Wade Phillips coached the Dallas Cowboys during the best of Tony Romo — that 13-3 2007 season somehow viewed as a disappointment at the time (even though Jerry Jones would kill for anything close to that kind of success today). Phillips knows what an undrafted free agent quarterback with some swagger — and skills — can do for an NFL franchise.
So it's probably no surprise that Phillips has spent a lot of his focus on Case Keenum during his first full week as the Houston Texans' completely empowered interim coach.
"Wade is ignoring us now. He's down there on the other side of the field, chilling with the offense."
Phillips knows that Keenum asserting himself as a clear starting quarterback candidate for next year in these last three games of 2013 will reflect well on the interim coach. And boost Phillips' chances of walking away with the permanent head coaching job. The situation has made the man who saved the Texans defense (remember 2010?) very invested in the offense.
"Wade is ignoring us now," veteran defensive end Antonio Smith jokes. "He's down there on the other side of the field, chilling with the offense. Watching them run through all their two-minute stuff.
"We're like, 'We see you, Wade.' "
So does Keenum. Which is what counts.
Texans owner Bob McNair and general manager Rick Smith made it clear they expect Keenum to get a true chance as the unquestioned starting quarterback over these last three games. Without the worry that he will be pulled for Matt Schaub at any moment. Gary Kubiak yanking Keenum for Schaub again in that Thursday night debacle in Jacksonville helped seal the coach's firing.
Phillips seems all in on the Keenum Plan — in ways Kubiak never was. There is a good chance Schaub will not even be active for Sunday's game in Indianapolis. More importantly, Phillips is not buying into the notion that Case Keenum is destined to struggle with the two-minute or hurry-up offense — a familiar Kubiak refrain, often cited as the reason for going back to Schaub.
"It’s something that he really did well in college," Phillips notes of Keenum.
Case Keenum's Untapped History
Yes, Keenum spent most his NCAA record-breaking career at the University of Houston in some version of a hurry-up offense. You don't throw nine touchdowns passes in one game — or rack up 532 yards against Penn State in a bowl game — by being slow to make decisions.
Case Keenum's proven he can get the football out quickly when he's playing free and loose.
To ensure that happens on Sunday, Phillips ordered the offense to do extra two-minute work in practice this week. He scraped his scripted out practice plan on Thursday to get Keenum more two-minute reps.
It's all part of Phillips' personal attention, a coach showing he's all in on giving his young quarterback a chance to thrive.
While Phillips has made defensive backs coach Vance Joseph defensive coordinator — a guy who Smith says brings instant "swagger" to the defensive meeting room — Joseph admits that he'll largely be calling Phillips' defense and Phillips' gameplan. Still, Joseph's work has been critical toward giving Phillips more time with Keenum and the offense.
Keenum seems to be relishing the extra work and new focus.
"He works very hard at it," offensive coordinator Rick Dennison says of Keenum. "I'll give him that."
Now, Keenum has a head coach who is all in on him. Phillips knows where he goes from here could have a lot to do with the super excitable quarterback who plays with a smile. He learned from Romo that believing in the unknown can pay off. Big.
Maybe Case Keenum and Wade Phillips both aren't in such a bad place right now after all.