By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
---- — INDIANAPOLIS — Wade Phillips has been here before. Several times, in fact.
He first took over as an interim head coach in 1985, replacing his late father — Bum — for the final four games of a 5-11 season with the New Orleans Saints. Since then he's been the permanent head coach in Denver, Buffalo and Dallas and had another interim stint in Atlanta.
He's been a head coach — in some form or another — for 145 regular-season games in the NFL and has a career record of 82-63.
But this time is different.
Houston is home. It's where he grew up, where he went to college, where his father became synonymous with the old Oilers franchise and where he first caught the football bug.
Houston is where Wade Phillips' football life began. And, with his third stint as an interim coach beginning Sunday at Indianapolis, it could be where it ends.
Phillips would like to get the Texans' job on a full-time basis. He'd like to turnaround a disastrous season that has seen eight of 11 losses come by seven points or less, including the last six in a row.
He'd like to add another chapter to his family's long history with the city. But he'll have to start by ending a pair of 11-game losing streaks — Houston's current regular-season slide, and the franchise's all-time slump in road games against the Colts.
And he's well aware of the challenge ahead.
"It's obviously a nightmare," Phillips said of the state of the Texans' season. "It's been so many games and so close and just not being able to make one or two plays. It's not like we're getting beat by 20 points every game. So it's been very frustrating."
Nobody saw this coming.
Houston (2-11) entered the season as two-time reigning AFC South champions and as a viable Super Bowl contender in the AFC. Indianapolis (8-5) already has wrapped up the division title and handed the Texans their sixth straight loss with a furious fourth-quarter comeback on the road on Nov. 3.
But Houston remains a dangerous foe. In wide receiver Andre Johnson and defensive end J.J. Watt, the Texans have two of the game's greatest players. It's a roster dotted with Pro Bowl-caliber talent at every level on both sides of the ball.
It just rarely has come together this season.
"We expect, throw the records out," Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said. "They got a good football team. You look at their last six ballgames that they've played, they've lost those six ballgames by a combined total of 28 points. And so we're preparing as if it's whoever. They're coming here to win a football game. They've got a ton of great football players. We all know that, and so we'll prepare accordingly."
Phillips served as the head coach for two games earlier this season after Gary Kubiak suffered a mini-stroke at halftime of the first game against Indianapolis. When Kubiak was fired last week following the team's second loss to Jacksonville, Phillips was put in charge for the remainder of the season.
The players' familiarity with the man who has served as their defensive coordinator for the past three seasons should help with the transition.
"Everybody has their own feelings for what went on," veteran wide receiver Andre Johnson said. "Wade has experience as a head coach. It's still real different when he's used to having Kubiak there at the end of the day. So far everything has been going fine."
That doesn't mean it's been easy.
Kubiak and Phillips are friends, and there is plenty of off-the-field drama associated with a coaching change.
"It's a very difficult situation," Phillips said. "One time I had to take over for my dad. And for Dan Reeves (in Atlanta). You have personal relationships with the head coach, and it's sad for everybody as far as the coach is concerned, as far as somebody having to leave, especially in the end of a season."
The Texans currently have the league's worst record and are in line for the No. 1 pick in April's draft. But Phillips isn't interested in chasing that prize.
He said second-year quarterback Case Keenum will start the rest of the season as the team attempts to determine if he represents the future for the position. Everyone else will be evaluated in similar fashion.
Including Phillips himself.
A 5-11 record at the end of the season will look much better on the resume than 2-14.
"It's pride, and people are playing for their jobs and coaching for their jobs, obviously," he said. "So that's part of it, too. But it's not five wins, it's just one win. One win at a time, that's what you have to ... you know your goal is that week and to prepare yourself as well as you can and get the players prepared and get them to play as well as they can play."