Son of Bum (Diversion Books, 2017)
Wade Phillips, Vic Carucci

Wade Phillips has been a football coach since he was 22 years old. He’s 71 now and, at the time of writing, serving as defensive coordinator for the LA Rams. In between, Phillips has made a reputation for himself as an excellent defensive mind and had six stints as head coach, or interim head coach. He’s also known for his father, legendary Houston Oiler and New Orleans Saints head coach, Bum Phillips.

This book is subtitled ‘Lessons My Dad Taught Me About Football and Life’ and it opens with Bum’s death, in 2013. From there Phillips, and co-writer Vic Carucci, spin back to Wade’s childhood and tell the story of his career chronologically. Wade coached with his father in college as well as at the Oilers and Saints, so it makes sense that a significant amount of the book deals with Bum’s career. Indeed, Bum’s book, He Ain’t No Bum is quoted frequently, and at length – probably more than is necessary.

Son of Bum is a short book – about 200 pages, with plenty of photos and full-page chapter titles that pad things out even further. It’s fair to say that there isn’t a lot of material in here. That’s a shame, since Phillips has been coaching for long enough, at such a high level, that there is clearly more that could be written.

One of the most interesting sections concerns Phillips’ time in Buffalo. He believes that their late win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in week seven of 1998 saved the franchise for Buffalo. The Bills had been struggling to raise money to renovate their stadium but Phillips argues that the Jacksonville game galvanised local support. Without that, he writes, the franchise might well have moved.

Phillips also discusses his coaching philosophy. He writes:

“The first thing I tell players is football is a simple game. All you have to do is know what to do, how to do it and do it with great effort. The first thing we teach is alignment. Where do you line up for each play? Then we teach assignment. What are you supposed to do on that play? Then we teach technique. How do you execute that assignment.”

Elsewhere he includes a transcript of a handout he gave to Denver Broncos players when he took over that team’s defense in 2015 – his second stint as Broncos’ defensive coordinator. He told them:

“In all situations, we will defend the inside of the middle of the field first – defend inside out. Against the run, the Broncos will not allow the ball to be run inside. We want to force the ball outside. Against the pass, the Broncos will not allow the ball to be thrown deep down the middle or inside.”

His defense that year was crucial in the Broncos’ Super Bowl 50 win.

The mixture of coaching manual, biography and family tribute doesn’t work well in a book this slight. None of the themes really gets the space it deserves. A great book could be written about Phillips’ decade spent coaching alongside his father, for example. This one barely scratches the surface. Likewise, there isn’t nearly enough depth on how Phillips has built and adapted his defensive philosophy over his career.

In the end, though Son of Bum is a quick and enjoyable read, it’s by no means essential.


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