Long-Time Penn State Assistant Bob Phillips Dies After Long Illness
STATE COLLEGE, Pa., April 13 Long-time assistant football coach Bob Phillips, Joe Paterno's first hire when he became head coach in 1966, died here Wednesday after a long illness. Phillips, 75, retired as a full-time assistant football coach following the 1986 season but continued to serve the program as a volunteer coach for a number of years thereafter. It was the second retirement for Phillips, who announced his intention to step aside following the 1984 season only to later reconsider and return for the 1985-86 campaigns.
There will be a memorial service for Phillips on Sunday, April 16, at 3:00 p.m. at the State College Presbyterian Church, 132 West Beaver Avenue. The funeral and burial will be in Pittsburgh on Tuesday. "We have lost an exceptional friend and a mainstay of Penn State football," Coach Joe Paterno said. "Bob Phillips was the consummate coach and the consummate gentleman. He made a profound impression on all of the young men with whom he came in contact. Bob not only taught his student-athletes the fundamentals of a position, he also instructed them in life lessons that had an impact well beyond their college experience. He was one of the most humble, unselfish and genuinely kind people I have ever known. Anyone who made his acquaintance immediately liked and trusted Bob Phillips. We will miss him tremendously."
One of the athletes on whom Phillips made an indelible impression was Heisman Trophy winner John Cappelletti. Phillips was his backfield coach in 1973 and Cappelletti saluted him in his memorable Heisman acceptance speech. "There is a coach here tonight who I am very proud of," Cappy said in remarks at the Downtown Athletic Club banquet in his honor. "He's our backfield coach at Penn State. His name is Bob Phillips. I think he's mainly responsible for a lot of the attitude that goes on at Penn State among the players. He's a very dedicated man to his work, but he goes about it with a healthy and bright attitude. "He relays this to the players," Cappelletti continued, "to the point where you want to do things for him and you take the attitude that you are not out there just to get finished and go in and take a shower but you are out there to accomplish something. People like him are the reason that I think a lot of the players, and I know myself, were out there this year doing the things we did and I'd like to thank him for that."
All-America end Ted Kwalick, who played for Phillips at Montour High School, once said in a interview that the venerable coach "taught me a lot, not just about football, but about life. He was an inspiration to me. He set a great example, which I tried to follow. "I don't know if I could single out any one thing which set him apart; what sets any outstanding human being apart from another? But he was totally consistent in his beliefs," Kwalick continued.
In his 21 years as a Nittany Lion assistant, Phillips handled a variety of assignments including tight ends, wide receivers, quarterbacks, running backs and punters. He coached two first team All-America signal-callers (John Hufnagel '72 and Chuck Fusina '78) and another of his pupils, Todd Blackledge, won the Davey O'Brien Award as the nation's top quarterback in 1982. Phillips served in the U.S. Air Force from 1943 to 1946 and spent two years in the South Pacific. A graduate of Slippery Rock, he was a Little All-America running back as a senior in 1949. Phillips was an eight-time letter winner in football and basketball at the Rock and an All-Pennsylvania selection in both sports. He earned his Bachelor's degree in health and physical education in 1950 and added a Master's from Pittsburgh in 1954. Inducted into the Slippery Rock Athletic Hall of Fame in 1987, he later won election to the Pennsylvania Football Coaches Hall of Fame in 1993.
Before joining the Penn State staff, Phillips coached for 16 years in Pennsylvania high school ranks. He was football and track coach at Sewickley High from 1950-51 and served as assistant football and assistant basketball coach at Rochester High from 1951-55. From Rochester, Phillips went to Montour High School, where he achieved spectacular results in 12 seasons as head coach. Phillips' Montour High teams forged a record of 92 victories against only 12 losses and four ties during his tenure at the Western Pennsylvania school. Six of his teams finished undefeated and the last five Montour squads he coached suffered only one loss and one tie. He coached two WPIAL Class A Champions (1963-64) and two Class B titlists (1957-58).
Two of Phillips' Montour standouts--tight end Kwalick and quarterback Chuck Burkhart--had standout careers at Penn State. Phillips received an honorary membership in the Penn State Football Letterman's Club when he was recognized at the Blue-White spring game in 1988.
There will be a visitation from 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. on Monday, April 17, at the Hershberger-Stover Funeral Home, 170 Noble Avenue, Pittsburgh. The funeral service at 11 a.m.Tuesday, April 18, at the Union Presbyterian Church, 6165 Steubenville Pike, McKees Rock, will be preceded by a prayer service at the funeral home at 10 a.m. Contributions in Phillips' memory made be made to the following: Robert W. Phillips Memorial Scholarship Fund; The Second Mile; Youth Missions State College Presbyterian Church, and Youth Missions Union Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh.