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Bum Phillips dies at 90; folksy Texas football icon coached NFL's Oilers and Saints

Bum Phillips dies at 90; folksy Texas football icon coached NFL's Oilers and Saints
In this Jan. 7, 2012, photograph, former Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips tips his hat to the crowd before an NFL playoff football game in Houston. Phillips died Friday at the age of 90. (David Einsel / Associated Press)

Bum Phillips, the folksy Texas football icon who coached the NFL's Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints, died Friday at his home in Goliad, Texas. He was 90 and had been in declining health.

"Bum is gone to Heaven," his son Wade Phillips, the Houston Texans' defensive coordinator, tweeted Friday night. "Loved and will be missed by all — great Dad, Coach, and Christian."

Born Oail Andrew Phillips Jr. in Orange, Texas, on Sept. 29, 1923, he was a Lone Star original in his blue jeans, cowboy boots and trademark white Stetson — except at the Astrodome or any other domed stadium because he was taught it was disrespectful to wear a hat indoors.

He took over as coach of the Oilers in 1975 and led Houston to two AFC championship games before he was fired in 1980. He was responsible for drafting Heisman Trophy winner Earl Campbell, the player who was largely credited with the success of the franchise.

Houston lost to Pittsburgh, 34-5, in the AFC championship game after Campbell's rookie season, 1978. The Oilers returned to the game the next season only to be beaten again by the Steelers, this time 27-13.

The Oilers went 11-5 in 1980 but lost to Oakland in the AFC wild-card round and Phillips was fired.

He left to coach the Saints in 1981. He didn't have a winning record in his time there and retired in 1985.

Phillips played football at Lamar Junior College before joining the Marines during World War II. After the war, he went to Stephen F. Austin, where he played two more football seasons before graduating with a degree in education in 1949.

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He spent about two decades coaching in high schools and colleges, mostly in Texas — he assisted the likes of Bear Bryant at Texas A&M — before making the jump to the AFL in 1967 as an assistant under Sid Gillman with the San Diego Chargers. Phillips came to Houston in 1974 as Gillman's defensive coordinator and became coach and general manager when Gillman resigned after that season.

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Phillips picked up the nickname Bum as a child when his younger sister couldn't pronounce "brother" correctly. He embraced the nickname and was quoted as saying: "I don't mind being called Bum, just as long as you don't put a 'you' in front of it."

Phillips is survived by his second wife, Debbie, six children from his first marriage, and almost two dozen grandchildren.

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