HOUSTON (AP) — Wade Phillips was an assistant with the Houston Oilers when he met Gary Kubiak, then a high school student and ball boy for the team.
Thirty years later the two, who are now close friends, will meet again when Kubiak and the Houston Texans host the Phillips-led Dallas Cowboys on Saturday night in preseason action.
The coaches have faced each other plenty of times when Kubiak was Denver’s offensive coordinator, but this will be the first meeting between the pair as head coaches.
“It’s a big deal for us as far a preseason game, being the third one,” Phillips said. “You want to do well out there, but I think there will be a big crowd. I think they’ll be into it. That will help their team some as far as motivation and I want to see how my team reacts with that.”
It will be a homecoming of sorts for Phillips, who played at the University of Houston and began his coaching career with the Oilers under his father Bum Phillips. He’s not that nostalgic about his return though, instead focusing on preparing his team for the regular season.
But he will have at least 25 family and friends at the game.
“If it’s special about teams that I’ve been with or areas I’ve been with, it’d be about half the league that’s special," he said. “My mom lives there so that’s pretty special. I get to see her. No, it’s a preseason game that we need to work our team to see how well we do.”
Through two games, Phillips has to be happy with what he’s seen from his team, especially after the way the Cowboys starting defense handled Denver last week. It was a performance that prompted a few Broncos players to complain that the Cowboys were too aggressive for a preseason game.
But don’t expect Phillips to let up this week against Houston in a game where both teams’ starters will see their longest action of the preseason — probably about 2 1/2 quarters.
“That’s what we work on all the time and we started out the first snap of anything when we came here of preseason was pursuit drill,” Phillips said. “It’s something we emphasize defensively and always have. They bought into it well I guess you'd say. We have a lot of high character guys that pride themselves on effort besides knowing what to do.”
The Cowboys starters haven’t allowed a touchdown this preseason.
Kubiak said he’s rarely seen a team play as well as the Cowboys have through the first two preseason games. He thinks facing their in-state rival in front of a rowdy crowd will be good practice for the Texans.
“We’re playing a heck of a football team,” Kubiak said. “And you watch what they've done the first two preseason games, and they’ve been dominant. So it’s a great challenge for our players, and we’re really working hard. I’m just excited to see this atmosphere and watch us get after it.”
Houston Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson knows facing a tough defense like the Cowboys will give the Texans a chance to evaluate the progress of their revamped offense, which features new quarterback Matt Schaub and running back Ahman Green.
“The preseason game when they played against Denver they just threw the whole package at them,” Johnson said. “I think it will be a good test for us and it will give us a chance to see where we’re at right now. You never know what they're going to throw at us so we just have to be prepared for anything.”
Phillips believes the speed of Houston’s receivers will challenge the Cowboys defense. Along with Johnson, the Texans have a pair of former track stars in rookie Jacoby Jones and Jerome Mathis.
“Anytime you play a team with the kind of speed they have at outside receiver that’s a new look for you,” Phillips said. “That’s something that you need to be aware of. Big plays we certainly don’t want to give up so that’ll certainly be a test … I think it’ll be another different type challenge again because they do have those kind of receivers and we want to see how we match up against that type of speed.”
Terrell Owens, who has one catch in each in the first two games, said he isn’t too concerned with how many receptions he gets on Saturday, instead choosing to focus on the progress of the entire offense.
“It’s another day, another game to kind of execute our offense and really get our timing down,” he said. “We’re by no means where we need to be. We just have to go out and execute and play football.”