Ryan Phillips felt right at home on Friday night. The two-time Grey Cup champion and four-time CFL All-Star was living it up and offering coaching advice as his old/new squad was laying a hometown beating on the Montreal Alouettes; just like they did seemingly every year Phillips played here from 2005-2016.
The former defensive back is already hard at work in his exciting, new role as a regional scout for the club. Phillips has been travelling all over the Pacific Northwest and reporting daily to Director of U.S. Scouting Ryan Rigmaiden. Phillips says it was all about fulfilling his goal of staying involved with the game when father time finally caught up. He approached Wally Buono not too long after Montreal released him last month.
“I was weighing my opportunities and it didn’t have to be on the field, per se,” explained Phillips.
“I wanted to help the organization grow. There was no better way than to be back at home. That’s where I have been the last 12 years, it is my second-favourite place to be and Wally and the organization will always have a special place in my heart. Not only career-wise, but for the way they groomed me to be a man. I wanted to be back where I started my career and take it to new heights.”
Ryan Phillips spent some time with the Alouettes after his release from the Lions in 2017 (Dominick Gravel/Montreal Alouettes)
“He has always been someone that I have had my eye on as someone who can do the job. He has been such a leader for us and obviously has a ton of experience, “ said Rigmaiden of his newest regional scout.
“His work ethic is something I have always noticed. To do this job you have to love watching film, you have to love being in your car and you have to get used to life on the road. I think he ticks all of those boxes and we’re excited to have him.”
Phillips’ favourite place to be is his home in Seattle and that’s where the football junkie will be based as he continues to make the trek to different college and high school stadiums in the region. Phillips spent a couple of days at Seattle Seahawks training camp and attended the University of Washington Huskies’ victory on Saturday.
This weekend involves a trip down the I-5 to Portland State and he will be in Pullman for the highly anticipated Washington State Cougars- USC Trojans tilt the weekend after that.
“Basically it will be trying to find the next Ryan Phillips, if that’s what you want to say,” said number 21 with a laugh.
“I’ll just try to evaluate film, go to games, evaluate prospects and try to find guys that can help this organization get back to the promised land of winning Grey Cups. That’s what we’re out here to do.”
Phillips was always seen as an extra coach on the playing field. Many young players making the transition to pro football can thank him for showing them the ropes. As a result, Phillips comes into this new role mightily prepared.
Ryan Phillips breaks up a pass during the 2016 season with the BC Lions (The Canadian Press)
“You want to try and groom yourself to transition as best as possible. Some guys transition to coaching, some guys transition to front office type deals and some remove themselves from the game. When I was at our game on Friday I couldn’t help get myself back into that mold. I was on the sidelines helping out those guys as much as possible. That’s just part of my pedigree.”
Adam Bighill likely represents the best example of Phillips’ home state being kind to the Lions in recent years. The health of Seattle native TJ Lee III has been a big reason for a more opportunistic secondary in 2017. Phillips agrees the signs are there that they could be a dominating group of defensive backs before all is said and done. And he is quite intrigued to see whom else he can find in his travels.
“The talent is there obviously,” said Phillips. “They can do all of the things from a physical standpoint to be successful and win ball games.
“They have good ball skills. Loucheiz (Purifoy), TJ, (Anthony) Gaitor and Ronnie (Yell), those guys have a knack for getting to the ball and making plays when the opportunity comes. At the end of the day, it’s all about consistency and executing at a high level all the time. The potential and the ceiling is very high for all of those guys.”
The off-season will see Phillips’ workload increase even more with various pro days, all-star games and combines that the year-round world of this game has to offer. Everyone agrees he will be right in his element.
“He has a tremendous network of friends, former players, former coaches, agents and everything you need to be successful as a scout,” added Rigmaiden.
“He was at Seahawks camp with me his first two days. He’s a well connected guy, but he’s also a pro so he’s going to do the work.”
Lions director of U.S. scouting Ryan Rigmaiden is pictured at a workout (BCLions.com)
And of course, we couldn’t resist the temptation to ask him if it comes with some kind of “arrangement” that he could suit up if absolutely needed. He and the brass hope those circumstances never come.
“I’m here to help the team wherever they need be. That’s all up to Wally. All I can do is make sure I am doing my job and what they ask of me. I am always going to stay in shape. If the opportunity was to come it would be a blessing in disguise, but for me it is all about the developing the guys who are there and try to find the guys that can help this team win along the way. But I definitely wouldn’t mind putting on that number 21 one more time, if need be.”
Phillips would be lying if he said his playing career ended the way he envisioned. He was always planning on retiring in orange and had the chance to re-sign for a 13th season. After it appeared the exact opportunity he was looking for would be somewhere else, Phillips hit the market and signed with Montreal in the opening hours of free agency.
“Right from the start of camp, I could tell it wasn’t going to be what I thought,” explained Phillips of his temporary new home.
“But I have no regrets. It (the Montreal departure) was a mutual decision and this week I got to drive my kids (Ryan Jr., 11 and Braylen, 5 next week) to school for the first time ever. That was something I always missed out on. My youngest had his first day of Kindergarten and that was special to be a part of.”
Those family values are just one of many positive traits Phillips brings back to his old squad.