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Former San Diego Chargers John Hadl and Walt Sweeney told Jon Chelesnik their memories of legendary coach Sid Gillman.
Tuesday, January 7, 2003
Gillman helped engineer West Coast offense
LOS ANGELES -- Sid Gillman, the Hall of Fame football coach who was one of the masterminds behind the West Coast offense used by several of the NFL's best teams, died early Jan. 3. He was 91.
Gillman coached the Los Angeles Rams from 1955-59 and the Chargers in Los Angeles and San Diego from 1960-69 -- their first 10 years of existence -- and again in 1971. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983 and also was a member of the National Football Hall of Fame.
In 18 years as coach of the Rams, Chargers and Houston Oilers, Gillman had a 123-104-7 record. He also was one of the first coaches to analyze game film to prepare strategy for opponents.
"Personally, I'm devastated," said Al Davis, the Oakland Raiders' managing general partner. Davis coached the Raiders from 1963-65, when he and Gillman were AFL coaching rivals.
"It was my good fortune to know him for 50-60 years, be a part of his life," Davis said. "Obviously, he exerted an influence on my life. The great ones, time never ends for them. Immortality is real when it comes to those people. I am sad. We'll miss him greatly."
Gillman and his wife were married for 67 years.
"Last night was the first and only night that Sid was in a hospital bed," Mrs. Gillman said. "We brought a hospital bed up just yesterday, because we thought it would be a little more comfortable for him."
Mrs. Gillman said her husband died peacefully at 5:15 a.m.
"That was the most important thing, he had such a nice smile on his face," she said. "That was the best part. The whole time, he was never in pain.
"He was in his room with all the plaques and all the footballs and all the mementos from all the years. It was a wonderful room. And he was aware of that. He always went into his office, especially during football season."
The Gillmans moved to Century City, Calif., 18 months ago to be closer to family, Mrs. Gillman said. They had lived in Carlsbad, Calif. -- some 30 miles north of San Diego -- for many years before moving north.
The West Coast offense has been used by several successful teams over the years, including the Raiders, San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams. The 49ers, quarterbacked by Joe Montana and Steve Young, used it to win five Super Bowls in the 1980s and 1990s. The Rams won the title three years ago.
It's similar to the passing offense Gillman used, one that spreads the field horizontally and vertically to open up passing lanes and give quarterbacks more options to throw the ball.
"He was way ahead of his time in organization, in the passing game, and offensive football," Davis told The Associated Press in an interview in January 2000. "In the '60s, the passing game was not yet really developed. At the advent of the AFL (in 1960), certainly the Chargers were the flagship for all teams to follow, all teams to emulate."
Gillman's reliance on game film was attributed in large part to the fact that his family operated movie theaters in Minneapolis. In his first coaching job, at Denison, Ohio University in 1935, he saw an advertisement for a 35-millimeter projector for $35.
"We can't afford that," Mrs. Gillman recalled in an interview three years ago. "He says, 'I have to have this.' That was the beginning. He would come home, we would put up a white sheet on the wall, Sid would show me these films."
The Gillman garage in Carlsbad was loaded with dozens of reels of film and videotapes, along with about 50 binders resembling an encyclopedia set chock full of football plays and philosophies. Gillman, 88 at that time, said he watched football tapes about two-to-three hours every other day.
"I'm still involved; I will be, as long as I keep getting movies from these coaches," he said at the time. "Every once in a while I ask myself, 'I'm not coaching, why do I do this?'"
He answered his own question by saying: "I'd hate to have something on the football field happen that I'm not aware of."
Gillman last worked as an assistant coach on Dick Vermeil's staff with the Philadelphia Eagles for three years. Vermeil said the Eagles would never had made it to the Super Bowl in 1980 had it not been for Gillman.
Mrs. Gillman said Vermeil, now coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, called Jan. 3 to pay his respects.
"He called every week, he was so dear to us," Mrs. Gillman said. "Yesterday he got the film of the Kansas City-Oakland game and he watched a few reels of it right there in that room."
The Chiefs-Raiders game was played in Oakland Dec. 28.
"That's what we looked forward to, watching football," Mrs. Gillman said. "We loved it. We were so looking forward to the playoffs.
"He was wonderful -- I mean really wonderful. The memories, we shared so much."
Gillman is also survived by four children, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
A funeral service was held Jan. 5 for family and close friends. Mrs. Gillman said a tribute will be held at a date to be determined.
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