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Bum's the word

Dec. 20, 2010 at 6:20 a.m.


GC sat down with Bum to talk in more depth about his life here and the memories he cherishes from his coaching days.

What are some of the things you like about living in Goliad?

It's got a lot of history to it. Being able to live somewhere where Texas started. At my age, history is important and Texas is important to me. And finding about how Texas started and being in the birthplace of that has been real exciting for me. I didn't think much about it as a kid, but the older I got and getting my teaching major in history, so I was really interested in this area when I finally got down here to see it.

Do you miss living in Houston?Oh yeah, you always miss the place you might say that made you famous. I miss the people. Got a lot of good friends everywhere I've ever lived, but in Houston there's just so many more people, the more people to be friendly with. I met a million people in Houston. At least in Goliad you can't meet more people because there ain't a whole lot of people to begin with.

What famous people visit you here?

I don't know if any of them are famous or not, but all my friends come out. All the players and ex-players Billy Jones, Mike Renfro, Teddy Thompson, the general manager at Green Bay, and Mike Reinfeldt, general manager of the Tennessee Titans. I could sit down and make you out a list of quite of few people who come see us. They're all friends of mine, though, they're not celebrities.

(In fact, former Oilers quarterback and former KHOU sportscaster Gifford "Giff" Nielson showed up during our visit with Bum.)

I understand you're a big supporter of Goliad High School football. Have you been able to get out to many games?

I don't go to games. I don't go to Houston Oiler games, or Houston Texan games, except two a year, and I don't go to but one Dallas Cowboys game. Games to me are not important. I'd whole lot rather watch them practice because if I'm watching practice, I can tell how they're going to play in the game. If I thought it would help them win, I'd go to the games, but I can't do anything. So I just pull for them and let it go at that.

What are some other things that keep you busy these days around the ranch?

To tell you the truth, I don't like to do a whole lot of work; I'm through with working. I enjoy mowing the pastures and stuff like that. I don't ride (horses) anymore. The main reason is my balance is not - well at 86 years old, every now and then when I'm walking I'll bump on the edge of the door. Well if you're balance is that bad, you got no business on a horse loping fast or trying to cut the cattle or work the cattle.

In all your years of coaching, what is your favorite or most vivid coaching memory?

There's a zillion of them; it's hard to pick out something. The most different and the most amazing thing to me was coming back twice after we got beat by Pittsburgh in the playoffs, and having 50,000 people there the first game and 80,000 in the stadium on the whole 60. There was 20,000 that couldn't get in and another 40,000 between the airport and the stadium on the sides of the road, parked up on the medians waving at the busses. I mean that to me had to be the most memorable part of my whole coaching career - to end up getting beat and yet having that many people turn out. Some of them were there for six hours. Now that's the most amazing thing - that proves to me how much a team and our sport can get to be apart of a city. (The fans) were just as proud of them when they lost as when they won.

Which teams do you follow now?

Cowboys and the Texans. Same two I've always followed. I always loved the Cowboys, even when I was coaching the Oilers. Tom Landry was one of the best friends - I wouldn't say he was a buddy, because he wasn't a buddy with anybody. He was accessible to everybody. He gave me his playbook when I was coaching in high school. Or he allowed me to have one. I respected that organization for being a class organization from the time they started and they still are. Everybody assumes that because we were Houston and they were Dallas, but we were never rivals. Houston and Dallas might have been rivals, but me and Dallas wasn't.

Your son and grandson are Dallas Cowboys' coaches. What are some of the values that come from being a football family?

I would say that you learn in a football family that there's rules. And you have to follow those rules or there's a punishment attached that will be conducted if you don't follow them. A lot of people have rules, but no punishments. Or they don't follow up with it. When you're raised in a football family, you know there's things you can, there's things you can't do. Several things you can't do and don't try them.

Two of your daughters, KimAnn and DeeJean, are building houses next to yours to live. What will it be like having them close to home again?

I guess I'll have to get my pocket knife out and go cut me some switches again. Especially the two that will be around here. Oh boy, they were great kids ... but every now and then I'd need a switch. But I wouldn't have wanted somebody that didn't have enough gumption to break the rules every once in a while, as long it's not a big rule.

Why did you decide to write a book?

First let me tell you that I'm not smart enough to write a book. So I didn't write it. I told the book and then it takes a great writer to put what I say into words. Gabe did the writing of the book and knew what questions to ask.

Where did the idea come from to do the book?

I wanted something for my children. Being in football and in school, you don't have time to do other things. Football starts early in the morning; school continues on; and after school we'd have practice and after that, meetings. And you end up spending most of your children's life working. They're asleep when you get home, and they're asleep when you leave. I took five days off at one time, the only time I've ever taken off. It's the only vacation I've ever had or ever took in the 70-something years I did it. And it was the most miserable five days, even though it was with my family, I just didn't have anything to do. I enjoyed my children, but I didn't really know how to enjoy them like I do now. I didn't take time to enjoy them like I should have and I regret that, but that's over and done with. All I can do now is make up for it the best I can.

What has the book experience been like?

It's kind of fun to go back and remember some things about the kids and about our upbringing and their upbringing. It's been good to sit back and recall it. And it's been enjoyable to realize that I still do have a good memory.

What's been the most unique reaction to your nickname, "Bum"?

Coach (Paul "Bear") Bryant at A&M, a big time football coach - a legendary football coach - I went to work for him and he never would call me "Bum," he'd call me "Bun." I worked for him 24 hours a day for a year and a half and visited the 9 million practices they had and he never called me "Bum." It was always "Bun." I tell everybody that it's not a description, it's just a nickname.

Buy the book

Visit or a bookstore near you. The autobiography is also available on Amazon's Kindle, the Apple iPhone and iPad, as well as other e-readers.

Bum's portion of the book's proceeds will go to Bum Phillips Charities, benefiting Rockport's Camp Aranzazu, a retreat for children and adults with chronic illnesses, disabilities and terminal diseases.

Goliad resident and former Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips recently collaborated with Victoria Advocate Public Service Editor Gabe Semenza to share his life as a husband, father and football coach.

His self-titled autobiography brings to life those characters and places that have influenced him over the years.

Phillips coached in the National Football League from 1975 to 1985. His colorful life, however, also includes an upbringing during the Great Depression, a tour during World War II and time spent as a rancher and businessman.

The following excerpt, taken from Chapter 12 of the book, is about a topic especially interesting to the Golden Crescent - why he chose to live where when he could have moved anywhere.


Debbie and I love Houston, but we yearned to enjoy a less hectic and more rural setting. For years we sought land where we could build a ranch; a homestead we'd settle upon for good to pursue the way of life we'd both always known and loved.

Houston's growth began to constrict our small ranch on the city's outskirts, and the demands of the celebrity lifestyle became too much. I don't resent the time we spent doing charitable work, seminars or endorsements. If someone asked for help, we offered it. But we reached the point we could barely keep up with all the requests. When developers began work on a 12-lane highway outside our front door, traffic only pushed us faster toward quieter pastures.

Debbie and I looked everywhere - south near Kingsville, north outside Kerrville and the Texas Hill Country, and every stop along the way. We looked at grassy pastures, rocky outcrops and at prices that spanned the spectrum. Nothing we toured fully fit our wants. The ones we liked we couldn't afford, and the ones we could afford we didn't like. We finally spotted a newspaper ad, which highlighted land for sale in Beeville, a quiet town in South Texas. We traveled several times to inspect properties and stopped during return trips to eat in the county just north of Beeville. In these parts, everybody knows everybody and we fit right in with the characters from nearby Goliad County.

As luck would have it, our Beeville Realtor said a ranch, which was not yet on the market, might be just what we were looking for.

"Would you mind being in Goliad County?" she asked.

"Not at all," we told her.

We drove along a winding road, up and down hills that open to vast green, flowing pastures and alongside a mix of brush, trees and spacious, scenic valleys. We turned off the highway, traveled along a paved county road for about a mile and turned to our right. From the turnoff, we could barely see the 250-acre property. Dense brush, which choked 80 percent of the land here, blocked our view. Slowly, we cruised up the half-mile private, paved driveway, around a tall oak tree and to the front of the house. We felt lost in a sea of solid brush and trees, but we loved it. The house was OK - engulfed in Austin white stone, which we both like - and the land was otherwise largely undeveloped: no barn, stables or cutting arena. The property had only a perimeter fence and half the cattle pens it does now. We knew going in it would be a lot of work. We visited the following week and rode the property on horseback, squeezing between the tall, thick brush while on the lookout for rattlesnakes in the grass. While riding from the front of the land to the farthest corner, we decided we'd found our dream property.

As it turns out, the seller's great-grandparents settled in the original Stephen F. Austin colony near Houston, and then on this land in 1826, about a decade before Texas became a state. The land and home stayed with one family for almost 200 years.

We signed the deal on the hood of our Suburban in nearby Goliad, and the homestead became our own. We are only the second family in Texas history to claim it.

The seller was kind enough to share her "IO" brand and a story we love to tell. Her great-grandfather won the land about 130 years ago in a card game and thus branded his cattle with "IO" - which is short for "I owe" - to gig the loser, who was his cousin.

This area, much like Orange, was settled by gunfighters, regulators and vigilantes. Goliad County also once boasted a famous hanging tree at the town square. The county is home to the Presidio La Bahia, a landmark to a time when the Spaniards occupied it. Goliad earned its name in 1829 and is the phonetic anagram of Hidalgo, a hero and priest during the Mexican Revolution.

On moving day, May 27, 1995, seven trucks pulling 30-foot cattle trailers rumbled down the road from our home outside Houston, down historic U.S. Highway 59, along the narrow county road and atop our new, paved driveway. We'd loaded fence posts and boards, horses and cattle, clothes and pans.

The night we moved in, the skies opened up. It rained 2.5 inches the first night and not again until September 1996.

Because the property lacked landscaping and other buildings we'd need to work cattle and horses, we set out immediately to put our stamp on the IO Ranch. Friends must have thought we'd lost our minds. I don't think they saw the diamond in the rough.

During the next few years, we planted thousands of posts, built riding pens, barns and added special wire to the perimeter to keep out rooting feral hogs. Using skills I learned on a bulldozer in the military, I cleared 95 percent of the brush and saved the prettier trees for scenery and cattle shade. We built the Debbie Dome, a covered arena that shades Debbie from the unforgiving Texas sun while she works our cutting horses.

The property blossomed into what we knew it could become. Friends who'd thought we were crazy finally saw the place for the beauty it held. I just hope everyone in the world can be as happy in the latter part of life as I am in mine.

We turned the rough country into a welcome home for friends and family. Former players visit often, and when we were a bit younger, singers and songwriters did, too. We once invited two dozen friends to our home, and we sat around, picked and grinned. The bunch included country songwriters Sonny Throckmorton and Casey Kelly, writers of George Strait's "Cowboy Rides Away;" Rock Killough, Craig Dillingham and others who call the Country Music Hall of Fame home. The Beatles opened for Bruce Channel when he toured Europe with his smash hit "Hey, Baby," and he played for us on our Goliad ranch. These are good folks, deep folks, and we love to be around them.

Although the nearest neighbor is a mile away, I'm certain he sat outside and enjoyed the free concerts played right here on my favorite land.

Editor's note: The headline, "Bum's the Word," was taken from a sportscast Bum used to do with Gifford Nielson, a show that sometimes got them both in trouble as Bum spoke his mind on football, women and more in his lovable Bum way.



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