Just four years ago, Chris Wilson was celebrating with the Philadelphia Eagles after a victory in Super Bowl LII.
Wilson’s coaching journey has taken him to a couple of stops since then, but the Colorado defensive coordinator still has fond memories of that Super Bowl win against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots and his time in the NFL. Because of that, he will be an interested observer of Sunday’s Super LVI between the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals.
“Obviously with my background in the NFL, as well as my son actually being in the NFL, you still keep the pulse of it,” Wilson said. “It’s gonna be an exciting game because you’ve got two really talented teams. Both teams with a chip on their shoulder.”
The Rams last played in the Super Bowl on Feb. 3, 2019, losing to the Patriots a year after Wilson and the Eagles won.
“Rams have a chance to go back this time and win it,” Wilson said. “I’ve got a good friend on that staff, Cedric Jones, that works in the scouting department. They’re excited but they want to finish this time.”
On the other side, Wilson has a connection to Bengals head coach Zac Taylor. Wilson and Taylor’s father, Sherwood, are both former Oklahoma Sooners, although they didn’t play together. Taylor’s brother, Press, was on the Eagles’ staff with Wilson when they won their Super Bowl.
“I couldn’t be more excited for (Taylor),” Wilson said. “He’s done a great job, the integrity he’s brought. He took a roster that a lot of people didn’t want to want to take and turned it around. So it should be an exciting day.”
A coaching veteran of nearly 30 years, Wilson has spent much of that time with college programs, but gained an appreciation for the NFL journey during his four seasons there, with the Eagles from 2016-18 and the Arizona Cardinals in 2019.
“I think the thing that you take away from it is how hard it is to get to the ultimate game,” Wilson said. “When you do get there, your whole focus is about winning, because you don’t know if you’re going to get that opportunity again.
“It should be a great Super Bowl; a lot of action on both sides. You’ll probably see these teams for years to come with the youth on some of the rosters.”
Sunday’s Super Bowl will feature two former CU players, both with the Bengals. Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie and defensive lineman Josh Tupou were both key members of the 2016 CU team that won the Pac-12 South division title.
Tupou went undrafted in 2017, signed with the Bengals, and has played his entire NFL career in Cincinnati. Awuzie was a second-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys in 2017 and signed with the Bengals as a free agent last summer.
Awuzie and Tupou are aiming to become the first former Buffs to win a Super Bowl since tackle Nate Solder with the Patriots in 2016.
Two of Wilson’s former players at CU, inside linebacker Nate Landman and outside linebacker Carson Wells, are currently trying to reach the NFL.
Landman and Wells, who wrapped up their collegiate careers with the Buffs last season, both recently played in the East West Shrine Bowl and are aiming to be drafted in April.
“Once they’re your guys, they’re always your guys,” Wilson said of rooting for both to succeed. “For these guys that have an opportunity … to chase their ‘why’ is so cool because you don’t get to pick after college. You’re chosen. What they did is they gave a great blueprint for some of our younger players on how you handle business professionally on a day to day basis and how professional they were in and out of our building, socially, great leaders.
“I believe those guys are going to be drafted and they’re going to be really good contributors in the league. … I couldn’t be more excited for them.”
During his career as a coach, CU offensive coordinator Mike Sanford has worked with a variety of running backs. Some fit the prototypical mold and some didn’t, but Sanford said he’s not worried about a particular height or weight or speed for that position.
“We’re gonna utilize our personnel, that’s bottom line,” he said. “It’s not going to be a cookie cutter offensive system that we just say, ‘Hey, you’ve got to be in this position, we’re going to run the same plays over and over and if you fit in, great; if you don’t, you don’t.’ We’re gonna customize and tailor it as we get to know our personnel better to be able to put the right running backs in the right position to go be successful based off of what runs that they execute at a higher level and what they can do in the pass game.”
CU’s running back room includes senior Alex Fontenot, who led the Buffs in rushing in 2019 and had 326 yards and five touchdowns last season; and junior Deion Smith, who had 192 yards and two touchdowns in a limited backup role last season.
CU also recently added Ramon Jefferson, a graduate transfer from Sam Houston who was an FCS All-American in 2021. Sophomore Jayle Stacks and true freshman Victor Venn will also be in the mix.
“We’ve got guys that have shown production at this level, and I’m excited to watch those guys compete because there’s not going to be one running back,” Sanford said. “It’s going to always be by committee. … You’ve got to have a deep group there because they’re all going to touch the football.”