San Antonio Brahmas Reborn: How Wade Phillips & Marc Lillibridge Changed Course

Brahmas Reborn: How Wade Phillips & Marc Lillibridge Changed Course

Just one year ago, the San Antonio Brahmas sputtered their way to a 3-7 record in the XFL. The team had little sense of direction, utilizing four different quarterbacks across that span – and had one of the least efficient offenses in the league. Meanwhile, Wade Phillips and his Houston Roughnecks had won the XFL South Division, with a 7-3 record of their own.

Fast forward several months – and everything, I mean everything, changed drastically. The USFL and XFL were closing in on the merger being complete, and were in the process of finalizing their coaching staffs.

In fact, the combined league had already informed Wade Phillips and his coaching staff that they would not be returning with the Houston Roughnecks. Instead, C.J. Johnson and his USFL staff would be taking that gig, with the Gamblers taking on the Roughnecks branding.

Then, in a last minute turn of events, Hines Ward decided to step away from his position as Head Coach with the Brahmas. The UFL needed a replacement quickly, and fell back on Phillips who still had interest in coaching in spring football.

Wade called up his former Roughnecks staff, and was able to bring most of them to San Antonio in the transition – including General Manager Marc Lillibridge.

Now, the San Antonio Brahmas have flipped their record, going 7-3 in the regular season. With their XFL Conference Championship victory over St. Louis, they have an opportunity to compete for the inaugural UFL Championship this Sunday.

How did we get here? And, more importantly, what did this organization have to do in order to reach this goal for such a dramatic turnaround? Let’s take a closer look.

Offseason Movement

Once Phillips and his staff were officially put in place for San Antonio, they went to work very quickly. The UFL Dispersal Drafts were just several days away, and the coaches had to figure out who they were going to keep on the roster from the days of Hines Ward & Co.

Considering the Brahmas had a 3-7 record in 2023 – and, the leagues were shrinking from 16 teams down to 8, it made sense to see San Antonio completely gut this roster.

In fact, San Antonio only retained several players from that 2023 team for the 2024 season. This included:

WR T.J. Vasher (released during season)
WR Landen Akers
TE Alize Mack
OT Derrick Kelly Jr. (On IR)
OG Kohl Levao
DE Delontae Scott
LB Jordan Williams
P Brad Wing
LS Rex Sunahara

In addition, there were a few offseason pickups by the former coaching staff who remained on the team. These included OL Aaron Monterio, DB Bryce Thompson, and DB Corey Mayfield Jr. – each of whom have played important roles in 2024. DL Jamir Jones also saw some minutes, but was let go back in early May.

Kohl Levao has been a leader on both iterations of the Brahmas teams the last two years. He was just named to the All-UFL Offense last week for the 2024 season, proving his value to Phillips & his staff. Levao commented on how much it meant to him to earn the trust of this new coaching staff:

“It felt great. I’ve been putting in a lot of work and working alongside my teammates this season to finetune all the little kinks out, so we can run our offense as smoothly as possible. To earn that trust in camp, it meant a lot.”

Outside of this main core, the Brahmas turned over every stone in their pursuit of crafting a Championship caliber roster.

Dispersal Draft Success

Where the Brahmas were able to make a lot of headway was through the dispersal drafts. Because this staff was already familiar with many of these players – especially those from the Houston Roughnecks’ 2023 team that went 7-3 – we saw San Antonio target athletes that fit the coaching schemes perfectly.

Starting with the first draft, the Brahmas picked up several important players: WR Justin Smith, TE Cody Latimer, OL Rashaad Coward, C Alex Mollette, DL Jalen Dalton, EDGE Wyatt Ray, LB Tavante Beckett, DB Teez Tabor, S Jordan Mosley, and others.

Every single name here has made a legitimate impact – even those who have been placed on IR, such as Cody Latimer and Jalen Dalton. In this draft, San Antonio also had the ability to select players they had added to Houston in the offseason, such as Wyatt Ray, Taron Vincent, and Quincy Wilson for example.

Wade Phillips commented on how both himself and Marc were targeting Cody as a key piece in the draft that they wanted:

“Cody was with us in the Super Bowl team in Denver, and was All-League in the XFL. It’s a shame he got hurt because he was having a tremendous year this season. Marc and I both wanted Cody. We both wanted a lot of players, and weren’t able to get everyone because we had to draft them.”

Then, in the Super Draft, the Brahmas made a couple of additions that were crucial. QB Quinten Dormady, formerly of the Orlando Guardians, joined the franchise. With the injury to Garbers, Dormady helped San Antonio clinch a playoff berth. They also picked up safety A.J. Hendy, who also served as a starter prior to suffering an injury a couple of weeks ago.

Major Signings Prior To Training Camp

The San Antonio Brahmas weren’t done quite yet. With a few weeks left until training camp, Lillibridge and Phillips continued to keep the transaction wire hot with signings.

Firstly, they added All-XFL DT Caeveon Patton to the roster, who’s been tremendous when healthy. RB John Lovett (Vegas Vipers) signed with the team, after an NFL stint with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Lovett has arguably been the best back in the UFL this year, breaking out in week three and never looking back since.

Then, the Brahmas would make an addition that changed the entire course of this franchise. They signed QB Chase Garbers, who spent time in the NFL with the Las Vegas Raiders. Garbers ended up earning the starting job in Training Camp – and even despite missing several weeks with injury, Chase is poised to be the starter heading into this Championship game.

Chase spoke about the tangibles that San Antonio had which made him interested in taking up Lillibridge on this offer, and why he ultimately made this choice to pursue the UFL:

“I was communicating with Marc in mid-January about possibly joining the Brahmas. You know, talking to him and talking to A.J. – getting to know what guys would be on this roster, and the team that Bridge was putting together – it was very compelling, and ultimately why I chose to play for this San Antonio team…the offense is very quarterback friendly, you get to throw it around a bunch, and showcase your throwing abilities. I’m very happy with my decision [to sign], obviously, and I’m very excited to play with this team for a Championship this week.”

The big names just kept coming. This offseason, it was clear that Marc Lillibridge wanted to target players who had legitimate NFL backgrounds and/or potential, which resulted in the deep roster we see today. 70% of this San Antonio team had NFL contracts at the beginning of 2023.

A key move happened when the Brahmas brought in (or rather, brought back) WR Jontre Kirklin – who was poised to be the top receiver with the Roughnecks in 2023 prior to a season ending injury in week five. Kirklin has produced, as expected, this year.

During this major haul of signings, San Antonio acquired the likes of WR Marquez Stevenson, OL Chuck Filiaga, OL Greg Eiland, and DB Darius Phillips – all players who have been some of the top performers in the UFL within their respective categories.

The team also made a splash in the media by signing Youtuber Deestroying, who served as the top kickoff specialist in the league before a neck injury put him on the IR list.

One of the additions San Antonio made – that surprisingly didn’t get enough attention at the time – was RB Anthony McFarland. Anthony has 4.3 speed, and when watching him in the UFL this year, it’s obvious that no one in the league can keep up with him. Wade Phillips spoke highly of his “lightning speed” in training camp, and he’s proven all of that and more to this franchise in 2024.

The list just goes on and on when it comes to the talent this team attracted. C Sam Tecklenburg, DB BoPete Keyes, etc.; each player was meticulously handpicked by San Antonio throughout this process, and every decision has shown to be the right one. To be honest, Lillibridge & Co. were basically starting from scratch – taking the best pieces from Houston and San Antonio in 2023, and then adding onto it with NFL free agents.

Adjusting Mid-Season

There isn’t a team in the UFL that has dealt with more injuries to their starters than San Antonio. It’s absolutely remarkable how this organization weathered that storm, continuing to bring in pieces that contributed to this Championship run.

When McFarland went down with an injury, the Brahmas brought in Morgan Ellison – formerly with the Seattle Sea Dragons. He fit seamlessly into A.J. Smith’s offensive system, having run the same thing with June Jones in Seattle. Morgan has had a few big games for San Antonio this season.

Obviously, the biggest storyline of the entire year was Chase Garbers. He went on the IR list in week four, and was expected to potentially miss the rest of the season. The Brahmas went out and picked up Kevin Hogan – who, while remaining as QB2 or QB3 throughout this process, did lead San Antonio on a game winning drive in week seven.

Throughout the flurry of movement over the past several weeks, San Antonio has found ways to win; because they’ve signed players with a winning mentality. For example, DT Jaylen Twyman – who got cut by Birmingham – got picked up due to a couple of injuries up front for the Brahmas. He immediately made an impact, and has provided the team with solid minutes off the bench.

This staff has also had to make some tough decisions to move on from players that weren’t producing. There have been a few cuts made, some of which a bit more of a surprise than others (i.e. Gavin Heslop, John Yarbrough), but they’ve resulted in an even stronger unit across the board.

Championship Culture

To be the champions in the UFL, you have to beat the champions. The Birmingham Stallions are back to back USFL Championship victors, and now they are the ones who stand in the way in this final game for San Antonio.

While the sportsbooks had San Antonio as the least likely favorites to win the Championship, here they are. Those of us who paid close attention to the offseason movement, are not surprised at all. In fact, I called the Brahmas my “sleepers” to come out of the XFL Conference.

Why? Look at all of the talent this team picked up in such a short amount of time. Despite literally having to transition from one pro franchise to another, Wade Phillips and Marc Lillibridge maintained their composure throughout, working efficiently to build a team that can beat literally anyone in this league.

Additionally, the Brahmas feature players that have a desire to not just play at a high level professionally, but also carry themselves with a professional attitude, as Wade spoke about after the win this weekend:

“Marc Lillibridge, our GM, helped put together these players, and it’s the players that win. Coaching is a big part of it, but it was the players who came through. One thing, with Marc, I told him I wanted high character players. That’s the kind of people I want, and that’s what we have, and I think it’s shown throughout the year.”

In all of his 55 years of coaching, Wade now has a chance to win a Championship for the first time as a Head Coach. Without his relationship with Marc, this wouldn’t be at all possible. The two had worked with each other to construct a solid Roughnecks’ roster in 2023, and ended up doing it all over again with San Antonio.

“Marc, he’s not only a great evaluator, he’s the hardest working guy I’ve ever been around as far as personnel. When we had the draft [in 2023], we had 55 rounds. He personally wrote up over 1,000 players…he’s a great talent evaluator, and is a tremendously hard worker. People in the NFL are missing out on a guy like Marc. He’s got a great talent for being able to not only work hard, but to also evaluate correctly.”

With Wade Phillips and all his experience as a winning coach, combined with Marc Lillibridge and his ability to attract top tier talent – this pairing has become one of the strongest executive duos in the UFL.

Despite all the injuries, despite all the outside noise, and despite some of the mistakes this team made earlier in the season: they’re here. Now, all they have to do is knock off the mighty Birmingham Stallions – something they were able to accomplish just three short weeks ago.

What are your thoughts on this San Antonio Brahmas team in 2024? Did Wade Phillips and Marc Lillibridge make the right moves this offseason? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!