of mixed in Odell [Beckham, Jr.] toward the end when Robert was out. So it's really about the personnel that you have. We were more 12 personnel early in the year when we had a guy in [tight end] Johnny Mundt, who was an effective blocker in 12 personnel to go with [tight end Tyler] Higbee. Later on, that wasn't the case.

"Now we go with more 11, and it's also about how the defense is matching you. But we want to have a lot of different tools as an offense to attack a defense, and maybe sometimes that's getting bigger," Phillips added. "They've had some success with some different personnel groups here, just watching the tape. They have a really talented fullback (C.J. Ham) here. All those things are intriguing. We're really just trying to get the best players on the field."

Phillips said there were even times when the Rams chose to take Higbee off the field and sub an extra tackle because they considered Joseph Noteboom "a starting-caliber player."

Thoughts on the Vikings roster

Beyond the mention of Ham during his answer on personnel, Phillips was asked specifically about Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins and Justin Jefferson. Cousins just completed his fourth season in Minnesota and is scheduled to enter the final year of his current contract with a hefty hit on the salary cap. Jefferson has made two Pro Bowls and totaled 3,016 receiving yards after just two seasons.

"Well, I worked with Kirk in Washington, had a great relationship with Kirk, and I'm really excited to work with him," Phillips said. "He's got great arm talent. He's athletic. He can throw from all kinds of different platforms. He can throw off drift. Incredibly accurate quarterback. He's a real pro to work with. He grinds at it. He's in the building, and the guys know it. So I'm really excited about him."

And after helping Cooper Kupp win the receiving triple crown and Offensive Player of the Year from The Associated Press, Phillips said he's "as excited as you can be" to work with Jefferson.

"Certainly one of, if not the best, receivers in the league. I came from a place with a really good one," Phillips said. "Extremely talented, extremely competitive, can win from aligned outside, aligned inside, really anywhere on the field. Has speed and transition. Can't say enough about him; really excited to work with him."