The name Bum Phillips is synonymous with a spiritual man who holds no punches with his southern ways. A native of Orange County, he’s revered as a man of his word and a strong supporter of his community. This month, he has released a new book entitled “Bum Phillips: Coach. Cowboy. Christian.”. It is a well written tale of his life.

While fans of Luv Ya Blue remember Phillips for his cowboy hat and boots, for his down-home Texas yarns, most people don’t know he survived deadly battles during World War II, stumbled almost accidentally into football and later gave his life, during a trip to prison, to Jesus Christ. The book chronicles his transformation from a beer-drinking cowboy, U.S. Marine and football coach to a devoted son of God.

Born Oail Andrew Phillips, he got his famous nickname from his older sister who stammered and could not say the word “brother”. The name Bum stuck, and he has always explained, “Bum’s just a nickname, not a description!” The name, dry sense of humor, laid-back demeanor, winning tradition, and ever-present cowboy hat and boots all became a part of the Bum Phillips legend.

Said fellow coaching legend and friend, Sid Gillman, “You could place him in a crowd of a million and ask a total stranger to pick out Bum Phillips, and I’m sure he’d walk right up to him.” That distinctive persona, however, betrayed a shrewd football mind. When Gillman brought Bum to Houston as his defensive coordinator in 1974, it took Phillips only one season to cut the Oilers’ points-against total from 447 to 282. The team was just backing out of consecutive 1-13 seasons, but riding on the strength of Bum’s defense; the Oilers turned their fortunes around that year, finishing 7-7 with more victories than the previous seasons combined. When Gillman stepped down the following year, Phillips was the natural to take over the head-coaching job. He responded by leading the 1975 Oilers to a 10-4 season revealing an uncanny ability to maximize his players’ potentials.

“Coaching is not how much you know,” Phillips said, “It’s how much you can get your players to do.” Bum proved his adeptness at getting his players to perform at their highest levels when he took the Oilers to the 1978 AFC championship game with 21 free agents on his roster. Playing in the NFL’s toughest division, Phillips returned to the AFC championship the following year.

Unfortunately, the Oilers fell for the second consecutive year to their division rivals, the dynasty-building Pittsburgh Steelers.

“Football is a game of failure,” Phillips said. “You fail all the time, but you aren’t a failure until you start blaming someone else.” That willingness to shoulder responsibility made Bum a fan and player favorite wherever he went. He was an instant hit when he took over as head coach of the New Orleans Saints in 1980. He transformed the Saint’s NFL-worst defense into a unit that finished among the top-five defenses in the league over the next five years. Having rebuilt the Saints franchise through innovative scouting techniques and astute drafting, Bum retired from coaching in 1985 and returned to his first love, ranching. His son, Wade, who is the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, and Wade’s son Wesley, who is the offensive quality control coach for the Cowboys, carry on Bum’s coaching legacy.

Although Bum has retired from football, he has not quit working. He and his wife Debbie currently operate a horse and cattle ranch in Goliad County. He does advertising and motivational speaking and works in literally hundreds of charity events with his main focus being the Mike Barber Ministries and Coaches Outreach ministries.

Bum’s daughters and their families are a source of great pride and joy as they love the Lord and walk in His way. They all have great families that include 23 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

The following is an excerpt from the first chapter of Phillips’ new book:


“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” – Proverbs 22:6

I’ve always said people think far more of me than I ever did of myself. Admiration just came with the turf. So why write a book? I suppose I have some stories to tell. You can’t play and coach football for 50 years without gaining valuable lessons. You can’t live 86 years without learning what works, what doesn’t.

My name is Bum Phillips. Remember: Bum is a nickname, not a description. If you know me by my nickname, you likely remember my days on pro football sidelines. I was the coach with the cowboy hat, boots and plug of Tinsley, which I’ve chewed on since 1937.

It’s funny how things work out for a guy. The greatest lesson I learned in life presented itself away from football and while I chewed on a thoughtful question from a friend. If you learn nothing else from this book than the importance of that lesson, I’ve done my job here. We’ll get to that story a bit later.

I want first to explain a few things: Where I come from, why I still wear cowboy hats and what happened behind the scenes of my favorite National Football League times.

Football did more for me than I ever did for it, and I hope this book offers people as much value as the sport offered to me and my family.

Christianity became a big part of my life – and thus a big part of my story – even if I steered away from it until I was 76 years old. I’m not the type of guy, though, who wants to shove anything down anyone’s throat. I’ll simply share my Christian story and hope you learn from my mistakes. You don’t want regrets at my age – when there is no time left in the game.

Now, let’s turn back the clock. I’ve got quite a bit to say about my childhood.

People in East Texas are sticklers for claiming their rightful birthplaces, and I’m no different. Many people have written I was born in Beaumont. Now, I have nothing against Beaumont, but I was born in Orange, Texas. On my 84th birthday, John Dubose, an Orange County commissioner, proclaimed I was one of Orange County’s brightest stars.

Townspeople refer to the day as “Bum Phillips Day.”

I’m not sure what they do on that day, but the gesture reminds me of how grateful I am I was born there.

Orange was born in 1836 – 87 years before I showed up – and the year Texas won its independence from Mexico Native orange groves attracted the hungry boatmen who navigated the Sabine River. You’d think I’d love oranges. I don’t. Every spring, my mama insisted I swallow castor oil, a pale yellow liquid extracted from castor seed.

She figured it cleansed the body, purified me. The catch:

It tasted like hell and I hated it. To ensure I’d guzzle the stuff once a year, mama dripped the liquid into my orange juice, which I can’t drink to this day. My wife eats oranges as part of her diet, but I don’t even like to look at the peels.

Orange is the state’s easternmost city. A strong-armed quarterback could heave a rock from the Texas side of the Sabine River and make a splash in Louisiana’s marshy western edge.

You can’t see the Gulf of Mexico from Orange, but it’s close, too. You understand now why I still love a hot bowl of Capt. Benny’s seafood gumbo.

Note: The first chapter will be concluded in next week’s edition of The Record Newspapers.