Football icon Bum Phillips dies at his Goliad ranch

Bianca Montes By Bianca Montes

Oct. 19, 2013 at 5:19 a.m.

Former Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips tips his hat to the crowd before an NFL playoff  game in Houston in January 2012. Phillips, a  Texas football icon who coached the Oilers and New Orleans Saints, died Friday.

Former Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips tips his hat to the crowd before an NFL playoff game in Houston in January 2012. Phillips, a Texas football icon who coached the Oilers and New Orleans Saints, died Friday.

Football icon Bum Phillips died Friday at his ranch in Goliad.

"Bum is gone to Heaven," son Wade Phillips tweeted Friday night. "Loved and will be missed by all - great Dad, Coach and Christian."

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.

He turned 90 three weeks ago.

In his extensive NFL career, Phillips was best known for his one-liners and Texan persona, said author Gabe Semenza.

Semenza, a former Victoria Advocate reporter, spent more than a year working with Phillips to help pen his autobiography, "Bum Phillips: Coach, Cowboy, Christian."

"He was the Will Rogers of the NFL," Semenza said. "He coached in the NFL during a time when coaches wore suits and fedoras; he wore cowboy boots and hats.

"He was who he was, and everybody loved him."

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 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 pompoms during games.

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 New Orleans Saints in 1981 and didn't have a winning record in his time there. He retired in 1985.

Phillips played football at Lamar Junior College before joining the Marines during World War II. After the war, he went to Stephen F. Austin State University, 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 you 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 to 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."

Phillips is survived by his second wife, Debbie, and six children from his first marriage along with almost two dozen grandchildren.

Goliad Funeral Home will conduct his funeral.

A spokesman for the funeral home said services are pending.

In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting donations be sent to Bum Phillips Charities.

The nonprofit was created by Bum and Debbie Phillips in 2010 as the base for a retreat center and as a fundraising organization for the charities that have touched their hearts over the years, according to the website

The couple donated many acres of their Goliad ranch to create the Bum Phillips Retreat.

Phillips was inspired to begin his charity work later in life after a former NFL player he coached talked him into ministering at different prisons.

"His main focus was helping people," said Phillips' biographer, Semenza. "He was the most humble, caring and intelligent person I know."

The Bum Phillips Retreat hosts many activities and events year-round. The most significant is a summer camp for deaf children called Camp Heart Sign, according the website.

"I grew up as a football fan, and he was the same on TV as he was in person," Semenza said. "He was the same around me - a nobody - as he was around billionaires."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.



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