Obituary: O.A. 'Bum' Phillips / Colorful Oilers, Saints coach

Sept. 29, 1923 - Oct. 18, 2013


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O.A. "Bum" Phillips, a colorful Texan who served as head coach of the Houston Oilers for six years and the New Orleans Saints for the next five, died Friday at his ranch in Goliad, Tex. He was 90.

Mr. Phillips coached for 13 years in high schools and seven in colleges before a 17-year career in the National Football League. He was folksy, charismatic and stocky, with a square chin and a crew cut. On the sideline, he wore a leather coat, a wide-brimmed Stetson and shiny boots. As Dave Anderson wrote in 1981 in The New York Times: "Bum talked country and dressed Western. He always wore cowboy boots. He had two dozen pairs in his closet. All kinds: alligator, anteater, beaver, caribou, lizard, kangaroo. He even had some powder-blue boots to match the Oilers' colors."

In his six seasons (1975-80) with the Oilers and five (1981-85) with the Saints, Mr. Phillips compiled a record of 82-77 in the regular season and 4-3 in the playoffs. With strong running by Earl Campbell, his teams reached the American Football Conference championship games after the 1978 and 1979 seasons, losing each to the Steelers. A year later, three days after a playoff loss to the Oakland Raiders, he was fired.

The Saints, after a 1-15 season, quickly signed him, but their talent was limited and he never had a winning season there. With four games left in 1985, he retired and handed the job to his son, Wade, an assistant coach.

The next stop for Mr. Phillips was his horse ranch. In 1995, he bought another, a 410-acre layout outside Goliad, 2 1/2 hours southwest of Houston. What did he do there?

"Nothing," he said. "And I don't start doing that until noon."

Actually, he raised cattle and championship cutting horses and did customary ranch chores, and for a time he was a television and radio analyst for Oilers' games.

As he told Sports Illustrated in 1997: "Football is only part of your life. It's just a little while. I have no desire ever to coach again. This is where I'm supposed to be. You work hard your whole life doing one thing, and now it's time to do another."

Oail Andrew Phillips was born Sept. 29, 1923, in Orange, Texas. His nickname originated when a little sister tried to say "brother" and it came out "bumble."

Years later, he said, "I don't mind being called Bum, just as long as you don't put a 'you' in front of it."

He played football at Lamar Junior College (now Lamar University) in 1941 and enlisted in the Marines shortly after Pearl Harbor. After World War II, he attended Stephen F. Austin State College and in 1950 earned a degree in education.

He became an assistant coach under Paul "Bear" Bryant at Texas A&M, Bill Yeoman at Houston, Hayden Fry at Southern Methodist, and Sid Gillman with the Chargers and the Oilers. His specialty was defense, and he was an originator of the 3-4 alignment -- three linemen and four linebackers -- that many NFL teams have used.

But he was known as much for his down-home aphorisms as he was for his coaching, and they helped turn him into an icon. Among his most well-known:

• "When I die, they should put on my tombstone: 'He would have lived a whole lot longer if it wasn't for the Pittsburgh Steelers.' "

• "How do you win? By getting average players to play good and good players to play great."

• "The only discipline that lasts is self-discipline."

• "Two kinds of ballplayers aren't worth a darn: One that never does what he's told and one who does nothing except what he's told."

• "Winning is only half of it. Having fun is the other half."

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First Published October 19, 2013 8:00 PM


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