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Sid Gillman

Sid Gillman
refer to caption
Gillman as coach of the Rams in 1959
Personal information
Born:(1911-10-26)October 26, 1911
Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.
Died:January 3, 2003(2003-01-03) (aged 91)
Carlsbad, California, U.S.
Career information
High school:Minneapolis North (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
College:Ohio State
Career history
As a player:
As a coach:
Career highlights and awards
Head coaching record
Regular season:AFL/NFL: 122–99–7 (.550)
Postseason:AFL/NFL: 1–5 (.167)
Career:AFL/NFL: 123–104–7 (.541)
NCAA: 81–19–2 (.804)
Coaching stats at PFR

Sidney Gillman (October 26, 1911 – January 3, 2003) was an American football player, coach and executive. Gillman's insistence on stretching the football field by throwing deep downfield passes, instead of short passes to running backs or wide receivers at the sides of the line of scrimmage, was instrumental in making football into the modern game that it is today. He was inducted as a coach into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983, and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1989.

Gillman played football as an end at Ohio State University from 1931 to 1933. He played professionally for one season in 1936 with the Cleveland Rams of the second American Football League. After serving as an assistant coach at Ohio State from 1938 to 1940, Gillman was the head football coach at Miami University from 1944 to 1947 and at the University of Cincinnati from 1949 to 1954, compiling a career college football record of 81–19–2. He then moved to the ranks of professional football, where he headed the NFL's Los Angeles Rams (1955–1959), the American Football League's Los Angeles and San Diego Chargers (1960–1969), and the NFL's Houston Oilers (1973–1974), amassing a career record of 123–104–7 in the National Football League and the American Football League. Gillman's 1963 San Diego Chargers won the AFL Championship.

Early life, family and education

Sidney Gillman was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to a Jewish family.[1]

He played college football at Ohio State University under coach Sam Willaman, forming the basis of his offense.[2] He was a team captain and All-Big Ten Conference end in 1933. While attending Ohio State, Gillman was a brother of the Nu chapter of the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity.


Always deeply interested in the game, while working as a movie theater usher, he removed football segments from newsreels the theater would show, so that he could take them home and study them on a projector he had bought. This dedication to filmed football plays made Gillman the first coach to study game footage, something that all coaches do today.[3]

Gillman debated between pursuing a pro football career and entering coaching upon leaving college, with the Boston Redskins offering him a contract while Willaman wished to hire him as end coach at Western Reserve University.[4] His participation in the inaugural Chicago College All-Star Game caused him to arrive late for Redskins training camp, and he would fail to make the team.[5][6] He played one year in the American Football League (1936) for the Cleveland Rams. He became an assistant coach at Denison University,[1] Ohio State University,[1] and was an assistant coach to Earl Blaik of Army, then head coach at Miami University and the University of Cincinnati. He spent 21 years as a college coach or head coach, and his total record for these years was 79–18–2.[1]

He became a professional head coach for the first time with the Los Angeles Rams in 1955 after the team had declined in wins the previous two seasons with a team bolstered and hindered by its emphasis on explosive offense as quarterbacked by Norm Van Brocklin. A trade for Jim Cason with the San Francisco 49ers also proved helpful in the rookie season that saw Gillman's coaching described as "red-meat, un-finessed brand of football" on the way to a record of 8–3–1 that narrowly beat the Chicago Bears for the right to play for the 1955 NFL Championship Game (their fourth appearance in the past five seasons) against the Cleveland Browns, appearing in their sixth straight NFL Championship Game and the defending league champion. Playing at home in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum due to the rotation of the time, the Browns never trailed while forcing six Van Brocklin interceptions on their way to a 38–14 victory.[7] His second season with the Rams, which saw them trade away future defensive star Andy Robustelli in the offseason, was a disaster, as the team lost eight of their first ten games for a 4-8 overall record, their first losing mark since 1944 when the team was still in Cleveland. The 1957 season was the last for both Van Brocklin (traded to Philadelphia after the season) and receiver Elroy Hirsch, each future members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. A multi-player deal with the Cardinals for Ollie Matson did not help matters. The season ended on a middling note as the Rams won their last two games of the year to finish at .500. The 1958 season was the closest the Rams got to the top of the division, finishing one game behind the Baltimore Colts. The 1959 season saw the Rams close the year with eight straight losses that led to the dismissal of Gillman.[8][9]

He then moved to the American Football League (AFL, 1960–1969), where he coached the Los Angeles and San Diego Chargers to five Western Division titles and one league championship in the first six years of the AFL's existence. His greatest coaching success came after he was persuaded by Barron Hilton, then the Chargers' majority owner, to become the head coach of the AFL franchise he planned to operate in Los Angeles. When the team's general manager, Frank Leahy, became ill during the Chargers' founding season, Gillman took on additional responsibilities as general manager. As the first coach of the Chargers, Gillman gave the team a mercurial personality that matched his own. He had much to do with the AFL being able to establish itself. Gillman was a thorough professional, and in order to compete with him, his peers had to learn pro ways. They learned, and the AFL became the genesis of modern professional football. "Sid Gillman brought class to the AFL," Oakland Raiders managing general partner Al Davis once said of the man he served under on that first Chargers team. "Being part of Sid's organization was like going to a laboratory for the highly developed science of professional football." Others however, painted Gillman as who kept the team under pressure at all times regardless of how it felt for the players, with Dickie Post calling him a "dictator".[10] Described as "impulsive" by quarterback John Hadl, Gillman had arguments with defensive stars Ernie Ladd and Earl Faison. When Faison was released in 1966, Gillman called the former four-time All-AFL defensive end one who "has a long way to go to become average, much less outstanding."[11] Hadl stated that these removals were part of the beginning of the decline of the Chargers in the late 1960s.[12] When asked about the money made by players once, Gillman responded by saying “With some of them, football is a vocation. With some, it’s an avocation. You know what football is to me? It’s blood.”

Through Gillman's tenure as head coach, the Chargers went 87–57–6 and won five AFL Western Division titles. The 1960 and 1961 teams wetr led by Jack Kemp at quarterback to go with Paul Lowe and Keith Lincoln as backs and Lance Alworth as star receiver. They narrowly lost each time in the AFL Championship Game to the Houston Oilers. Injuries to Kemp and Alworth saw the only losing season by the Chargers in their AFL tenure, and when Kemp was put on waivers to try and hide him, Buffalo bought his rights and made him their starting quarterback from 1963 until his retirement in 1969. John Hadl had been drafted in 1962 as quarterback, but the 1963 season would have 35-year old Tobin Rote as the primary starter. Thar year, under an MVP season from Rote, they captured the only league championship the franchise ever won by outscoring the Boston Patriots, 51–10, in the American Football League championship game in Balboa Stadium. Gillman crafted a game plan, "Feast or Famine", that used motion, then seldom seen, to negate the Patriots' blitzes. His plan freed running back Keith Lincoln to rush for 206 yards. In addition to Lincoln, on Gillman's teams through the '60s, were these notable players: wide receiver Lance Alworth; offensive tackle Ron Mix; running back Paul Lowe; quarterback John Hadl; and defensive linemen Ernie Ladd and Earl Faison (Alworth and Mix are Hall of Famers). Gillman was one of only two head coaches to hold that position for the entire 10-year existence of the American Football League (the other being fellow Hall of Fame coach Hank Stram, who coached the Dallas Texans and Kansas City Chiefs from 1960 through 1974). Gillman approached NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle in 1963 with the idea of having the champions of the AFL and the NFL play a single final game,[1] but his idea was not implemented until the Super Bowl (originally titled the AFL-NFL World Championship Game) was played in 1967. Gillman left the Chargers nine games into the 1969 season due to a hiatal hernia only to come back to coach the first ten games of the 1971 season.

Gillman served as a quality control coach for the Dallas Cowboys in 1972. In March 1973, Bud Adams hired Gillman to serve as executive vice president and general manager of the Houston Oilers (to replace John W. Breen) after head coach Bill Peterson won one game in his inaugural season as coach. The 1973 season turned out to be a worse disaster, as the Oilers continued their losing ways. Before the fourth game, Gillman took over the duties of offensive coordinator.[13] After a fifth straight loss to start the season, Gillman took over as coach by firing Peterson, which saw them win once the rest of the way.[14] In 1974, Gillman hired Bum Phillips (the defensive coordinator for the 1967-71 Charger teams) to serve as defensive coordinator.[15] The 1974 team won on opening day before going on a five-game losing streak. Midway through the season, Gillman and the Oilers acquired defensive tackle Curley Culp and a first-round draft choice in 1975 from the Kansas City Chiefs for John Matuszak (each player had threatened to jump to the World Football League). They then won four games in a row to get to 5–5 before trading wins and losses in the last four games of the year, which included a win over the Cleveland Browns to close the season at 7-7 (.500), their first non-losing season in four years. He was awarded the AFC Coach of the Year by UPI after the season before electing to move back to the GM position while Phillips was promoted to head coach. The matter of who would do what for personnel proved to key in the eventual departure of Gillman. The contract that Phillips had signed with Gillman had a clause that gave him final approval of the moves that Phillips wanted to make, but this clause was asked to be removed by Phillips in a meeting between him and Adams when Gillman was out of town, which was accepted. Later, with the support of Adams, Phillips had Gillman barred from being able to attend practice or be in the locker room. Gillman appealed to Adams about the changes but resigned when Adams sided with Phillips, who was later quoted as stating "I had control of the team. I had the right to draft, waive, trade. I had the control I needed. That’s what [Gillman] gave me. I told Sid that’s what I wanted, and he said that was fine. We didn’t have any disagreement over that. Evidently, the disagreement was with Bud. “There was a whole lot of stories running around, I guess. Believe me, I’m telling you what happened. I worked for [Gillman] for six years, and I enjoyed it for six years. If he wanted to draft somebody that I didn’t want to draft, we wouldn’t have drafted him. I had no problem with knowing my responsibilities."[15] With Phillips at the helm and a defensive front that would have Culp for years to come alongside that draft choice used to draft Robert Brazile, the Oilers jumped to ten wins in the following season.

In 1977, Gillman was hired as offensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears in 1977.[16] The Bears, with Walter Payton leading the way in rushing yards (1,852), won 9 games and earned their first postseason appearance in 14 years, which ended in a loss in the Divisional Round. However, Gillman resigned after the year when his ideas about opening up the offense was rejected.[17] For four months of 1978, Gillman was the coach of the football team at United States International University; one of the coaches he hired was Tom Walsh, who would coach the team when Gillman left in early 1979. Philadelphia Eagles coach Dick Vermeil hired Gillman in 1979 to take over an offense ranked 27th, 19th, and 18th the previous three seasons. In Gillman’s three years under Vermeil, the Eagles scored the 3rd-most points in the NFL, won the 2nd-most games, reached the playoffs all three seasons, and reached their first Super Bowl in 1980, with Vermeil stating that the appearance in the Super Bowl would not have happened without the "encylcopedia" knowledge of Gillman.[18] He had retired after the 1980 season as “Physically and mentally drained" before returning in 1982.

In July 1983, at age 71, Gillman came out of retirement after an offer from Bill Tatham, Sr. and Bill Tatham, Jr., owners of the United States Football League (USFL) expansion team the Oklahoma Outlaws.[19] Gillman agreed to serve as director of operations and signed quarterback Doug Williams, who later led the Washington Redskins to victory in Super Bowl XXII. Although Gillman signed a roster of players to play for the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based franchise, he was fired by Tatham six months later in a dispute over finances. Gillman then served as a consultant for the USFL's Los Angeles Express in 1984. He later did work for the Eagles in 1985 before serving as an unpaid consultant to the University of Pittsburgh football team (as coached by Mike Gottfried) in 1987. Even when he was out of coaching by 1991, Gillman was still at the helm of looking at tapes of game film, with a number of teams regularly sending him coaching tapes for him to view through multiple VCRs.


Gillman's influence on the modern game can be seen by listing the current and former coaches and executives who either played with him or coached for him:

Coaching tree

Sid Gillman
George AllenAl DavisChuck KnoxDon CoryellDick Vermeil (1)Chuck Noll (4)
John Madden (1)Tom Flores (2)Art ShellBill Walsh (3)Joe Gibbs (3)Tony Dungy (1)
Jim FasselPaul HackettMike Holmgren (1)Sam WycheGeorge Seifert (2)Dennis Green
John FoxMike McCarthy (1)Bruce CosletMike MularkeyBrian Billick (1)Mike Tice
Scott Linehan
Jon Gruden (1)Mike ShermanRay RhodesSteve MariucciAndy Reid (3)Mike Shanahan (2)Jeff Fisher
Bill CallahanMarty MornhinwegGary Kubiak (1)Jack Del RioMike SmithVic Fangio
Brad ChildressJohn Harbaugh (1)Ron RiveraDoug Pederson (1)Sean McDermottPat ShurmurJim CaldwellMike Tomlin (1)Lovie SmithRod Marinelli
Brian DabollBruce Arians (1)

Numbers in parentheses indicate Super Bowls won by Gillman's "descendants" as head coach, a total of 29.

Don Coryell, the coach at San Diego State University when Gillman was coaching the San Diego Chargers, would bring his team to Chargers' practices to watch how Gillman ran his practices. Coryell went on to coach in the NFL, and some of his assistants, influenced by the Gillman style, included coaches Joe Gibbs, Ernie Zampese, Tom Bass, and Russ A. Molzahn. A larger and more extended version of Sid Gillman's coaching tree, which in some ways could be called a forest, can be found here.[21]

Honors and awards

Gillman was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983, and into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1989. In 1990 he was inducted into the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.[22]

Personal life and death

Gillman and his wife Esther had four children and were married for 67 years (until his death).[23] They resided in Carlsbad, California before moving in 2001 to Century City in Los Angeles.[24]

On January 3, 2003, Gillman died in his sleep at age 91.[23] He was interred in the Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, California.

Head coaching record


Year Team Overall Conference Standing Bowl/playoffs
Miami Redskins (Independent) (1944–1947)
1944 Miami 8–1
1945 Miami 7–2
1946 Miami 7–3
1947 Miami 9–0–1 W Sun
Miami: 31–6–1
Cincinnati Bearcats (Mid-American Conference) (1949–1952)
1949 Cincinnati 7–4 4–0 1st
1950 Cincinnati 8–4 3–1 2nd L Sun
1951 Cincinnati 10–1 3–0 1st
1952 Cincinnati 8–1–1 3–0 1st
Cincinnati Bearcats (Independent) (1953–1954)
1953 Cincinnati 9–1
1954 Cincinnati 8–2
Cincinnati: 50–13–1 13–1
Total: 81–19–2
      National championship         Conference title         Conference division title or championship game berth


Team Year Regular Season Post Season
Won Lost Ties Win % Finish Won Lost Win % Result
LA 1955 8 3 1 .727 1st in NFL Western Conference 0 1 .000 Lost to Cleveland Browns in NFL Championship
LA 1956 4 8 0 .333 T-5th in NFL Western Conference - - -
LA 1957 6 6 0 .500 4th in NFL Western Conference - - -
LA 1958 8 4 0 .667 T-2nd in NFL Western Conference - - -
LA 1959 2 10 0 .200 6th in NFL Western Conference - - -
LA Total 28 31 1 .475 0 1 .000
LA Chargers 1960 10 4 0 .714 1st in AFL West Division 0 1 .000 Lost to Houston Oilers in AFL championship game
SD 1961 12 2 0 .857 1st in AFL West Division 0 1 .000 Lost to Houston Oilers in AFL championship game
SD 1962 4 10 0 .286 4th in AFL West Division - - -
SD 1963 11 3 0 .786 1st in AFL West Division 1 0 1.000 Beat Boston Patriots in AFL championship game
SD 1964 8 5 1 .615 1st in AFL West Division 0 1 .000 Lost to Buffalo Bills in AFL championship game
SD 1965 9 2 3 .818 1st in AFL West Division 0 1 .000 Lost to Buffalo Bills in AFL championship game
SD 1966 7 6 1 .538 3rd in AFL West Division - - -
SD 1967 8 5 1 .615 3rd in AFL West Division - - -
SD 1968 9 5 0 .643 3rd in AFL West Division - - -
SD 1969 4 5 0 .444 3rd in AFL West Division - - -
SD 1971 4 6 0 .440 3rd in AFL West Division - - -
LA/SD Total 86 53 6 .619 1 4 .200
HOU 1973 1 8 0 .111 4th in AFC Central - - -
HOU 1974 7 7 0 .500 2nd in AFC Central - - -
HOU Total 8 15 0 .348 - - -
Professional Total 122 99 7 .552 1 5 .167

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Siegman, Joseph M. (1992). The International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. S.P.I. Books. p. 113. ISBN 9781561710287 – via Google Books.
  2. ^ Peterson, Bill (August 16, 2006). "Cincinnati's Connection to Football's "West Coast Offense"". City Beat. Archived from the original on January 28, 2007. Retrieved September 7, 2006.
  3. ^ Bach, John (January 2001). "Sid Gillman used film to change football while at the University of Cincinnati". University of Cincinnati Magazine. Retrieved September 7, 2006.
  4. ^ "Sid Gillman has coaching, pro offers for 1934 season". Minneapolis Star. February 19, 1934. Retrieved May 27, 2021 – via
  5. ^ Dalton, Ernest (August 25, 1934). "Seven Redskins missing from opening practice". The Boston Globe. Retrieved May 27, 2021 – via
  6. ^ "Redskin recruits arrive at Wayland camp today". The Boston Globe. September 3, 1934. Retrieved May 27, 2021 – via
  8. ^ Gomez, Johnny (August 23, 2013). "1959: The Gillman era falls flat - Rams Talk". Retrieved February 16, 2024.
  9. ^
  10. ^ Tobias, Todd. "Dickie Post - February 17, 2004". Tales from the AFL. Retrieved February 16, 2024.
  11. ^ "Detroit Free Press from Detroit, Michigan". October 19, 1966. Retrieved February 16, 2024.
  12. ^ Tobias, Todd. "An Interview with the San Diego Chargers John Hadl". Tales from the AFL. Retrieved February 16, 2024.
  13. ^ Marshall, Joe. "AFTER 18 DRY WELLS, A LITTLE GUSHER". Sports Illustrated Vault | Retrieved February 16, 2024.
  14. ^ Wallace, William N. (October 16, 1973). "Peterson Is Ousted By Oilers". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 16, 2024.
  15. ^ a b "Remember When: Bud Adams hires Bum Phillips; Sid Gillman quits". October 25, 2013. Retrieved February 16, 2024.
  16. ^ Pierson, Don (January 4, 2003). "Sid Gillman 1911-2003". Chicago Tribune.
  17. ^ Zimmerman, Paul (July 1, 2016). "Best of Dr. Z: 1991 Sid Gillman feature". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved February 16, 2024.
  18. ^ Frank, Reuben (January 31, 2024). "Ranking the top 10 coordinators in Eagles history". CSNPhilly.
  19. ^ "Oklahoma Outlaws to Join USFL". Chicago Herald. July 8, 1983. p. 22.
  20. ^ Oates, Bob (January 4, 2003). "Gillman Had Other Love in Life". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 11, 2022.
  21. ^ "Sid Gillman Coaching Tree". Retrieved December 18, 2014.
  22. ^ "Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame Home".
  23. ^ a b Martin, Susan (January 4, 2003). "Legendary Gillman dies at 91". Buffalo News. Retrieved January 15, 2021.
  24. ^ "Gillman Helped Engineer West Coast Offense". January 7, 2003. Retrieved April 11, 2020.
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Sid Gillman
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