Football coach Bum Phillips dies at 90; known for Stetsons, humorous truisms

Story highlights

  • "He became an iconic figure on our sideline," says Titans owner
  • He led the Houston Oilers to glory in the late 70s, then gave the Saints a try
  • He retired from pro football in 1985 and went to his Texas ranch
  • "Bum," a term of endearment given by his sister who stuttered, meant "brother"

A Texas white hat has crossed through the pearly gates.

"Bum" Phillips, the former NFL football coach who led the Houston Oilers to glory and struggled with the New Orleans Saints, died Friday at age 90.

"Bum is gone to Heaven-loved and will be missed by all -great Dad, Coach, and Christian," tweeted his son Wade Phillips, himself defensive coordinator for the Houston Texans.

Phillips' white Stetson cowboy hat was hard to miss, though he didn't wear it in domed stadiums -- his mother had told him never to wear his hat indoors.

His nickname stuck out like a sore thumb, especially whenever his team's stakes were down and fans weren't being nice about it.

He was born Oail Andrew Phillips in 1923, but his older sister stuttered and couldn't say "brother." It came out wrong, and the affectionate nickname was born, according to an official biography.

It was an term of endearment that had no derogatory meaning.

But Phillips' true trademark were the deadpan sayings he regularly dropped, fully original and spiced with humor and gritty truisms. They got him laughed at sometimes and admired at other times for their grains of truth.

They were coined "Bumisms."

His most famous one: "There's two kinds of coaches, them that's fired and them that's gonna be fired."

He once told sportscaster Bob Costas that he took his wife on away games "because she's too ugly to kiss goodbye," the NFL said.

Phillips started his career in the 1950s as a high school coach, according to the NFL. He joined the Oilers in 1974 as defensive coordinator, when they were defeated and down, then advanced to head coach and in the late 1970s turned them into a winning team.

The Oilers are now the Tennessee Titans and Houston's team is now the Texans.

He had a reputation for being an affectionate motivator. The NFL ranked him among the 10 most motivational coaches in professional football history.

Saints struggle

In 1981, Phillips -- wearing cowboy boots -- moved to New Orleans and tightened up the Saints' defense. Two years later, he led them to their second-ever non-losing season -- an 8-8 record, but he didn't have the same level of success that he had enjoyed in Houston.

In 1985, he resigned to dedicate himself to ranching, his family and Christian charities, and didn't seem to miss football too much.

"I still love football," he told the NFL. "You can't do something for 50 years and not love it, but I love it where it's at, and I love where I'm at" -- his ranch in Goliad, Texas.

According to local news reports, that's where he died.

"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," said Titans owner K.S. "Bud" Adams Jr., in a statement, referring to the late 1970s movement by Oilers' fans. "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. He became an iconic figure on our sideline."

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