Gillman, Sid : Jews In Sports @ Virtual Museum

Gillman, Sid

Sidney Gillman

Gillman is the only coach in both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame. Considered one of football's great offensive innovators, he was a strong proponent of the forward pass. Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis said, "Sid Gillman was the father of modern-day passing. It had been thought of as vertical, the length of the field, but Sid also thought of it as horizontal. Sid used the width of the field."

Bill Walsh, father of the West Coast Offense and considered an offensive genuis himself, said of Gillman, "He was so far ahead of his time, people couldn't totally understand what he was doing. He was one of the great offensive minds in football history...He was a mentor to me. He had a lot to do with any success I had...there's a lineage between Sid Gillman and what you see on the field today."

In a moving tribute to Gillman in the Jewish Sports Review (March/April 2003), Hall of Fame lineman Ron Mix wrote emotionally of Gillman not only as a mentor and coach, but also as Mix's own Jewish role model. Ron noted that Sid's "work habits were legendary. His contribution to the development of the game is matchless. It is no small moment that he is identified as 'the father of modern football,' " Mix then added, "When a social responsibility had to be met, Sid met it head on. In the early sixties, when the Civil Rights movement was in its infancy, and some professional football teams appeared to have a quota on the number of Black players allowed, and when one professional team, the Washington Redskins, had no Black players, Sid had open competition. Sid only wanted to know if an athlete could play. Using playing ability as his sole litmus test, Sid brought in such great Black players as Ernie Ladd, Earl Faison, Paul Lowe, Speedy Duncan, Kenny Graham, Dick Westmoreland and Frank Buncom. Because that is what Jews do. We have a social conscience and are fearless in assisting others."

Sid is also credited with such revolutionary ideas as the two-platoon system and placing players' names on the back of their jerseys. It was his use of game and practice film for coaching, however, that may have changed the game the most. His wife, Esther, explained that Sid had always been a bit of a movie buff, saying, "During our honeymoon in 1935, Sid bought a projector for $15 at a pawn shop...He was only going to make $1,800 that year (his first coaching job), and we couldn't afford it. I thought I would kill him."

An offensive genius who designed schemes that changed the way the game was played, Gillman's most innovative idea came in the 1960s. In 1963, after his Chargers won the AFL title, Gillman thought of a revolutionary concept: a "Super Bowl" between the AFL and NFL champs. NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle resisted the idea from the upstart league. At the time of Pope John XXIII's Ecumenical Council in the early 1960s, Gillman wrote to Rozelle: "Pope John was a great man because he recognized the other league." Rozelle wrote back: "Yes, but it took a thousand years." Gillman died in his sleep on January 3, 2003 at the age of 91.

Birth and Death Dates:
b. October 26, 1911 - d. January 3, 2003

Career Highlights:
Before becoming a Hall of Fame coach, Sid was an outstanding end at Ohio State University in the early 1930s. In 1932, Sid was Grantland Rice and AP All-America honorable mention as the Buckeyes had a record of 4-1-3. In 1933, he was AP All-America honorable mention and AP All-Western Conference second team, as well as co-captain of the Ohio State football team that finished second in the conference with a 7-1-0 record; their only loss was to Michigan, 14-0, and they outscored their opponents 161-26 that year. Gillman played in the East-West Shrine Game his senior season, and he participated in the first College All-Star Game the following summer.

After his playing days ended, Gillman moved to the collegiate coaching ranks. After serving as an assistant coach at Denton University for two years, and Ohio State for three more seasons, Sid received his first head coaching job in 1942 at the University of Miami (Ohio). Two of his players during his tenure at Miami were Bo Schembechler, later the legendary coach at the University of Michigan, and Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian. In 1947, Gillman led Miami to a 9-0-1 record and a 13-12 victory in the Sun Bowl over Texas Tech. Two years later, Gillman moved to the University of Cincinnati. In 1950, his Cincinnati team had a record of 8-4 and Sid returned to the Sun Bowl, this time losing to West Texas A&M, 14-13. He remained with the Bearcats until 1954, had a record of 49-12-1, and led them to three Mid-American Conference titles during his six seasons there.

In 1955, after failing to receive the coveted Ohio State head coaching job, Gillman moved to the pros (Gillman always suspected his being Jewish was a factor in his not being asked to lead the Buckeyes). That year, Sid became the head coach of the Los Angeles Rams in the NFL, leading them to the NFL Western Division title with a record of 8-3-1. In the 1955 NFL Championship Game, however, they lost to the Cleveland Browns, 38-14. Gillman remained with the Rams for another four years and had ups and downs with the club. After his successful 1955 season, the Rams went 4-8-0 in 1956, 6-6-0 in 1957, but rebounded in 1958 with a 8-4-0 record. In 1959, though, the team went 2-10-0, their worst season in over twenty years; Gillman resigned on the last day of the season.

When the AFL was founded in 1960, Gillman accepted the dual position of Head Coach and General Manager of the Los Angeles Chargers (who moved to San Diego in 1961). In this new league, Gillman fashioned the Chargers into one of most glamorous teams professional football has ever seen, with such stars as receiver Lance Alworth, halfback Paul Lowe, and Hall of Fame lineman Ron Mix. With complicated passing schemes, sometimes with five wide receivers, Gillman turned the Chargers into a high-scoring, crowd-pleasing team that helped enhance the image of the new league, and allowed it to gain respect. Gillman believed he had so much success because, as he observed, "We had to throw the ball...I thought that the AFL, from that standpoint, had a slight advantage. You start something new, people want to see the ball. They don't care where it goes, as long as you put it in the air."

In the league's first six seasons, Gillman led the Chargers to five divisional titles. After losing in the AFL title game in 1960 and 1961, Gillman put together a team in 1963 that many believe could have competed in the NFL. That year, they destroyed the Boston Patriots, 51-10, in the AFL Championship Game after going 11-3-0 in the regular season, establishing themselves as the league's first super team in a display of strength that was a great help to the image of the young, struggling AFL. Many observers believed that the Chargers, who averaged 29 points a game and led the AFL in seven offensive categories, were the best offensive team in professional history, and would have given the NFL champion Chicago Bears a real fight.

Because the Super Bowl did not start until 1966, we will never know if the Chargers, who personified the AFL with their high-scoring offense, could have successfully challenged the defense-oriented Bears of the established NFL for football supremacy. Gillman, for one, always believed the Chargers could have won a showdown. He observed that "We had one of the great teams in pro football history, and I think we would have matched up pretty well with the NFL. We had great speed and talent, and I think at that time, the NFL really underestimated the talent we had." One indication that Sid was probably correct was the unexpected victory in 1969 of the AFL New York Jets over the defensive-minded Baltimore Colts. The Colts may not quite have been the 1963 Bears, but neither were the Jets the 1963 Chargers -- and the Jets were given little to no chance against the supposedly fearsome NFL champs, whom they whipped handily.

The following year, the Chargers again won the Western Division with a record of 8-5-1, but lost in the AFL title game to the Buffalo Bills, 20-7. In 1965, the Chargers won their fifth division title with a record of 9-2-3, but again lost the AFL Championship to the Bills, this time by a score of 23-0. Gillman remained the coach of the Chargers until 1969, when he abruptly retired 9 games into the season because of failing health. He returned to coach the Chargers briefly in 1971, but had a record of 4-6-0 and left the club after the season.

In 1973, Gillman moved to the Houston Oilers as Executive Vice President and General Manager, but after an 0-5 start that season, Gillman fired the head coach and placed himself in the position. The team became competitive and had a 7-7 record the following year, with Gillman being named Coach of the Year. Still, his disagreements with owner Bud Adams caused Gillman to be fired, despite winning the coaching award. For the rest of the 1970s, Gillman moved around football, writing articles and spending a year as offensive coordinator with the Chicago Bears in 1977. He became an assistant with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1979 and remained with the club for three seasons, including their Super Bowl year in 1980. Then-Eagles coach Dick Vermeil said, "We would never have gone to the Super Bowl without Sid Gillman. His mind would never turn off. He made all my coaches better."

In 1983, Gillman was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and that same year, became the general manager of the Oklahoma Outlaws of the USFL. Two years later, he was back with the Philadelphia Eagles as quarterback coach. In 1987, he worked as an unpaid consultant at the University of Pittsburgh. The Panthers gave him the game ball after they upset Notre Dame, 30-22, in the course of an 8-3 season. In 1996, Sid was still ranked 16th all-time among NFL coaches for career victories (123, including playoffs). He is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the College Football Hall of Fame, the Chargers Hall of Fame, and the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, among many others.

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Career Dates:
Gilman played at Ohio State from 1931-1933; he was an offensive end, but also played defense. He was Denton University Assistant Coach from 1935-1937; Ohio State Assistant Coach from 1938-1940; University of Miami of Ohio coach from 1942-1947; University of Cincinnati coach from 1949-1954; Coached the Los Angeles Rams from 1955-1959; Coached the San Diego Chargers from 1960-1971; General Manager of Houston Oilers from 1973-1974; Head coach of Houston Oilers in 1974 (named NFL Coach of the Year, but still fired following the season); and Offensive Coordinator of Chicago Bears in 1977.

Physical description:
5'11", 200 pounds

Career Statistics:
Had a career coaching record of 122-99-7; and 1-5 in the playoffs.

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encyclopedia of JEWS in sports by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, and Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1965)
Great Jews in Sports by Robert Slater (New York: Jonathan David Publishers, 2000)
Biographical Dictionary of American Sports: Football edited by David L. Porter (New York: Greenwood Press, 1987)