18. Sid Gillman: Airing it out

No. 18 - Sid Gillman

Herm Edwards, Joe Horrigan, Ron Jaworski, Walt Sweeney, Bob Petrich and Pat Shea discuss why Sid Gillman is one of the greatest coaches in NFL history.

ESPN celebrates the 100th anniversary of Vince Lombardi's birth with the "Greatest Coaches in NFL History" series, saluting the finest innovators, motivators, tacticians, teachers and champions ever to stalk the sidelines. Follow along as we reveal our list of the top 20 coaches of all time and document the lineage of the league's most influential coaching trees.

The run game was king when Sid Gillman began his football career, but he believed in the potential of the pass. Al Davis, the late owner of the Oakland Raiders, once called Gillman "the father of modern-day passing."

"Sid Gillman is still the father of the modern-day passing game at all levels of football: the National Football League, collegiate football, high school football, and even down to Pop Warner," said longtime NFL quarterback and ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski, who played under Gillman for three seasons. "The concepts that he developed are still being used at every level of football."

He coached for more than six decades, beginning as an assistant at his alma mater, Ohio State. He then served as head coach for four seasons at Miami (Ohio), where he recruited Bo Schembecher, Ara Parseghian and Bill Arnsparger. He worked for Red Blaik at Army before moving to the pro ranks. He began coaching the Los Angeles Rams of the NFL in 1955, then jumped to the Chargers organization of the AFL in 1960. He later coached the Houston Oilers for two seasons. He played in the first College All-Star Football Classic, an annual exhibition staged between a team of top collegiate seniors and the defending NFL champions, in 1934, and coached in the last one, in 1976.

Although Gillman coached at Army for just one season (1948) as offensive line coach, he offered Blaik a recommendation for his replacement -- a Fordham University assistant coach named Vince Lombardi. When Lombardi began building the Green Bay Packers dynasty a decade later, the earmarks of Gillman's option-blocking schemes were evident.

His Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers won five division titles and one league championship in the first six years of the AFL. Gillman helped bring credibility to the fledgling league. Among his players were quarterbacks Jack Kemp and John Hadl, receiver Lance Alworth and tackle Ron Mix. Alworth and Mix are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Chuck Noll, Bum Phillips and George Allen are among the men who coached under Gillman; he heavily influenced countless others, including Lombardi, Bill Walsh, Al Davis, Don Coryell and Joe Gibbs.

Late in his career, he assisted Tom Landry in Dallas, Jack Pardee in Chicago and Dick Vermeil in Philadelphia, where he served as Jaworski's quarterbacks coach.

"We would sit in our installation meetings as an offensive team and for about two hours the offensive line coach would install all these running plays, and so finally that would be over and all the offensive lineman would leave and it would be the quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and tight ends," said Jaworski. "And Sid would go right up in front of the team and say, 'All right, offensive guys, we just wasted two hours trying to gain 3 yards. Now we're going to put in the passing plays.'"

In early 1979, he took over the program at tiny U.S. International University in San Diego, and although he left to join the Eagles staff for the '79 season, he assembled a staff that included future NFL head coach John Fox and future NFL assistants Mike Solari and Tom Walsh.

He went on to worked for two USFL franchises in the mid-1980s and remained an unofficial consultant to many NFL coaches through that decade.

Gillman was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983. He died in 2003 at the age of 91.

-- Shawna Seed


He was extremely imaginative. Being imaginative by itself is not worth too much unless you have a great work ethic. He was probably the ultimate student of the game. He put in work hours far beyond anything the players did, and probably beyond his coaching staff.

I think he has been accurately described as the father of offensive football. He developed passing schemes that made the game crowd-pleasing and explosive. He was the first professional coach to hire a strength coach. He did that in 1963 [with the Charger] when he brought on Alvin Roy, who had been strength coach at LSU and an assistant with the 1960 Olympic team.

He also had an infectious personality, in that he was so intense. He'd change the flavor of a meeting just by coming in there. We'd break up into meeting rooms, with guys chuckling and laughing, and Sid walks in the room and, bam! The whole atmosphere changed. We're wondering, "Is he going to explode at us?" We admired him completely and feared him greatly. If you double-crossed Sid Gillman, you could find yourself on a bus out of town.

I remember we had a training camp at the University of San Diego. To give you an idea of how we feared Sid, one night my roommate, Jack McKinnon, and I decided to stay out after curfew. So we get back about two in the morning. In order to get to our apartment, we have to go by Sid's apartment. His lights are on and the curtains are open and we can see the film going. So we do the Marine crawl, and we slithered past his apartment. The story illustrates two things: Our fear of him and, "Hey, it's two in the morning and he's still working.

-- Former Chargers offensive tackle and Hall of Famer Ron Mix, as told to Greg Garber

ESPN "Greatest Coaches in NFL History" voting panel: Chris Berman, Jeffri Chadiha, John Clayton, Colin Cowherd, Mike Ditka, Gregg Easterbrook, Herm Edwards, David Fleming, Ashley Fox, Greg Garber, Mike Golic, Suzy Kolber, Eric Mangini, Chris Mortensen, Sal Paolantonio, Bill Polian, Rick Reilly, Mike Sando, Adam Schefter, Ed Werder, Seth Wickersham, Trey Wingo.