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Sports Then and Now

Bum Phillips Made Houston Fans “Luv Ya Blue”

Posted on October 19, 2013 by Dean Hybl
Bum Phillips won 55 games in six seasons as coach of the Houston OIlers.

Bum Phillips won 55 games in six seasons as coach of the Houston OIlers.

Though he is best known for his six-year tenure as head coach of the Houston Oilers, Oail Andrew “Bum” Phillips, who has passed away at the age of 90, spent more than 30 years coaching at all levels from high school to college and eventually the NFL.

However, Phillips greatest role occurred even before he ever walked a football sideline. He was an 18-year old student and football player at Lamar College (now Lamar University) when he enlisted in the Marines shortly after Pearl Harbor. He soon became one of the elite Marine Raiders.

After the war, Phillips returned to Lamar and then spent two years playing football at Stephen F. Austin State University.

Phillips spent much of the 1950s coaching high school football at a number of schools across Texas. He did, however, get his first taste of college football as he served as an assistant to Bear Bryant at Texas A&M in 1958.

He later served as the head coach at Texas Western (now Texas El-Paso) in 1962 and as the defensive coordinator at the University of Houston for the 1965 and 1966 seasons.

His first foray into the NFL came in 1967 when legendary coach Sid Gillman hired him as the defensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers. He coached with the Chargers for four years and later served as Gillman’s defensive coordinator with the Houston Oilers.

In 1975, the 51-year old former high school coach completed his improbable journey by being named the head coach and general manager of the Houston Oilers.

Though the Oilers had not posted a winning record since 1967 and just two seasons earlier had won just one game, Phillips led his squad to a surprising 10-4 record during his first season at the helm.

Phillips and running back Earl Campbell helped create the "Luv Ya Blue" mania of the late 1970s.

Phillips and running back Earl Campbell helped create the “Luv Ya Blue” mania of the late 1970s.

After going 5-9 in 1976 and 8-6 in 1977, the Oilers drafted Heisman Trophy winner Earl Campbell prior to the 1978 season and went 10-6 and reached the playoffs for the first time since 1969. After winning consecutive playoff games over the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots, the Oilers lost the AFC Championship Game to the Pittsburgh Steelers 34-5.

The next season the Oilers improved to 11-5 and then defeated the Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers to again reach the AFC title game against the Steelers. This time the Oilers came very close to upsetting the eventual Super Bowl Champions and had there been instant replay at the time, they may have indeed finished the upset.

Trailing only 17-10 late in the third quarter, they appeared to tie the game on a touchdown pass from Dan Pastorini to Mike Renfro. However, despite the fact that Renfro clearly had possession and both feet in bounds, the play was called incomplete and the Oilers settled for a field goal.

The play was replayed multiple times during the NBC Broadcast and announcer Dick Enberg referenced how it could have been overturned if the officials had access to the same replay as the TV announcers. The play is credited by many as a key instance that helped lead to the implementation of replay in 1986.

However, that was no consolation to Phillips and the Oilers as they ultimately lost 27-13.

After losing the title game, Phillips told a huge crowd at the Houston Astrodome that the Oilers had knocked on the door in 1978 and banged on it in 1979 and that in 1980 they would kick it in.

Unfortunately, the Oilers were never able to kick in that door. After again finishing 11-5 in 1980, the Oilers lost their playoff opener to the eventual champion Oakland Raiders 27-7.

Despite taking the team to three straight playoff appearances and five winning seasons in six years, Phillips was fired by owner Bud Adams.

The charismatic coach was not out of a job for long as he soon took his trademark Cowboy hat to New Orleans as the head coach of the downtrodden Saints.

Though he was not able to bring the Saints the first winning season in team history he came very close. In 1983 the Saints needed a victory in their season finale to finish 9-7 and make the playoffs. Unfortunately, the Los Angeles Rams kicked a game winning field goal in the final seconds to post a 26-24 victory and deny Phillips and the Saints.

Phillips retired from coaching after 12 games of the 1985 season. His final game was a 30-23 win over the Minnesota Vikings that ended a seven game losing streak. His son, assistant coach Wade Phillips, finished out the season and went on to later serve as head coach of the Denver Broncos, Buffalo Bills, Atlanta Falcons (interim) and Dallas Cowboys. He is currently the defensive coordinator for the Houston Texans.

Phillips retired to his Texas ranch with a career record of 82-77.

We offer thoughts and prayers to the family of this American hero and coaching legend.

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