HOUSTON — Bum Phillips, the folksy Texas football icon who coached the Houston Oilers during their Luv Ya Blue heyday and later led the New Orleans Saints, died Friday. He was 90.
“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.
Wade Phillips is the Houston Texans’ defensive coordinator.
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.
“Mama always said that if it can’t rain on you, you’re indoors,” Phillips said.
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.
“He meant a great deal to this franchise, the NFL and the city of Houston, and he was instrumental to the Oilers during the Luv Ya Blue era,” Titans’ owner Bud Adams said in a statement. “Growing up in Texas and working his way up through the Texas football ranks, he was a natural match for our team. Those were such magical years, and his leadership and personality helped our team rise to the top.”
His time with the team was 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. He was 55-35 with the team in the regular season.
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.”
Among his best Bumisms: “There’s two kinds of coaches, them that’s fired and them that’s gonna be fired.” On Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula: “He can take his’n and beat your’n and take your’n and beat his’n.” On Campbell’s inability to finish a mile run: “When it’s first-and-a-mile, I won’t give it to him.” On Campbell: “I don’t know if he’s in a class by himself, but I do know that when that class gets together, it sure don’t take long to call the roll.”
He left Texas to coach the Saints in 1981, going 27-42 before retiring after the 1985 season.
Phillips is survived by his second wife, Debbie, and six children from his first marriage along with almost two dozen grandchildren.