William Richard (Bill) Phillips (1949–2020)

Boone County native William Richard (Bill) Phillips was an Arkansas businessman and an All-American football player at Arkansas State University (ASU). His athletic abilities were a major contributor to the school’s 1970 national football championship and led to his induction into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame twice.

Born on February 2, 1949, in Harrison (Boone County), Bill Phillips was one of four children of Earl and Hazel Phillips. He grew up in Harrison, where he attended the local schools. By the time he was in junior high, he had become an accomplished athlete in basketball, track and field, golf, and football. He was a member of the 1967 Arkansas state basketball championship team. His football season was cut short as a ninth grader when he broke his shoulder, forcing him to miss his sophomore season as well. After recovery, he played both linebacker and running back as a junior. He suffered a broken kneecap during his senior year.

His lack of playing time did not seem to deter interest by local college coaches. After graduating from Harrison High School in 1968, he accepted a football scholarship from Arkansas State University in Jonesboro (Craighead County). In 1969 and 1970, he earned First Team All-Southland Conference honors at the offensive guard position. In 1970, the 11–0 ASU Indians were named the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) College Division National Champions, and Phillips was named First Team All-America. During his senior season, the Indians saw a change in the head coaching position, and Phillips was moved to play linebacker, a position he had played in high school and was recruited to ASU to play. During the opening moments of the first game of the season, however, he broke his ankle and was out for the remainder of his senior season. Having recovered by the end of the year, he was selected to participate in the Coaches All-America Game.

Phillips met Peggy Ann Brinkley while attending college. They married and had one son.

Shortly after graduating from ASU with a degree in business, he was drafted in the third round of the National Football League draft as the fifty-eighth player selected by the Denver Broncos. After playing for two seasons, Phillips was diagnosed with diabetes and chose to end his professional football career.

Soon after returning to Arkansas, Phillips took a position as a sales representative for Blue Cross and Blue Shield. He worked his way up the corporate ladder to vice president of marketing. He completed his time at the company as vice president of the Government Relations Division, the company’s lobbying branch. After many years of service, he left Blue Cross to form Phillips Management and Consulting Service with his son, Bradley.

Phillips served on the ASU Board of Trustees, was board member and president of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, was co-chair of the U.S. Olympic Committee of Arkansas and of the Major Sports Association, and served on the Governor’s Council of Sports and Physical Fitness.

After his football playing career, Phillips received many athletic honors. He was selected to the inaugural class of the Harrison High School Hall of Fame. ASU selected him as a member of the All-Time Team, Hall of Honor, Ring of Honor, and All Centennial Team. In 2013, he was selected to the Southland Conference First Decade Team. He was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame on two occasions, once as a member of the 1970 ASU championship team and once as an individual.

In about 2015, Phillips was diagnosed with stage-four internal melanoma. He was receiving treatment and recovering when, in 2019, he suffered a major stroke. Phillips died on November 27, 2020, and is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery in Conway (Faulkner County).

For additional information:
Masterson, Mike. “An All-American Invictus.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, February 29, 2020. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2020/feb/29/an-all-american-invictus-20200229/ (accessed June 15, 2021).

“Phillips Taken in Third Round of Draft by Broncos.” Harrison Daily Times, February 2, 1972, p. 6.

“William Richard ‘Bill’ Phillips.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, December 6, 2020, p. 3K.

Mike Polston
CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas

Last Updated: 06/15/2021