Phillips, Oail Andrew, Jr. [Bum] (1923–2013)

By: Tucker Sauer

Type: Biography

Published: September 12, 2017

Updated: August 7, 2020

Bum Phillips, football coach, rancher, and World War II veteran, was born Oail Andrew Phillips, Jr., on September 29, 1923, in Orange, Texas. Phillips was the son of Oail Andrew Phillips and Naomi Aileen (Parish) Phillips. Phillips was given his nickname “Bum” as a child when one of his sisters could not enunciate the word “brother” correctly, and it sounded like “bum.” Both sides of Phillips’s family came from a ranching background, and, as a child, Bum often helped his maternal grandfather who managed a large ranch. The family moved to Beaumont, Texas, when he was in the seventh grade, and he later attended French High School. Phillips played football at Lamar College (now Lamar University), but when the United States entered World War II he joined the United States Marine Corps. Phillips served in the South Pacific, initially on Guadalcanal, and was in the Marines for almost three years. He married Helen E. Wilson in Jefferson, Texas, on September 20, 1946. They had six children.

After Phillips’s military service, he returned to Texas to Lamar College and football and eventually transferred to Stephen F. Austin State College (now Stephen F. Austin State University), where he graduated with a degree in education in 1949. After college Phillips spent the better part of almost two decades coaching high school and college football in Texas. During the summers he also often worked as a roughneck in area oilfields and refineries. From 1950 to 1956 he was assistant coach and then head coach at Nederland High School. After Nederland, he spent a year at Texas A&M as an assistant coach under Bear Bryant and then went back to high school coaching as head coach at Jacksonville High School in East Texas and then in Amarillo. In 1962 Phillips became head coach of the football program at Texas Western College (now University of Texas at El Paso). A year later, he returned to high school coaching at Port Neches. In 1965 he joined the coaching staff of Bill Yeoman at the University of Houston.

In 1967 Phillips made the leap to the American Football League (AFL) and was recruited as a defensive line coach under Sid Gillman with the San Diego Chargers. With the Chargers, Phillips first implemented his storied 3–4 defense. He remained with the team for five years before he joined Coach Hayden Fry at Southern Methodist University. A year later he worked as an assistant coach at Oklahoma State.

In 1974 Bum Phillips was hired as defensive coordinator for the Houston Oilers. In 1975 he was awarded the head coaching job, which he held until 1980. Known for his Western attire of a cowboy hat and cowboy boots and for his folksy and colorful expressions, Phillips ushered in the “Luv ya Blue!” era of the Oilers during his six seasons as head coach. Beloved by his players and by fans, he took the Oilers to two AFC Championship games (1978 and 1979) but lost both games in heartbreaking fashion to the Pittsburgh Steelers. After both losses, tens of thousands of fans welcomed Phillips and his team back home at the Astrodome. Although Phillips twice came up short of the Super Bowl, he was still the winningest coach in Oilers history, with an overall record of 55–35. After Phillips’s sixth season as head coach, however, and an early exit in the playoffs with a loss to the Oakland Raiders in the AFC Wild Card game, the team’s management decided on a change and fired Phillips on December 31, 1980. Phillips was once quoted as saying: “There’s two kinds of coaches—them that’s fired and them that’s gonna be fired.”

The following season Phillips took over as head coach of the New Orleans Saints, but he retired before the end of the 1985 season after going 27–42 with the team. Phillips is credited for two common NFL concepts that are still used today. First, while at Texas A&M under Bear Bryant, Phillips was credited for developing the numbering system for defensive fronts. His other major contribution was the introduction of the 3–4 defense. After Phillips’s coaching career was over he worked on his ranch, organized several charities, and watched his football concepts take shape in the NFL.

In 1990, after his divorce from his first wife, Bum Phillips married Debbie Ewing. In 1995 they settled in Goliad on a large ranch and eventually opened it as a retreat center after they established Bum Phillips Charities in 2010 to support Christian ministeries and other causes. The Phillips Ranch hosted pastoral retreats, widows’ retreats, and a summer camp for deaf children. Phillips’s autobiography, Bum Phillips: Coach, Cowboy, Christian, coauthored with Gabe Semenza who described Phillips as the “Will Rogers of the NFL,” was published in 2010. Among his honors, Phillips was inducted into the Stephen F. Austin University Lettermen’s Association Hall of Fame in 1976 and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 1999.

Phillips’s legacy in the NFL continued through his son Wade Phillips, whose career included head coaching jobs for the Denver Broncos, Buffalo Bills, and Dallas Cowboys. He won a Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos as defensive coordinator in 2015. Oail Andrew “Bum” Phillips passed away at age ninety from natural causes on October 18, 2013, on his ranch in Goliad, Texas. He was survived by his wife, Debbie, six children, and numerous grandchildren. He was buried on his ranch.

Doug Farrar, “Remembering Bum Phillips, the unsung defensive innovator,” Sports Illustrated, October 19, 2013. “Former Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips dies at 90," USA Today, October 19, 2013 (, accessed October 16, 2016, Curry Kirkpatrick, “Hallelujah. He’s. Uh. Bum.,” Sports Illustrated, October 27, 1980. Bianca Montes, “Football icon Bum Phillips dies at his Goliad ranch,” Victoria Advocate, October 19, 2013 (, accessed October 16, 2016. New York Times, October 20, 2013. Coach Bum Phillips, Interview by Dr. Joseph Pratt, March 27, 2008, Houston Oral History Project, Houston Public Library Digital Archives (, accessed September 6, 2017. Bum Phillips with Gabe Semenza, Bum Phillips: Coach, Cowboy, Christian (Brenham, Texas: Lucid Books, 2010).

  • Education
  • Educators
  • Physical Education, Home Economics, and Health
  • Sports and Recreation
  • Coaches
  • Sports (Football)
Time Periods:
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Tucker Sauer, “Phillips, Oail Andrew, Jr. [Bum],” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 28, 2022,

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September 12, 2017
August 7, 2020

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