Oail Andrew “Bum” Phillips Jr. died Friday at his ranch in Goliad Texas, David Barron of the Houston Chronicle reports.
Phillips was three weeks past his 90th birthday and more than three decades removed from his heyday as head coach of the Oilers from 1975 through 1980. But he will be remembered as the personification of a time, a place and a team that remains deep in the hearts of everyone who saw them play.
The end came on a cool autumn football weekend as Houston’s current pro team, the Texans, prepares to play Sunday with his son, Wade, serving as defensive coordinator. Family members said Wade Phillips visited with his father before rejoining the team for its trip to Kansas City.
“Bum is gone to Heaven-loved and will be missed by all -great Dad,Coach, and Christian,” Wade Phillips, whose Twitter handle is @sonofbum, tweeted shortly after 10 p.m.
Bum Phillips was a product of a family that traced its roots to Texas’ frontier past, and he did his job dressed in boots, jeans and a white Stetson – except at the Astrodome, since his mama told him it was impolite to wear a hat indoors.
He was, said one admirer, the “Will Rogers of the NFL,” justly famous for such sayings as, “There’s two kinds of coaches: them that’s been fired, and them that’s gonna be fired.”
But it was his relationship with his players – and theirs to him – and his ability to relate to fans that cemented his place among the legends of Texas football coaches with the likes of Darrell Royal, Tom Landry and Gordon Wood.
“Bum Phillips’ Oilers succeeded in a way that will never be measured by percentages and trophies,” wrote former Chronicle columnist Ed Fowler in a book about the team. “They symbolized a city rather than merely representing it.”
They called it “Luv Ya Blue,” and from 1978 through 1980, it was the biggest thing in Houston sports. In truth, the city has not seen anything to top it.
Twice Phillips’ Oilers battled the Pittsburgh Steelers for a berth in the Super Bowl, and both times they came up short. After each loss, they were welcomed home by more than 40,000 cheering fans at the Astrodome, inspiring one of the most famous quotations in the history of Texas sports.
“One year ago we knocked on the door. This year we beat on the door,” Phillips said after the 1980 title-game loss. “Next year we’re gonna kick the sumbitch in.”
But they never did. After the Oilers lost a first-round playoff game in 1980, Phillips was fired on Dec. 31, 1980, by Oilers owner K.S. “Bud” Adams. Never ggain, until their departure for Nashville in 1997, would the Oilers again so captivate their fans or come so close to a championship.
Phillips coached for five years with the New Orleans Saints but remained a Texan, moving for the last time in 1996 to the 400-acre ranch outside Goliad where he spent his final years, true to the values he set out in an interview in the mid-1970s.
“I don’t think I could change if I wanted to, and I don’t see any reason to,” he said. “I’m going to try to live my life the way I think it ought to be led, raise my children the way they ought to be raised, coach the way I ought to coach and treat people the way they ought to be treated.
“If that happens to be country, well, then I’m country.”