Bum Phillips resigned as coach of the New Orleans Saints yesterday, with the team already assured of its 19th consecutive NFL season without a winning record.
Phillips announced he would forgo the final three years of his contract, which would have paid him a reported $1.3 million. He resigned one day after the Saints (4-8) had broken a six-game losing streak with a 30-23 victory over Minnesota and Phillips' favorite running back, Earl Campbell, had rushed for 160 yards. Phillips said the decision to resign was entirely his own.
Team owner Tom Benson announced at a hastily called news conference yesterday that Wade Phillips, the departing coach's son and the team's defensive coordinator, will be the Saints' interim coach.
Benson also said that he had asked for the resignation of three front-office members: team president Eddie Jones, director of football operations Pat Peppler and public relations director Greg Suit. Offensive coordinator King Hill also resigned. For the time being, Benson said, he will fill the roles of president and general manager himself.
"My job was to win football games. My job here was to provide a winning season and I didn't do that," said Phillips, who compiled a 27-42 record since becoming Saints coach in 1981. He had been fired by Houston after the 1980 season when he failed to lead the Oilers to the AFC playoffs for the first time in four years.
"Winning is the American way and I'm glad it is," Phillips said. "It was winning that enabled me to go from Class AA high school in Texas to two head-coach and general manager jobs in the National Football League."
Benson said he hopes to hire a new general manager by December and a new coach by the end of January.
Among the names of possible coaching candidates circulating in New Orleans is Redskins defensive coach Richie Petitbon, who is a native of New Orleans. The names of two U.S. Football League coaches also have been mentioned: Jim Mora of the Baltimore Stars and Dick Coury, who coached the Breakers in New Orleans and in Portland.
Benson said he also will consider Wade Phillips. The owner said he has not yet contacted any candidates.
Petitbon said he would be interested in talking with the Saints. "Certainly, I think any time you have a chance to advance yourself you have to at least listen to what they have to offer," he said yesterday from Redskin Park. Asked if coaching in New Orleans had any special meaning, he said pointedly, "It is my hometown."
Benson told reporters he did not ask for Phillips' resignation. "He told me that he was doing it for the good of the club, the good of the city and for me," Benson said.
Benson said that Phillips "could have put his feet up on the desk the next three years and sat there," but didn't.
"By resigning, Bum has given me another month. If he had waited until the end of the season, we'd be working on a very short time fuse," he said.
Benson, who bought the Saints from John Mecom Jr. for $70 million prior to this season, told reporters the younger Phillips was named interim coach "because for me to go outside right now and find a coach for the next four weeks is an impossible task."
Wade Phillips said, "I thought it would be the happiest day of my life when I got to be a head coach in the NFL. It's an emotional time for me."
That Bum Phillips, 62, resigned was not surprising. Only the timing of his resignation seemed surprising. In truth, it seemed that the Saints' 47-27 loss to Kansas City in the season opener set the tone for their season. Quarterback Dave Wilson completed just two of 22 passes in that game.
Phillips led the Saints to an 8-8 mark in 1983, tying a franchise-best mark established in 1979 when Dick Nolan was the coach. The Saints finished 7-9 last season when they were struck by a rash of injuries.
Benson said he fired Peppler, Jones and Suit "just to get it all done so we're all going in the same direction. I made the final decision. We're not going to have anybody who was associated with the old club."
In saying goodbye, Bum Phillips thanked coaches, players, the owner and the fans, "even those who dumped beer on me. At least they were mad enough to care."