Former Oilers, Saints coach Bum Phillips dies at 90

Bum Phillips was the head coach in Houston and New Orleans. (USATSI)
Bum Phillips was the head coach in Houston and New Orleans. (USATSI)

Bum Phillips, who helped turn the Houston Oilers into a playoff team in the mid-1970s and was a beloved figure in the state of Texas, died Friday at the age of 90, according to his son.

Wrote Wade Phillips, the Texans defensive coordinator, late Friday night:

After coaching high school for many years, Phillips spent a number of seasons coaching in college, including apprenticing under Bear Bryant at Texas A&M before moving on to SMU and Oklahoma State.

In the late 1960s, Sid Gillman hired Phillips as the defensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers, and that's when Phillips was one of the first in the NFL to establish the 3-4 defensive scheme.

It didn't go so well at first.

"We put it in here when I got in pro ball, because football is all about using the personnel you’ve got," Phillips told me in November 2011. "You have to get the best 11 defensive players on the field. It’s up to you to put them in a situation where you can use them all. If you’re short on linemen like we were in San Diego [in the late 1960s] and you had four really, really good linebackers where we couldn’t play all four of them, you utilized your best people. But after Chicago beat us bad in the preseason, Sid made me go back to the 4-3 defense.

"When I was at Oklahoma State [in 1973], Sid asked me to come to Houston as the defensive coordinator, and I said I would do it if he let me play the defense that fit the guys we had. He said sure, and we played the 3-4. I knew it would work. We were the first to do it down-in and down-out. Other people used it as a prevent defense if they were winning the game. You know, put eight back in the secondary and rush three. But I knew darn good and well it would work."

Phillips took over as head coach for Gillman in 1975 in Houston, and three years later, he was leading the Oilers to their first of three-straight playoff appearances. He eventually was fired by owner Bud Adams, and in 1981, he took over the Saints head coaching job.

Phillips usually wore his cowboy hat when he prowled the sidelines, but he didn't don it when his team played in domes because, as the story goes, his mother told him not ever to wear hats while he was indoors.

He was also famous for, when talking about Dolphins coach Don Shula, saying, "He can take his'n and beat your'n and take your'n and beat his'n."

But the best story I ever heard from Phillips was when he was talking about Gillman and his love of film-watching. One late night, the two of them were watching film, and Phillips was beginning to fall asleep when Gillman startled him awake by saying, "Hey Bum, this is better than making love."

Responded Phillips: "Either I don't know how to watch film, Sid, or you don't know how to make love."

(When Phillips told me that story, he slyly remarked that the language might have been a little more blue than that.)

As the Houston Chronicle's John McClain writes, Phillips' family is asking that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to help build a home for deaf children at

Writes McClain:

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