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Bum Phillips: From Marine Raider to NFL Head Coach


Bum Phillips was an iconic American football coach known for leading both the Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints of the National Football League from 1975-1985. He was widely revered for his legendary style that featured cowboy hat, boots and folksy charm; along with innovative defensive schemes and motivational abilities. Before becoming successful as a mentor coach he also served in World War II, as a Marine Raider as well as playing college football before becoming an assistant coach himself.

Early Life and Military Service

Bum Phillips
Bum Phillips

Bum Phillips was born as Oail Andrew Phillips Jr. on September 29th in Orange, Texas and received the nickname of Bum due to either mispronunciations of “brother” by his sister or his mother’s warning about “bummel bees” when he was young. Growing up as part of a ranching family he learned to ride horses and chew tobacco – skills he would later use throughout his career as an investment banker and political commentator. Unbeknownst to his father, he also found joy in playing football despite their disapproval. After enrolling at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas and playing there for one season before enlisting with the Marine Corps shortly after Pearl Harbor was attacked, he eventually made history himself by serving his nation during WWII as part of a Black-Tie regiment. He joined the Marine Raiders, an elite special operations unit responsible for amphibious raids and guerrilla warfare operations across the Pacific theater. He saw action in several battles across Bougainville, Guam, and Okinawa where he was wounded twice and awarded both Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star for his service.

College Football Career and Coaching Beginnings

Phillips completed the remaining year on his degree at Lamar (then a junior college), and later enrolled at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, lettering in football both times he played there – lettering both years and graduating with a degree in education in 1949. He then embarked upon a coaching career spanning four decades and various levels of football. He coached high school football in numerous Texas cities such as Nederland, Jacksonville, Amarillo and Port Neches-Groves. Beam was an assistant coach for Bear Bryant at Texas A&M University, University of Houston’s Bill Yeoman, Southern Methodist University Hayden Fry and Oklahoma State University’s Jim Stanley (with whom he shared an office). For one season as head coach at University of Texas at El Paso (then known as Texas Western University) from 1962 he led them to a 4-5 record as head coach of Texas Western University’s Miners team.

NFL Coaching Career

In the late 1960s, Phillips was hired by Sid Gillman to serve as defensive assistant coach of the San Diego Chargers. Under Phillips’ tutelage, Deacon Jones, Ron Mix, and Lance Alworth helped guide their defense into two playoff appearances during 1967 and 1968 – helping bring success for Sid Gillman’s squad. Gillman hired Phillips as his defensive coordinator when he took over as head coach of the Houston Oilers in 1973, and eventually promoted him to be head coach himself on January 25, 1975 – serving until 1980. As coach of the Oilers, Phillips oversaw their most successful period since entering the American Football League. Under Phillips, they reached two consecutive AFC Championship Games under his guidance – losing each time to Pittsburgh Steelers 34-5 in 1978 and 27-13 in 1979 respectively. Phillips mentored some of the NFL’s most celebrated and versatile players, such as Earl Campbell, Dan Pastorini, Elvin Bethea, Curley Culp Robert Brazile and Billy “White Shoes” Johnson. Additionally he coined the term “Luv Ya Blue” to refer to team support from fans and the city. When Oilers owner Bud Adams fired Phillips after only 10-6 season in 1980 it caused great dismay among both fans and players alike.

Phillips took over coaching duties with the New Orleans Saints after Dick Nolan left in 1981, inheriting an unwinnable team which had never experienced success during their previous 15-year history. He led the Saints to an improved record of 4-12 in his inaugural season before leading them to 8-8 in his second. That feat tied for best record ever achieved by any Saints head coach during this era. Phillips also drafted future Hall-of-Famer Rickey Jackson in 1981, while also signing Ken Stabler and Earl Campbell (former Oilers stars) in 1982. Unfortunately, Phillips could not sustain the momentum, as the Saints fell back to 7-9 in 1983 and 6-10 in 1984 under him. Following an inauspicious 1-3 start 1985 under Wade Phillips as his defensive coordinator he handed off to Wade at once and retired with an overall regular season record of 86-80 and a 4-3 postseason record over his 15 year coaching career he retired with an overall regular season record of 86-80 and 4-3 postseason records during his coaching career a totaling to 4-3 postseason records as head coach.

Legacy and Personal Life

Bum Phillips was widely revered and beloved NFL coach. Known for his accessible style, humorous quotes, and commitment to both his players and staff. Phillips pioneered the 3-4 defense scheme still widely employed today; thus earning induction into both Tennessee Titans’ Ring of Honor (the successor team to Houston Oilers) in 2018 as well as Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 2019. Additionally he received Paul “Bear” Bryant Lifetime Achievement Award and Amos Alonzo Stagg Coaching Award honors respectively in 2011.

Phillips married Helen in 1946 and shared six children: Debbie, Wanda, Kim, Andrea, Wade and Vic. When Helen died unexpectedly in 1974, he and Debbie Ewing divorced; later that year he married former Oilers cheerleader Debbie Ewing with whom he had Tracy and Wes. Phillips was known to support charities such as Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Boys and Girls Clubs of America and Bum Phillips Charities during his life time – supporting organizations like these until his passing at 90 in Goliad Texas on October 18 2013. He was laid to rest by full military honors at Texas State Cem.

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