HOUSTON -- At the start of J.J. Watt’s career, three men made the biggest impact of anyone he encountered.
All three will be coaching the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50 tonight: head coach Gary Kubiak, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and defensive line coach Bill Kollar.
Last night Watt won his third Defensive Player of the Year award. Afterward, the Houston Texans’ star credited all three.
"Bill Kollar and I had our share of butting heads early on in my career that’s for sure," Watt said. "I probably disliked him just about as much as you could dislike a person my rookie year. But now I love the man to death. I am so thankful for everything he did for me."
After the Texans fired Kubiak in 2013 and brought in Bill O'Brien, O'Brien completely revamped the Texans' coaching staff. Kollar was the only position coach he retained, and it was because Watt fought for him. Kollar's tough style led to clashes between the two of them -- at least one happened during a game and was caught on camera. But as he saw the fruits of Kollar's teaching, he came to treasure it.
Kollar left the Texans after the 2014 season to join Kubiak's staff in Denver and be closer to his grandchildren.
The Texans drafted Watt 11th overall in 2011. There's been a lot of discussion over the years about who exactly fought for Watt. Phillips has credited Texans senior personnel adviser Bobby Grier for the move. But Phillips and Kubiak had a great deal of say in what players their team drafted during their time in Houston.
"Coach Kubiak, coach Wade Phillips, those guys brought me to Houston. They’re the reason I became a Houston Texan," Watt said. "They taught me early on in my career they believed in me. ... Coach Wade and his dad, Bum, being in Houston. I’m so fortunate to have met those guys. I’m so grateful for the opportunities I’ve had. It’s incredible."
And once they got Watt into the building, Phillips saw a future Hall of Famer before anyone else did.
He used Watt in a way that got the best out of him, moving him all over the defense. He allowed Watt to be aggressive, even as a 3-4 defensive end, not simply limiting him to being the type of block-eater that position often necessitates.
Watt might have a bit of a rooting interest tonight as the Broncos face the Panthers.
"I can’t thank those guys enough," he said. "They’re truly good human beings. I truly wish the absolute best for them."