Some of you may know that, after a very successful stint as the head football coach at St. Cecilia High School in Englewood, New Jersey, Vince Lombardi was an assistant coach at Army under the legendary Earl “Red” Blaik. It was from there that Lombardi jumped to the NFL as an assistant coach with the New York Giants in 1954.
Whose departure created the vacancy that Lombardi filled at Army? It was Sid Gillman, who only coached there for one season (1948) in between successful tenures as head coach at Miami of Ohio and the University of Cincinnati. Of course, Gillman was a revolutionary coach in his own right, pioneering the use of the vertical passing game in pro football and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame as well as the College Football Hall of Fame. Going back to Gillman’s one season at Army, I am puzzled by why he left Miami of Ohio, where his teams had a 31-6-1 record in his four seasons as head coach. At Cincinnati, Gillman’s teams were 50-13-1; he then became head coach of the Los Angeles Rams in 1955. The Rams played in the NFL Championship game that season.
I don’t know why Lombardi succeeding Gillman at Army is just now coming to the forefront of my consciousness, if I have any. It is ironic, of course, that the two coaches had diametrically opposite views about pro football offenses. Lombardi’s pet play was, of course, the power sweep, which was really just a play from the single-wing days of football. He believed in running the ball as the primary focus and using the run to set up the pass.
As stated earlier, Gillman believed in throwing the ball as the primary focus of an offense. Love him or hate him, Al Davis took that philosophy to the Raiders. Davis coached under Gillman with the Chargers from 1960 to 1962. Davis once said, “Sid Gillman brought class to the AFL. Bring part of Sid’s organization was like going to a laboratory for the highly developed science of professional football.” Davis also remarked, “Sid Gillman was the father of modern-day passing.”
Bill Walsh, who coached under Davis with the Raiders, said this about 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 and 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.”
Thanks, in part, to rules changes implemented in the NFL beginning in the late 1970s, modern pro football offenses much more closely resemble Gillman’s idiom than Lombardi’s. I don’t watch too much of the football talking head shows, but it seems as though Gillman is more or less forgotten today. Maybe if more people knew that one succeeded the other as offensive line coach at Army under Red Blaik, Gillman would be remembered more. Of course, maybe he wouldn’t.
I did not intend to write 500+ words on Sid Gillman this morning. I also did not mention that Gillman was Jewish and felt anti-Semitism played a role in his not getting the Ohio State head coaching job in the 1950s. At times, Lombardi believed anti-Italian prejudice hindered his advancement in the coaching profession. Again, I am struck by the parallels and differences between the two legendary coaches. I haven’t mentioned, until now, that Gillman was really the pioneer of the use of film study in football (his father owned a movie theater and the younger Gillman would take the football segments out of newsreels so he could study them) while Lombardi was also ahead of the curve in the use of film.
This recent piece in Mac’s Motor City Garage begins, “While the Studebaker Avanti is celebrated as a masterpiece in American design today, it was the product of a rush job by an automaker that was almost out of business.” Also from the article:
The post is worth reading even if you’re not a big fan of the Avanti. I am, of course, and the car was listed among just seven in my first Ultimate Garage for my previous blog that was hosted by the Evil Empire, AKA Google. If the legislation permitting low-volume replicas of classic cars were really meaningful, maybe we would see the production of a modern Avanti.
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