, Port Arthur, Texas

October 19, 2013

A friend's thoughts on Bum Phillips

John DeVillier
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — It wasn’t easy to dislodge Bum Phillips from the comfort of his Goliad ranch but late in life he returned to his roots for three consecutive years.

     In 2010, his journey was to mid-county for a book signing.  A year later it was to see his name go up on streets signs in Nederland and Port Neches, where he coached in the early days of his legendary career.

    And in 2012 he was guest speaker at Lamar University's preseason football banquet. Returning from combat in the United States Marines, Bum enrolled at what was then Lamar Junior College. He lettered in football and basketball in 1946 and 1947 before moving on to Stephen F. Austin State.

     Old friends and new admirers filed by a table at the Holiday Inn for hours on September 15, 2010 while he signed his autobiography, “Coach, Cowboy, Christian.”

     Among those who had known him the longest was Tuffy Nelson, a Nederland loyalist but once a rival football player at Silsbee.  One of the most touching reunions was between Bum and former teammate Dan Durham.  “I haven’t seen him since our days at French High School,” said Durham, who played center for the Buffs in 1940.

    Phillips wrote in the preface to the book:  "I'm not the type 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 to have regrets at my age -- when there is no time left in the game."

    My own life is late in the fourth quarter so it’s time to jot down a few anecdotes about Bum before they fade from memory.

    • He was a bigger-than-life guy, gruff but gentle and courteous in a cowboy way. Bum was supposed to keep the line moving at his book signing but he couldn't -- he had to pause and reminisce.  He perked up when he saw Tammy McCollum Mire, the daughter of the late Gene McCollum. McCollum, who was the Port Neches-Groves football coach when Philips was at Nederland, later moved up to become superintendent and hired Bum to coach the Indians in 1963. "Your dad was the greatest football influence in my life," he told Tammy. "Even more than Bear Bryant.” She wasn't the only person who left the room with happy tears.

    •  It took only a moment for Bum to understand the pecking order when he joined Bear Bryant’s staff at Texas A&M.  The legendary coach turned to Bum and barked, “We need more footballs out here.” Before Bum could blow his whistle to summon a student manager, Bryant yelled, “Dammit, coach, YOU get the footballs!”  Bum remembers taking off at a fast trot.

    • Wilford Moore, the coach who preceded Bum at Port Neches-Groves, was an advocate of isometric exercises.  He had the school erect a number of stations where the football players could push and pullagainst their own muscles, ostensibly to gain bulk and strength.  Bum took one look at the layout, shook his head, and said, “We’re going to have a weight room. The fellows will yank some iron so we can accurately measure their progress.”

    • When his high school staff was drawing playbooks to be given to the team, Bum dispensed templates with perfect X’s and O’s.  “If we expect precision, we can’t afford to be sloppy.”

    • There often were vacant seats in the auditorium when big name college coaches addressed members of the Texas High School Coaches Association but it was always standing-room-only when Bum held informal chalkboard sessions in his hotel room.

    •  Bum's real name: Oail Andrew Phillips. I understand a little sister tried to call him "Brother" but it came out "Bum."

    I wonder if she had any inkling that he’d grow up to be a man admired by millions?