Gill’s Vision Is Already On Point

By Tony McClean
Updated: August 31, 2006

EDITORS’ NOTE: Just three years ago, the University of Buffalo hired Turner Gill as their new head football coach in an effort to upgrade their program. This season, the Bulls are headed to their first bowl game since 1959.After several interviews elsewhere,Gill has decided to stay in Buffalo. Today, we look back on our exclusive interview with Gill back in September of 2006 as he entered his first season with the Bulls.

NEW HAVEN, Ct. — The mythical figure Midas was known as the man with the “golden touch”. However, looking at the career of Turner Gill, one would think that even Midas himself would be a tad bit envious. The Texas native has carved out an very impressive football career resume on and off the field.

As a star quarterback for the Nebraska Cornhuskers during the 1980’s, Gill never lost a conference game as a starter; led his team to the national championship game and was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy (which was won by his teammate Mike Rozier in 1983).

After his playing career ended, he stayed with the Cornhuskers and became an assistant coach. Gill was lauded as one of the nation’s top recruiters while at Nebraska from 1992 to 2004. The Huskers won national titles in 1994, 1995 and 1997 during that span.

Just last year, Gill spent the 2005 season serving as Player Development Director and Offensive Assistant with the Green Bay Packers. Now, the 43-year-old Gill and his “golden touch” faces his greatest challenge.

On December 16, 2005, Gill agreed to a five-year contract to become the 23rd head football coach at the University at Buffalo. The Bulls have been a Division I-A program since 1999. In those seven seasons, the school’s record is 10-69.

In contrast, during Gill’s 16 seasons as a player and assistant coach at Nebraska, the Huskers lost 33 games. At the time of his hiring, Gill became only the fifth African-American head coach among 119 Division I-A programs.

Recently, BASN had a chance to sit down and talk with Coach Gill about the challenges of his new job, college football, and other related topics.

BASN: Tell us about the process that led you to the Bulls’ coaching job.

TURNER GILL: I was contacted by the school through a national search. I must admit that originally I wasn’t interested with the job. I previously tried to recruit Warde Manuel (the Bulls’ AD) as a player for Nebraska, so we already had a relationship. After we talked, I decided to go through with the interview. After a second interview at the campus, I got a chance to meet a few other officials including President (John) Simpson. We really hit off very well, I felt like I belonged, and liked the plan that they have for the athetics department here.

BASN: You previous interviewed for several other Division I-A jobs including Missouri, New Mexico State, and Nebraska. Besides getting hired, what the difference here in Buffalo?

TG: Most importantly, myself, the AD, and president are all on the same page in regards to both academics and the direction of the program. We all know what it takes to compete at this level. I was very comfortable taking the job here because I knew of Warde’s previous work with the University of Michigan (associate AD) and Georgia Tech (academic advisor).

BASN: You’re currently the fifth African-American head coach in Division I-A football. What do you attribute the lack of African-American head coaches at this level?

TG: It’s a matter of people growing up in different cultures. When you don’t understand or don’t know certain people as well, you tend to not hire them. You’re going to hire someone that you’re comfortable with and who you can trust. It’s a cycle that has existed for quite a while whether they’re African-American or not. Lets face it, the majority of the folks that are hiring at this level aren’t African-Americans. We have to get to know them and they have to get to know us. To me, the key is to form a level of trust on both sides.

BASN:How do you think that your experience as an assistant and a recruiter at Nebraska will help you here ar UB?

TG: Working with folks like Coach (Tom) Osborne, who was my mentor, taught me how to deal with people. A lot of what we do as head coaches is the building of relationships and coach definitely taught me how to do that. No matter if it’s the secretary, the starting quarterback, the fifth team lineman, or even the janitor. All the different people that you deal with during the day, you must show them their value and worth to this program.

BASN: You’re joining a program that’s still at the early beginnings in Division I-A. Besides wanting to win, what’s the one major goal you want to accomplish this season?

TG: The one main goal is to trust us. It goes back to what I said about building relationships. The players have to trust the coaches and the coaches have to trust the players. We have to learn what motivates that guy to perform. While we can teach them what do do, we must also make sure that he actually does it. We have to be concerned about what we’re doing and not what the opponent is doing. If we focus on that and if our guys can beat the guys across from them, that will get us to the W’s.

BASN: You’ve been at the highest level in college football as a player and as a coach. What are you looking to do to get UB to reach that kind of level?

TG: We’ve set our bar very, very high. I don’t have a two-year plan or a five-year plan, we’re trying to get things done now. We’ve been telling our kids that everyday is the most important day. We’re measuring our success and effort on and off the field by their feet. Once their feet stop moving, they’re not giving us their best. We’re running forward all the time and we expect a big effort on and off the field at all the times.

BASN: What about the overall perception of UB football now that you’re here?

TG: We want to change the mentality of Bulls’ football. There’s definitely a higher expectation here to get things done. We dont want to just exist here, we don’t just want to play football here, we want you to reach your full potential as a student and as an athlete. There’s no doubt in my mind that we have the resources here to help you reach those goals.

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