Former New Orleans Saints coach Bum Phillips, who was known for his folksy demeanor as well as his coaching ability at the high school, college and professional levels, died Friday night at his ranch in Goliad, Texas.
Houston Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, whose Twitter handle is @sonofbum, tweeted the news of his father’s death shortly after 10 p.m. Friday: “Bum is gone to Heaven-loved and will be missed by all -great Dad, Coach, and Christian.”
Oail Andrew “Bum” Phillips, who turned 90 on Sept. 29, coached the Saints from 1981 to 1985 following a six-year stint as coach of the Houston Oilers from 1975 to 1980.
Before becoming an NFL head coach at the age of 51, Phillips was a defensive guru for some of football’s coaching greats — Bear Bryant at Texas A&M, Bill Yeoman at the University of Houston and Sid Gillman, the Pro Football Hall of Fame coach.
With the Saints, Phillips, whose other trademark besides his 3-4 defensive scheme was his cowboy hat, took over a team that went 1-15 in 1980.
He produced a 4-12 record in his first season in 1981, then nearly delivered the franchise’s first winning campaign with a 4-5 mark in the strike-shortened 1982 season.
A year later, he got even closer with an 8-8 record in 1983 when the Saints were on the cusp of not only their first winning season but also their first playoff berth in the season finale against the then-Los Angeles Rams.
Needing a win to finish 9-7 and make the playoffs, the Saints were nursing a 24-23 lead until the Rams got a game-winning 42-yard field goal from Mike Lansford with 2 seconds to play.
Thinking they were ready to get over the hump, Phillips was disappointed by a 7-9 finish in 1984. A year later, the Saints were 4-8 when he abruptly stepped aside on Nov. 25, 1985 — a day after a 30-24 victory against Minnesota — and retired to his Texas ranch.
Phillips was 27-42 during his time with the Saints. Combined with his 59-38 record with the Oilers, he finished his 11-year head coaching career with an 86-80 mark.
Spending most of his career in his home state of Texas, Phillips became an iconic coach who was as well-liked and respected as two other Lone Star State coaching giants — Tom Landry and Darrell Royal.
With the Oilers, the popular, tobacco-chewing Phillips guided his team to the AFC Championship game in 1978 and ’79 only to be beaten by the Pittsburgh Steelers, who went on to win the Super Bowl both years.
One year later, even though he was the toast of the town, Phillips was fired by Oilers owner K.S. “Bud” Adams after a first-round playoff loss.
Phillips once famously said, “There’s two kinds of coaches … them that’s fired and them that’s gonna be fired.”
He wasn’t out of work long. He was hired by Houston native John Mecom Jr., who was then the Saints’ owner.
But the Saints never reached the heights Mecom nor Phillips envisioned for them. When he resigned, he was replaced by his son, Wade, who went 1-3 in a four-game stint as interim coach.
Wade Phillips wanted to replace his father on a permanent basis, but new owner Tom Benson had hired Jim Finks as his general manager.
Finks eventually hired Jim Mora, who led the Saints to their elusive first winning season and playoff berth in 1987 — four seasons after Bum almost got them there.
Phillips experienced some health problems in recent years and underwent a triple bypass in 2005.
But he remained active on his ranch well into his 80s and was still sharing some coaching tips with Wade, who has been a head coach for several NFL teams.
“He always gives me a little advice about why did you play this on that certain down and this stuff,” Wade Phillips said. “He’s sharp on all the football stuff.”
The elder Phillips picked up the nickname Bum as a child when his sister couldn’t pronounce “brother” correctly and it sounded like “bum.”
But he embraced the nickname and often quipped, “I don’t mind being called Bum, just as long as you don’t put a ‘you’ in front of it.”
He is survived by his second wife, Debbie, and six children from his first marriage and almost two dozen grandchildren.