A clause in the contract Gillman wrote up gave Phillips responsibility in all policy-making and player-personnel matters—with final approval by the general manager. Phillips knew this was coming. He had seen Gillman do this number on Charlie Waller at San Diego; seen him move up to G.M. and cut Waller's legs right out from under him. Phillips wasn't about to sign away his legs. With Gillman out of town, Phillips got the draw on Adams. He refused to coach unless the approval clause was deleted; furthermore, he demanded that Gillman be barred from the locker room and the practice field as well.
"Bud Adams had to let me have it. He couldn't get anybody else to screw it up much worse than it'd already been screwed up before Sid," Phillips says. "But Sid had to know my feelings. I was going to run this football team."
Within a month Gillman had departed and Phillips had both jobs to himself. The crew-cut cowboy had hot-branded the whole corral. Now, all he had to do was know football, get along with the players and win the games. Shoot, after nine jillion clinics and practices, 25 years and 10 different teams at all the levels—you can look it up—is it any wonder that all the rest was easy?
Bum Phillips' granddaddy rode the Chisholm Trail across the Panhandle. His daddy—Flip—rode a truck, Beaumont-to-Houston round trip twice a day, 18 hours on the road. He did it six days a week for seven years, then quit to try selling milk from his cows in the field. Flip died of emphysema.
Bum Phillips played football at French High in Beaumont. He served 31 months in the Pacific theater during World War II. "I went in thinkin' they couldn't win the war without me," he says. "I came out knowin' they couldn't win with me."
Bum played football at Lamar Junior College. He rode and dogged bulls in the rodeo for spending money. "Hail yes, I won," he says. He played football again while attending Stephen F. Austin State University.
Bum Phillips got his peculiar nickname early on because nobody could pronouce Oail, thank heavens, least of all his younger sister. Edrina Phillips also could not say "brother," which came out "bumble,", which was shortened to the now-familiar "Bum." Great moments in sports.
Surely, Phillips will be cracking that "Bum is a name, not a description. It's fine as long as you don't put a 'you' in front of it" to his dying day. But Ronnie Brown, the Oiler photographer, is credited with the best of the plethora of abominable plays on this name. What Phillips has done in five years is create, Brown said, a "bummerization" of the Oilers.
"Bummerizing," in effect, is a sense of and feel for the team. Everyone is an adult. Everyone is an individual. Everyone knows what is expected of him and is trusted to carry out these duties and responsibilities. The coach is close to the players. He is a friend. All the coaches are friends. Bethea, the elder statesman, refers to "our happy home." Signs all around trumpet: "Luv Ya Blue." Somehow it works.
Bum lets his "boys" or "kids" eat banana pudding, play volleyball and wear funny hats in practices, which are seldom long or hard. Thursdays are beer-keg days at the training field. On Saturdays the players can bring their wives, kids and dogs. One Saturday, Phillips' friend Willie Nelson, the C&W singer, showed up on the field in an Oiler T shirt. It was all the players could do to keep from breaking out in a few bars of Whiskey River. "Ah, the Texas national anthem," Phillips sighs at the mere mention of the song. "Now we're talkin' heaven."