HOUSTON — 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 Friday. He was 90.
“Bum is gone to Heaven,” son Wade Phillips tweeted Friday night. “Loved and will be missed by all — great Dad, Coach, and Christian.”
Phillips died at his ranch in Goliad.
Wade Phillips is the Houston Texans’ defensive coordinator.
Born Oail Andrew Phillips Jr. in 1923 in Orange, Phillips was a Texas original in his blue jeans, boots and trademark white Stetson — except at the Astrodome or any other dome stadium because he was taught it was disrespectful to wear a hat indoors.
Phillips loved the Oilers and when coaching the team in the 1970s, he famously said of the Cowboys: “They may be âAmerica’s Team,’ but we’re Texas’ 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 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 and wave their blue and white pompons during games.
Houston lost to Pittsburgh 34-5 in the AFC Championship game in Campbell’s rookie year. The Oilers returned to the game the following season only to be beaten again by the Steelers, this time 27-13.
The Oilers went 11-5 in 1980 but lost to Oakland in the AFC wild-card round and Phillips was fired.
Fans loved his no-nonsense demeanor and were entertained by his often blunt comments
“Football is a game of failure,” Phillips was quoted as saying. “You fail all the time, but you aren’t a failure until you start blaming someone else.”
He left Texas to coach the Saints in 1981 and didn’t have a winning record in his time there and retired in 1985.
“We are saddened by the passing of Bum Phillips,” Saints owner Tom Benson said in a statement released by the team. “I had the opportunity to work with him when I first purchased the team in 1985 and also enjoyed our friendship following his coaching career. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Debbie, Wade and the rest of his family.”
Phillips played football at Lamar Junior College before joining the Marines during World War II. After the war he went to Stephen F. Austin where he played two more football seasons before graduating with a degree in education in 1949.
He spent about two decades coaching in high schools and colleges mostly in Texas — he assisted the likes of 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. Phillips came to Houston in 1974 as Gillman’s defensive coordinator and became coach and general manager when Gillman resigned after that season.
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 âyou’ in front of it.”
Phillips did some work as an analyst on television and radio football broadcasts for a bit before retiring to his ranch in Goliad. He experienced some health problems in recent years and underwent a triple bypass in 2005.
Although he left Houston, he always remained fond of the city. The Oilers moved to Tennessee and became the Titans in 1997 and Houston returned to the NFL in 2002 when the Texans began play.
He was asked how he feels about the two teams in Texas in 2007 when son Wade was named coach of the Cowboys.
“Your son is coaching one team and the other team is the town you love more than any other,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to pull. They’re not on the schedule, so I don’t have to make that decision this year.”
Wade Phillips talked about his father a few days after his 90th birthday this year. Houston led the Seahawks 20-3 at halftime on his birthday on Sept. 29, only to lose 23-20 in overtime. Wade Phillips told his dad that the first half of the game was his birthday present.
“He’s real positive when you lose and gets on me when we win, saying, âYou better play better than that or you might not win the next one,”‘ Wade Phillips said.
He 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.”
Phillips is survived by his second wife, Debbie, and six children from his first marriage along with almost two dozen grandchildren.