ATLANTA — Wade Phillips' 71 year-old eyes lit up a bit when he heard the words "New Orleans."
It's a city Phillips once called home, one of many stops on the 50-year coaching journey of one of the best defensive minds in all of football.
More than three decades later, the mention of the Big Easy elicits some great memories for Phillips, who's in his second season as the Los Angeles Rams' defensive coordinator.
"If you don't have fun in New Orleans, you're not going to have fun," Phillips said. "My dad was the kind of guy who had fun."
Phillips and his dad arrived in New Orleans in 1981, five years before Sean McVay, the young hotshot coach he now works for, was even born. Bum Phillips had just become the head coach of the New Orleans Saints. Wade came to be his dad's defensive coordinator. They stayed in New Orleans for five seasons. The elder Phillips stepped down after the 12th game of the 1985 season. Wade Phillips took over as interim coach and finished out the year before moving on to the Philadelphia Eagles.
The father and son's best season in New Orleans was in 1983, when they led the Saints to an 8-8 record. It was just the second time the franchise had a non-losing season, equaling the 8-8 mark of Dick Nolan's 1979 team.
"We got to .500, and that's the best we did," Phillips said. "But we did some good things there. We had the No. 1 defense in the league for a while. We had some good things there. We loved New Orleans."
Phillips still remembers the school his kids went to way back then: Kehoe-France.
Phillips' most recent trip to New Orleans was just two weeks ago, when the Rams defeated the Saints 26-23 in overtime of the NFC championship game. He knows just how much football means to the city.
"They've got a great fan base," Phillips said. "They always have. Back when we were coaching there, they were wearing sacks over their heads. So they've come a long way. They've won a Super Bowl and they have had some great teams, and they had a really good team this year."
The Rams are making their first appearance in the Super Bowl since 2001, when the team was based in St. Louis. If Phillips' defense can slow down Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, it'll be his second Super Bowl title; he was defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50.
The Rams are the 10th NFL team he has worked for.
"He comes in and he enjoys every single day," said McVay, the Rams head coach who's 38 years younger than Phillips. "The thing that is so refreshing about Wade is that he's always willing to share his experiences. He has so many different things he can draw on from all the success he's had in this league. But you never feel like it's pushed on you. You can't put into words how important he's been and how much you enjoy being around him."
Players describe Phillips as a player's coach.
"He always wakes up happy in the morning and lifts everybody's spirits on a daily basis," Rams cornerback Aqib Talib said. "The football part we don't even have to talk about. He has such a great knowledge of the game."
That shouldn't come as a surprise since Phillips is the son of a coach who he credits for much of his success.
"He's the reason I'm here," Phillips said. "Not only life-wise, but football-wise."
Bum Phillips died in 2013 at age 90.
There are two particular lessons Wade Phillips learned from his dad that he continues to live by.
"Just 'Be yourself in coaching,' " Phillips said. "I couldn't be him. I could only be who I am. And 'Do unto others as you'd like them to do unto you.' That permeates with me for the rest of my life."
Phillips paid tribute to his dad this week, arriving in Atlanta wearing a cowboy hat and a coat similar to the one his dad used to wear.
"I didn't want to take away from the team and the game because these guys earned that," Phillips said. "But I did want to pay tribute to my dad. My dad was special to me. When he got older, he told me he loved me. That generation didn't really talk that way, so that was special to me. I know he's proud."