Beyond the Boxscore

Wade Phillips steals from the Dallas Cowboys and overmatched coordinator Rob Ryan

Wade Phillips steals from the Dallas Cowboys and overmatched coordinator Rob Ryan

Bradie James tackle
Bradie James excelled under Wade Phillips in Dallas and believes he can do the same in Houston.
Wade Phillips sidelines
Wade Phillips Photo by © Michelle Watson/
J.J. Watt hands up
Bradie James joins a defense packed with young playmakers like J.J. Watt. Photo by © Michelle Watson/
Bradie James tackle
Wade Phillips sidelines
J.J. Watt hands up

The first time Wade Phillips met Bradie James, the coach told the linebacker he was too fat. And he wasn't diplomatic about it either.

No, Phillips went Biggest Loser cruel.

"I was about 260 at the time and when Wade came in and saw me, he was like, 'Whew, you're too big,' " James laughs.

Welcome to Wade's world. There is something of a misconception that the Houston Texans' defensive coordinator is the ultimate easy going, players' coach. Phillips even got branded as something of a pushover in his last season in Dallas. But as the Texans have learned, this is a guy who will speak his mind like Joe Biden. Phillips doesn't filter his thoughts.

 "As I've been told on Twitter," former Cowboys linebacker Bradie James says. "This is the best team in Texas." 

Not if he thinks they'll help his defense perform better.

"Wade is kind of laid back, but not too laid back," James says. "If you want to get Wade riled up, just miss an assignment."

Missing an assignment means you're letting everyone else on the field down. You don't let your defensive teammates — "your brothers" as safety Glover Quin puts it — down. That's intolerable in Wade's World.

James knows. The Texans "big" free agent acquisition of an offseason marked by the loss of four starters played for Phillips in Dallas. He comes back to him, having signed a mere (by NFL standards) one-year $890,000 deal with the Texans. It's certainly not the contract the 31-year-old James envisioned for his free-agent year when he was racking up six straight 100-plus tackle seasons from 2005 through 2010.

But it could turn out to be the perfect steal for a Houston team that still believes it's talented enough to make a Super Bowl run.

Want proof? Wade Phillips still believes in Bradie James. Rob Ryan — the overblown, big mouthed current defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys — does not.

It doesn't get much more stark than that in pro sports. Who are you going to believe in — Wade Phillips or Rob Ryan?

Phillips promised little when Bob McNair brought him in as Gary Kubiak's defensive savior — and he delivered the NFL's second-ranked defense, a Texans' D more than worthy of its own nickname (and who would ever thought you'd see that?) Ryan promised dominance when he arrived in Dallas to help rescue Jason Garrett — and he delivered little, a series of late-game collapses that left the Cowboys watching the playoffs as their rival New York Giants won the Super Bowl.

Now, Ryan's thrown James aside. And Phillips and the Texans have gladly plucked him off the NFL's discard pile.

Just another little fascinating subplot between the NFL's two Texas teams.

The First Day

Bradie James isn't going to be one of the most important Texans this season. He'll compete with Darryl Sharpton for the inside linebacker spot in Phillips' 3-4 that was manned by jettisoned captain DeMeco Ryans. He'll probably end up playing more than you think. But there are a number of more pressing concerns for a team that opened voluntary individual workouts Monday morning at Reliant Stadium with near-perfect attendance.

All those Super dreams still rest on quarterback Matt Schaub's reconstructed right foot. Right now, in April, the public outlook is all rosy with Schaub almost defiantly saying, "No doubt, I'll be ready" on day one. But April 16 in a press room in the bowels of Reliant is a long way from Feb. 3 in an overflowing Superdome in New Orleans.

Schaub only had the screws removed from his foot last week. He's on schedule to be ready for training camp — in his words, "100 percent ready" — but schedules have a way of changing with injuries, especially one as serious as a Lisfranc.

 "Coach Reggie (Herring) is a spit on the side of your face type of guy," Bradie James says. "He’s just on you like an old nagging woman." 

This is a team that's feeling it, one certain that more success is on the way.

"There is more excitement around here than there ever has been going into an offseason program," tight end Owen Daniels says. "After the year we had, everyone’s fired up to get started and continue on that path. There a lot of smiling faces in the building right now.”

Including James. Ryan made it clear he saw little in the inherited tackle machine from the beginning, reducing James' role almost from the start of his tenure. Rather than complain and create a media mess for the new coach, James volunteered to play special teams.

He continues to take the high road, saying, "It's time to turn the page to my next chapter."

Grudge Match

James clearly understands how much sniping goes on between Cowboys and Texans fans though. You get the idea, he's not going to mind the inevitable comparisons either.

"As I've been told on Twitter," James says. "This is the best team in Texas."

Bradie James is a Texan now, Wade Phillips' latest reclamation project. You'd better believe it would mean plenty to both men to stick it to the Cowboys again.

James laughs when he tells of that first meeting with Phillips, when the coach made it clear he'd either drop some weight or be stuck to the bench. But he turns more than a little serious when someone asks what he weighs now.

"That was more than six years ago," James says. "It doesn't matter what I play at now. Just go get the guy with the ball.

"That's what matters in this defense."

On day one of his life as a Texan, it's clear that James is a world-class quote. His take on Texans linebackers coach Reggie Herring, who followed Phillips from Dallas?

"Reggie is a spit on the side of your face type of guy. He’s just on you like an old nagging woman."

James is going to be fun in the locker room. With Phillips letting him loose ("Wade lets you be reckless and relentless," James says), he figures to have fun on the field again too. He'll be another departure that the Cowboys of Garrett, Ryan and Jerry Jones regret.

Sharp, proven Wade or ranting, delusional Ryan? Again, who you've got? Who do you believe in?

This one's pretty simple.