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Sundays with Sacco: The Phillips coaching family

Check out photos from Wade Phillips' coaching career, including a stint as the Broncos' defensive coordinator from 1989-1992 and head coach from 1993-1994. All photos from Associated Press.

July is the slowest month of the National Football League schedule, when coaches and football personnel get to escape for a few days or weeks before the much anticipated start of training camp in mid to late July.

When that day comes, all coaching families turn full bore to football, and the turn is widest and longest in the Wade Phillips family, as it has always been since World War II.


Denver Broncos fans like and respect Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips, and my personal feelings go way deeper than that for one of the classiest guys with whom I have ever worked.

Unknown to almost all fans and press is the fact that there has only been one continuous three-generation coaching family in NFL history, and that is the Phillips family.

That would be Bum, Wade, and Wes — three men who total 61 years in the NFL among them, with two more to be added to that tote board in 2015 (as both Wade and Wes each will add a year of service this coming year).

It all started back in the day, the early 1940's, when football and America were both way different.

Bum Phillips (his given name was Oail, and if that were yours you likely would adopt a nickname as well) had just finished his first year playing college football when World War II broke out. His blood was as red as anyone's so Bum enlisted in the Marines.

Actually not just the Marines, but he became a Marine Raider, described as "an elite force within an elite force," so much so that they were disbanded after World War II, in part due to resentment within some members of the corps itself. But I digress.


Bum finished his education and became a football coach at Texas high schools during the 1950's and 1960's, one dusty football-crazed community after another, then coached at several colleges before going to work for the legendary Sid Gillman as a defensive assistant for the San Diego Chargers in 1967.

From that point until now, the Phillips chain in pro football has been unbroken.

Often thought of by the unsophisticated as a cowboy caricature with his trademark boots and cowboy hat, Bum was so much more than that. Possessed of a keen football mind and the kind of personality for which players would run through walls, he went with Gillman to Houston in 1973, became the head coach in 1975 and led the Oilers to the American Football Conference championship game in back to back seasons, 1978 and 1979.

Unfortunately, they had to face one of the greatest teams in NFL history in both years, the Pittsburgh Steelers, but if they hadn't, Bum's Oilers might have won consecutive Super Bowls themselves. The Houston team and coach were that good.

Bum wrapped up his career in New Orleans, retired to his ranch and passed away in 2013 at the age of 90.

But no legacy ever lived on any better than his.

Wade Phillips is in his second stint in Denver, and he is one of my favorite guys ever. He is back as our Defensive Coordinator in 2015, and Wade's hire has been a highly praised one throughout the football community. Of course, Gary Kubiak is also in that class and has hired a whole staff that falls from the same tree as far as class and talent are concerned.

Of his legendary father, Wade says, "I was blessed to have him as a father and coach. I got to coach with him for 11 years. He taught me everything I know about coaching. He taught me right and wrong. He taught me to enjoy life."

Wade made several stops along the way as well, coming to the Broncos under head coach Dan Reeves in 1989, serving as defensive coordinator for four years until becoming Denver's head coach for two seasons, 1993 and 1994. Wade took the Broncos to the payoffs his first year and his photo adorns our wall of head coaches in the interior lobby of the Denver Broncos headquarters.

A reporter was once talking to Bum about Wade, and noting that the younger Phillips is himself an excellent coach, the reporter told Bum, "Wade certainly learned a lot from your tutelage."

"Shoot," replied Bum, "that boy was a natural. He didn't need any tootelin'."

Grammar aside, you get the point. Fathers and sons, coaches and coaches.


Less well known is young Wes Phillips, and that is only because he is still at the front end of what is expected to also be a lengthy career.

Wes played quarterback at UTEP and for two seasons in the USFL before starting off on the same familiar path traveled by his grandfather and dad.

He is in his second year as the tight ends coach for the Washington Redskins after having coached the Dallas tight ends for five years before that.

But it is a tough fraternity in which to gain admittance, and Wes is pushing toward a full decade as a pro coach himself.

If you have not been keeping score, it all adds up to 16 years for Bum Phillips, 38 (including 2015) for Wade, and nine (including 2015) for Wes.

Each is given to football sense, strong values and plain talk.

Of course, many of us remember the quote from Bum when asked why he did not wear his trademark Stetson when the Oilers played a home game in The Astrodome--"My mother raised me not to wear a hat indoors. And if you cannot get rained on, you are indoors."

I remember dozens of similar quotes with Wade. Once when we added a new linebacker to the roster literally just hours before a game, the press asked Wade what would happen if the young guy failed to learn much of the defensive structure before the game.

Wade deadpanned, "Then I will just ask him to keep an eye on which one of their guys has the ball, and go knock that guy down."

Keeping it simple is always a good policy, but sometimes it masks inner complexities.

Humor is popular quality, but it is just one of the Phillips family traits, all of them good and rooted in the best of American values, bred and learned in Texas.

So in just a few weeks, when the first sweat hits the ground in NFL camps, Wade and Wes Phillips will be carrying the flag of their family tree for the seventh decade as the only three generational coaching clan in NFL history.

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