Phillips could play as a ruckman or in defensive key positions. A strong mark of the ball, Phillips won a best and fairest for St Kilda in 1930. He finished eighth in the 1931 Brownlow Medal and equal 9th the following season.
In 1933 he was appointed to the role of Hawthorn captain-coach but by the time the season began he had died from blood poisoning caused by an elbow cut. It was believed the dye in the new club jumper was toxic.