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It was when he had the job at Nederland that ol' Bum Phillips got hisself a defense. Coach Bryant had been fiddling around with some numbers at one of them clinics up at A&M and he reckoned there must be some way to call the D that way. Coach Bryant was like that. He was always mentioning something, giving folks an idea, then leaving them to figure it out for themselves. After Coach Bryant planted the seed, sure enough if ol' Bum didn't go concoct the thing, deciding there ain't but eight places a man can run with the football, so if he numbered them gaps it'd be easy as pie for the little buckaroos to remember where to cover. After 'while, Bum could take 11 kids from any high school in those parts and in one practice show 'em 15 different defenses and they'd line up right every time. Didn't even have to think. Damn. It was just like Bum said: "Ever' time you make a football player think, you handicappin' him."
Anyhow. Once during those six years at Nederland, ol' Bum turned down the opportunity to interview for the Odessa job in 4A. Didn't think he was ready. Too big a staff. All the time Bum kept wearing out the chalk with those X's and O's and he won something like 50 straight at Nederland. Came to give Coach Bryant his blocking rules, too. The ones he invented to beat little Fuzzy Brown across the border over in Baton Rouge. You 'member Little Fuzzy. He was Big Fuzzy's brother. Big Fuzzy was the principal. Little Fuzzy coached and Big Fuzzy 'ministered. Little Fuzzy and Big Fuzzy.
Anyhow. Bum drove up to College Station for lunch on Thursday and A&M scored against SMU three times with them blocking rules on Saturday. The next thing you know—it was 1956—ol' Bear hired ol' Bum to come work for the Aggies. They whipped up on some people, won 14 in a row.
The thing was, the Aggies shoulda beat Rice in 1957. Would have, too, only they didn't run Bum's fake punt good enough. Bear never wanted it, 'course. Bear never was a trick guy. But Bum must have called it 25 times in high school and scored ever' time. They even gave the fake punt a name. The Bumerooski. At A&M they practiced it and practiced it, even though Bear didn't want it. But here it was. Aggies down by a point. So Bum says to Bear he might could go with the Bumerooski, he's gonna get beat anyway. And Bear says do it, and so they did. Well, Loyd Taylor is steaming around end and the Owls are fooled and A&M is gonna pull it off just fine, except for one thing. Bobby Marks misses the in-block on Buddy Dial and Dial forces Taylor out of bounds. A&M loses by a point. God-almighty. Made Bum so mad he still throws the chalk against the board diagramming the blamed play.
Anyhow. After Coach Bryant left A&M to take the job at Alabama—it was 1958—he wanted Bum to come along, but Bum never'd been out of Texas 'cept to fight in the war, so he just stayed around. "Somethin' will happen, always does," Bum said. Well, he got the job at Jacksonville, out near Tyler, right away, and a year later he moved clear 'cross the state and got the job at Amarillo.
Anyhow. About the double quarterback. Way back ol' Bum never saw such a thing before, but he'd been whomping folks so bad using the middle linebacker all over the place that one time Duncan over at French High School in Beaumont—what was his first name? Paul? Bill? Bum says it don't matter anyway because the guy ended up an Aggie—well, Duncan sent out two quarterbacks over the center to confuse the linebacker. Sometimes the snap'd go to one, other times to the other. Bum told his 'backer don't worry about it, don't fool with it. Bum kicked Duncan's tail anyway. Bum says if a man's gonna use tricks, a man oughta be sure they work.
Like the onside kick. Ol' Bum got that one from a guy on an airplane. The guy was from Arkansas, if you can believe it, and Bum found hisself sitting next to him on the way to one of them coaches' conventions. After 'while Bum said, "What you do good?" The guy said, "Onside kick. We never kick it straight." Well ol' Bum thought he had a weirdo for sure this time. Then the guy explained how he got his kicker to kick upside the top of the ball so the thing bounces end over end, crazy-like, for 10 yards and then hops 15 feet straight up in the air. Hell to catch. At home Bum tried it and it worked. Like every cotton-pickin' time, that's all. 'Course, that was before soccer kickers. When a man runs sideways to the ball, Bum says, it don't matter if he's Pelé hisself, the thing won't hop straight up.
Anyhow. In 1962 when Bum got the head job at Texas Western and they promised him everything and delivered on nothing, he must've run off about 40 guys who came out for practice. They didn't even have enough bodies for a spring game. Had to call up some alums. Texas Western's called the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) now—la-di-da—and Don Haskins, the basketball coach, remembers living in the dorm and hearing "suitcases rattlin' around the halls at night." That meant Bum just run off some more. Or else they flat-out quit their own selves. At Texas Western, Bum described his position as "a job in college, not a college job. It was the kind of job where you gonna have people who get you beat 21-7."
Anyhow. Against New Mexico one time the Miners didn't move the ball diddlysquat, zero first downs, but a guy they called McGoo intercepted a pass and ran 105 yards for a touchdown. Somebody else blocked a punt in the end zone for another six. A guy with glasses from Wink, Texas kicked what was probably the only field goal of his life. And Texas Western led 16-12. "Then we held 'em on the goal line," Bum says. "No, wait. What was it? We had 'em by four points, but they had four downs from the six. We held and took the safety. Beat 'em 16-14." After the game the Miners carried Bum off the field. When Bum resigned at the end of the season to move on down the line, the Miners cried. Right away Haskins remembered an article he had read before Bum even came to El Paso. The Amarillo Globe-News had asked famous people from around the state what they'd do if they had it to do over. Bum Phillips, who'd been coachin' football in high school nigh onto 10 years, answered that he would be coaching football.
Anyhow. Ol' Bum, who had already jumped from high school coaching to college coaching twice, went back to high school again and became head coach in Port Neches, across the road from Nederland. Talk about your turncoats. It was 1964. He and his wife Helen had four daughters at the time, they're up to five now, and a son, who had transferred so much he hadn't once been eligible for the varsity. It was five times in six years that Bum had picked up his whole family, kit and caboodle, and moved on down the line. Ever' time Bum told the kids to get in the car to go to the Dairy Queen or somewheres they were afraid they were moving again. Ever' spring Helen started packing because they sure enough were. But now, all of a sudden, Bum said the hell with it. He was a legend in the state already. He had a good superintendent who gave him ever'thing he wanted. He got paid enough. It was a great job. He'd quit knocking around. He'd stay in Port Neches. He told the family he'd stay. And he did stay for two seasons. But, dammit, Bum knew that giving up here, now, would be like quitting in the fourth quarter. Bum always swore he'd never quit. Bum had always said, "Ever'body's gotta be somewhere." So at the two-minute warning he took off the headset, called his family together and audibled his way out of the huddle. It was another Bumerooski. Bum Phillips was 41 years old when he decided to leave Port Neches-Groves High School and try to win the Super Bowl.