HOUSTON – Bum Phillips, the folksy Texas football icon who coached the Houston Oilers during their Luv Ya Blue heyday and also led the New Orleans Saints, died Friday.
“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. He was 90.
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 picked up the nickname Bum as a child when his younger sister couldn’t pronounce brother correctly and it sounded like bum. He embraced it 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 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’ team.”
He took over as coach 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 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.
Phillips is survived by his second wife, Debbie, and six children from his first marriage along with almost two dozen grandchildren.