The Rams announced earlier this week that the team would move on from legendary defensive coordinator Wade Phillips after three seasons with the team. Phillips’ contract is set to expire this off-season and the Rams have decided not to retain him.
That begs the question of who the Rams (and mainly head coach Sean McVay) have in mind in regards to replacing such a mastermind as Phillips. Let’s take a look at some possible candidates to fill the vacancy:
Aubrey Pleasant, Rams Defensive Backs Coach
Before starting anywhere you have to start here with Sean McVay’s friend and someone that has been dubbed as the “defensive Sean McVay” — Aubrey Pleasant. Pleasant is a former player. He played as a safety and started 12 games for the Wisconsin Badgers from 2005-2008. Following his playing career, Pleasant joined the Michigan Wolverines as a graduate assistant and eventually was promoted to be an assistant defensive backs coach in 2012. Following those first two steps towards his football career, Pleasant signed onto the Cleveland Browns offensive staff as an intern. He then moved onto the Washington Redskins organization in which he spent his first year as an offensive assistant and worked with now-Rams head coach Sean McVay. The year following the team had Pleasant pivot to join the defensive side and assist Raheem Morris with the defensive backs, the year after that he assisted Perry Fewell. The year after that? Pleasant was a defensive backs coach and no longer an assistant in what would be his last year in Washington before following Sean McVay to Los Angeles.
Pleasant has worked his way up the rungs but the proof is in the pudding with his development of players such as Nickell Robey-Coleman, Troy Hill, Quinton Dunbar, Bashaud Breeland, and many others. Pleasant was in the crosshairs last off-season as someone that could potentially be plucked away from McVay’s coaching staff. Oddly enough, the Bengals and Zac Taylor decided to go with Lou Anarumo instead of Pleasant, a coach that Taylor had familiarity with from his time with the Rams.
Sean McVay didn’t block any of the attempts for teams to interview coach Pleasant because that is simply not what he does. He believes in giving his coaches an opportunity to ascend in the coaching ranks. However, Pleasant is now in a perfect place with Phillips out of the picture, to take over as defensive coordinator. He worked with Wade’s defense and McVay their whole tenure thus far with the Rams. So, the familiarity is there, he’s in his early thirties, he’s highly respected and well-liked by his players, he has a track record of helping to develop talent and the Rams are rumored to be looking a youth movement in the coaching staff. Pleasant has it all. Will he absolutely ace the job as a defensive coordinator? That’s not a given, but he’s got a good chance to be the next young star coach in the league.
Pleasant has never run his own defense or established his own defensive philosophy but while he was in Washington he was part of a 3-4 defense in which he coached. It would be interesting to know exactly the type of defensive philosophy Pleasant would adopt if given the role.
Probability: High. Barring something unexpected, or a dark horse candidate, I believe Aubrey Pleasant will be the Rams 2020 defensive coordinator. Having Wade’s contract expire in 2020 may have always been the plan to give him time to groom and become Sean McVay’s defensive coordinator.
Joe Barry, Rams Assistant Head Coach & Linebackers Coach
Joe Barry is 49-years-old which doesn’t bode well for the youth movement the coaching staff is expecting to have. However, he brings 18 years of coaching experience and as of right now is the assistant head coach to Sean McVay. The two go back to his days as defensive coordinator with the Redskins. During his coaching career Barry has had stops around the league with the 49ers, Buccaneers, Lions, Chargers, Redskins and now the Rams. The biggest thing with Barry? He is up-and-down.
Barry struggled with the Lions his first time as a defensive coordinator and so the following year he had to take a linebackers coach job with the Buccaneers. He was stuck working as a linebackers coach for five seasons before improving his stock enough to go back to being a defensive coordinator for the Redskins. He struggled with the Redskins and so he was a linebackers coach with the Rams. Now, he’s a candidate to become the defensive coordinator for the Rams.
Barry at this time has a potential spot with the Rams but if not, it sounds as though the University of Southern California, his alma mater, has interest in bringing him in as defensive coordinator. Barry has already had a few stops at USC but this would be a big deal going back to his college and being the defensive coordinator.
Could Barry find success with the Rams if he was indeed named defensive coordinator? Absolutely, however, it begs the question of why you would let Wade Phillips go when in just his second year with the team he helped transform the defense that held Tom Brady and the Patriots to just 13 points in a Super Bowl.
Barry was forced to run a 3-4 while he was coaching on Jay Gruden’s staff but instead of a traditional two-gap 3-4, he wanted to change what Jim Haslett previously had installed and moved towards more of a one-gap 3-4 system. That’s basically what Phillips did among other things, so if the Rams wanted to keep that same defense, he has familiarity with it.
Probability: Medium. I think Barry heads off to USC and tries to build his stock up to eventually be a head football coach in college. If he doesn’t he’s got a shot but I ultimately believe Pleasant becomes defensive coordinator.
Chris Shula, Rams Outside Linebacker Coach
A maybe more under-the-radar option would be young outside linebackers coach Chris Shula. Shula obviously has the ridiculously prestigious family name but on top of that, he has the experience with Sean McVay. That’s right, Shula didn’t just come to the Rams in 2017 with McVay; he actually played with him in college at Miami (Ohio).
Shula was a defensive quality control coach and a defensive line assistant with the San Diego Chargers. He has the experience, he’s young and he would definitely catch the attention of many if McVay went ahead and hired him.
Probability: Low. It seems like a total darkhorse pick. I don’t see it happening but he’s worth a potential mention due to the obvious connections with McVay.
Jerod Mayo, Patriots Inside Linebacker Coach
The former star linebacker is now the budding star coach in New England. It seems extremely unlikely the Patriots let Mayo walk away from the organization but if they do the Rams should see if they can get him on their coaching staff in some facet. He’s 33-years-old and this was his first year as a coach in the NFL. If the Patriots linebackers have anything to say for how well of a job coach Mayo did, it’s safe to say he killed it this year.
Probability: Low. Mayo is going to be hard to pry from Belichick in New England. It’s also going to be hard for Mayo to leave the organization. If he left for anyone, I would put my money on it being to work with Matt Patricia.
Kris Richard, Cowboys Defensive Backs Coach & Defensive Passing Game Coordinator
Richard is a name that has been thrown around the head coaching ranks for a while now from his time with the Seahawks. It all came crashing down with the Cowboys and now he is going to have to regain that buzz again to become an eventual head coach. Richard’s 4-3 defensive scheme could be an interesting weapon to bring to a Rams defense that is truly more of a fit for the 4-3 base scheme.
Probability: Medium. This is the biggest outside candidate. I think Richard is a possibility for the Rams if they want a fresh face.
Kirk Olivadotti, Packers Inside Linebackers Coach
He’s not the youngest name on this list but Kirk Olivadotti was indeed a part of the Redskins coaching staff while Sean McVay was there. Olivadotti is with the Green Bay Packers right now so this move would get tricky since the Packers are in the playoffs. However, he’s got plenty of experience, familiarity with McVay and Pleasant, on top of that he’s done a nice job with developing linebackers over the years such as London Fletcher, Brian Orakpo, Blake Martinez and other talented players.
Probability: Low. A complete shot in the dark. He has a good track record but maybe he’s not interested in being a defensive coordinator. Still an interesting name to throw up here.
Perry Fewell, Panthers Former Interim Head Coach
Fewell isn’t the vibrant young defensive mind that McVay is likely looking for but he does have experience coaching with McVay in Washington. Fewell is a two-time interim head coach which shows how well respected he is amongst his peers. His future is a little up in the air right now with the brand new Panthers hiring of Matt Rhule but the Rams could be a solid fit for him regardless of if he came over to be a defensive coordinator or not.
Probability: Low. I see Fewell more likely to be a position coach with the Rams than a defensive coordinator but it’s an interesting name nonetheless.