There are very few men who have walked the sideline as an NFL coach like Bum Phillips. Wait let’s change that, there was no one like Bum Phillips. That may be the reason Bum Phillips has not found his rightful place in Canton. Head coaches are expected to be overly emotional and intense and display their emotions on the sideline, or they are supposed to be the quiet Tom Landry type that constantly studies film and goes about coaching the game in a stoic manner. Bum was neither one of these types of coaches. Phillips marched to the beat of his own drum and that hurt him because in the eyes of many, Bum was just a guy that wore a Cowboy hat and was quick with one-liners.
Phillips was much more than that.
What makes a football coach a Hall of Famer? To me it is innovation, how did he change the game? Bum knocks this criterion out of the park. The two common concepts Phillips is often credited for is bringing to football, in general, and the NFL, in particular, is the numbering system for defensive fronts and the professional version of the 3-4 defense. Phillips worked for Paul “Bear” Bryant at Texas A&M in 1958, and it was there that the current numbering system (one-technique, three-tech, five-tech, etc.) became common nomenclature. Of course, both of these innovations are still used and the numbering system is used by everybody. That is all Bum Phillips.
If you like what Parcells and Belichick did with Lawrence Taylor when he got to the NFL, just realize the first one to do this was Bum Phillips who used 1975 draft choice and now Hall of Fame outside linebacker Robert Brazile the same way, and he did it a half a decade before the Giants did it with L.T.
It is often asked when discussing if someone is a hall of Famer, can you write the history of the game without them? With Bum Phillips the answer is simply NO, you can’t write the history of the game without him.
No, he did not but neither did George Allen or Sid Gillman and they are in, and they are in because they were innovators and changed the way the game was played. Remember this, before Bum took over the Oilers in 1975 the Oilers were a bad football team that nobody wanted to play for and that all changed once Bum got to Houston.
Phillips replaced Sid Gillman as the Oilers’ head coach in 1975, going 10-4 in his first season and working his magic with a team that had won a total of nine games in the previous three years. Much has been said and written about Phillips’ ability to bring players together and instill a common belief system with different franchises, but there was far more to his success than the intangibles. Bum Phillips was a brilliant defensive innovator and strategist, and maybe most importantly, Bum cared about his players and he treated them like family.
When you talk to his former players such as Robert Brazile, Dan Pastorini, and Greg Bingham it is clear the love that these men had for Phillips and that’s why he won. Sure he couldn’t “kick the door in” against the Steelers, but let’s face it, that Steelers team has to be in consideration when talking about the greatest teams in NFL history. Bum changed Oilers’ football in Houston and the “Luv Ya Blue Oilers” of the mid to late 70’s are one of the most remembered teams in NFL history from the fight song to the blue pom poms and that is all because of Bum Phillips.
When Phillips arrived in New Orleans after being unceremoniously fired in Houston after guiding the Oilers to the 1980 playoffs, he turned a team that was 1-15 in 1980 into a team that missed the playoffs by a field goal in 1983. Phillips took over a defense that ranked 28th in points and yards in 1980 and had it in the top five in yards allowed from 1982 through 1984. He resigned in November 1985 and never coached in the NFL again — content at that point to work on his ranch. Bum also played a part in starting what would become the “Dome Patrol” defense under Jim Mora by drafting linebacker Rickey Jackson in 1981.
Every game that is played in the NFL today still uses his defensive numbering system, so yes, Bum still impacts the NFL to this day. The thing that sticks out to me the most is that whenever a former player speaks about Bum you can hear the love they have for this man in their voices. Robert Brazile was just elected into the Hall of Fame and it is time that he is joined by his old coach. It would be the right thing to do and more importantly, Phillips deserves to be there.
It’s time for Bum Phillips to go home to Canton!
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