Bum Phillips, colorful NFL coach, dies at 90


In this January 1980 photo, Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips and running back Earl Campbell leave the field after the Oilers' loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC championship game. (AP)
October 19, 2013

Bum Phillips, the folksy Texas football icon who coached the Houston Oilers during their Luv Ya Blue heyday and later led the New Orleans Saints, died Oct. 18 at his ranch in Goliad, Tex. He was 90.

His son Wade Phillips, the Houston Texans’ defensive coordinator, announced his father’s death through Twitter.

Mr. Phillips was born Oail Andrew Phillips Jr. on Sept. 29, 1923, in Orange, Tex. He was a Texas original in his blue jeans, boots and trademark white Stetson — except at the Astrodome or any other domed stadium, because he was taught it was disrespectful to wear a hat indoors.

Mr. Phillips loved the Oilers and when coaching the team in the 1970s, he famously said of the Cowboys: “They may be ‘America’s Team,’ but we’re Texas’s team.”

He took over as coach of the Oilers in 1975 and led Houston to two AFC championship games before he was fired in 1980. He was responsible for drafting 1977 Heisman Trophy winner Earl Campbell, the player who was largely credited with the success of the franchise.

It was a time marked by a frenzied fan base that filled the Astrodome to root for the Oilers. Houston lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC championship games following the 1978 and 1979 seasons. The Oilers went 11-5 in 1980 but lost to Oakland in the AFC wild-card round, and Mr. Phillips was fired.

Fans loved his no-nonsense demeanor and were entertained by his often blunt comments.

“Football is a game of failure,” he said. “You fail all the time, but you aren’t a failure until you start blaming someone else.”

Among his best Bumisms: “There’s two kinds of coaches, them that’s fired and them that’s gonna be fired.”

On Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula: “He can take his’n and beat your’n and take your’n and beat his’n.”

On Campbell, his star player: “I don’t know if he’s in a class by himself, but I do know that when that class gets together, it sure don’t take long to call the roll.”

Mr. Phillips left Texas to coach the Saints in 1981 but didn’t have a winning record in his time there. He resigned after 12 games in 1985 and let his son take over as head coach.

During one game in his final season, when the Saints were losing their fifth straight game, Mr. Phillips remarked, “The harder we play, the behinder we get.”

Mr. Phillips played football at Lamar Junior College in Texas before joining the Marines during World War II. After the war, he went to Stephen F. Austin State University, where he played two more football seasons before graduating in 1949.

He spent about two decades coaching in high schools and colleges, mostly in Texas — he assisted Paul “Bear” Bryant at Texas A&M, Bill Yeoman at Houston and Hayden Fry at SMU — before making the jump to the AFL in 1967 as an assistant under Sid Gillman with the San Diego Chargers. Mr. Phillips came to Houston in 1974 as Gillman’s defensive coordinator and became coach and general manager when Gillman resigned after that season.

Mr. Phillips picked up the nickname Bum as a child when his younger sister couldn’t pronounce brother correctly and it sounded like “bum.” He embraced the nickname and was quoted as saying: “I don’t mind being called Bum, just as long as you don’t put a ‘you’ in front of it.”

Phillips did some work as a radio and TV football analyst before retiring to his ranch.

Wade Phillips said his father was still sharing tips with him this season.

“He always gives me a little advice about why did you play this on that certain down and this stuff,” Wade said. “He’s sharp on all the football stuff.”

Mr. Phillips’s survivors include his second wife, Debbie; and six children from his first marriage.

— Associated Press

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