Phillips left out football players. For all his reputation as a defensive blackboard strategist and humanitarian molder of relationships, the man's eye for individual talent and flair for weaving it into the fabric of a team has been the outstanding characteristic of his reign at Houston. While Phillips gave the franchise direction, cohesion and his inimitable style, his trade with Tampa Bay for the draft rights to Earl Campbell didn't hurt. Not that it took a genius to see what Campbell could do for a team. But Bum was wheeling and dealing to get the Oilers untracked long before the Campbell opportunity presented itself.
One of the most fragile of front-office skills is the achievement of balance between trades and draft choices. Backing and filling the meat on and off the hoof. George Allen extended the lives of his teams by trading for ancient relics. Chuck Noll and Tom Landry have relied almost exclusively on the draft. To move the Oilers into the neighborhood of the elite, Phillips has craftily employed both tools of the trade. Since taking over, Phillips has pulled off at least one "blockbuster" trade before each of his six seasons as Oiler coach.
1975. Center Mauck to Houston from San Diego for negotiating rights to two players no longer in football. Mauck has started 142 consecutive games; from Day One he has been the spiritual leader of the Oilers.
1976. Quarterback John Hadl, Cornerback Ken Ellis, cash and two draft choices from Green Bay for Quarterback Lynn Dickey. Though Hadl contributed little, with one draft the Oilers got Fullback Tim Wilson; they traded Ellis to Miami for two other draft picks, one of which turned out to be Jimmie Giles, the man the Buccaneers desired for the rights to Campbell.
1977. Punter Cliff Parsley from New Orleans for a sixth-round draft pick. Punting had been an Oiler embarrassment; Parsley has started for three years, sacrificing his average on a control team that often gives up the ball at midfield where a kicker must finesse rather than boom away.
1978. Campbell via the draft from Tampa Bay for Giles and four draft picks. With Giles and Quarterback Doug Williams, drafted with a Houston pick, the Bucs made the NFC championship game last year. With Campbell, the Oilers made history. The former University of Texas Heisman Trophy winner led the NFL in rushing his first two years (1978, 1,450 yards; '79, 1,697). Houston also gave up virtually nothing in exchange for the Jets' Caster.
1979. Offensive Tackle Leon Gray from New England for more draft choices. The Oilers had slumped into a malaise after a career-ending head injury to Tackle Greg Sampson, a budding star. Gray is merely one of the best at his position. Ever.
1980. Quarterback Ken Stabler from Oakland for Quarterback Dan Pastorini. The Big Gamble. And when it became evident that Stabler was not able to complete those passes underneath defenses as he had at Oakland, Phillips backed his bet last week by acquiring four-time All-Pro Tight End Dave Casper from the Raiders. Total cost for this new battery: a first-and two second-round choices (for Casper) and Pastorini, a nine-year starter for the Oilers (straight-up for Stabler). Tune in Jan. 25 to see if Bum Phillips snookered a championship.
As for the draft, in 1975, with his first choice in his first year, Phillips chose the awesome Robert Brazile, Doctor Doom himself, now a consensus All-Pro linebacker. Gillman had traded away most of the 1976 Oiler picks; still, Phillips came away with Mike Barber, the starting tight end. In the 1977 draft the Oilers hit the jackpot, landing running backs Wilson and Rob Carpenter, offensive linemen Morris Towns and George Reihner and Defensive Back Bill Currier, all of whom became starters.
Reclamation projects? The Houston halfway house for the extremely wayward remains open. The Oilers got five solid years out of Steve Kiner, an admitted reformed drug user. Phillips got several productive games from the Smith brothers, not the cough drop twins but the noted malcontents, Bubba and Tody. Now Bum is further testing his mettle with the recent employment of Thomas (Hollywood) Henderson, the prince of shuck and jive.