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Bullish attitude

Turner Gill ready to lead Buffalo in winning direction

Posted: Thursday April 20, 2006 12:37PM; Updated: Thursday April 20, 2006 2:05PM
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Turner Gill will try to turn around the Buffalo program. After many years as an assistant, Gill is in his first season as a head coach.
Turner Gill will try to turn around the Buffalo program. After many years as an assistant, Gill is in his first season as a head coach.
Bill Wippert/SI
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When he met his team for the first time, on Jan. 17, new Buffalo coach Turner Gill had a simple message for the 80 players left ragged by defeat after defeat: Believe in things unseen. Since making the jump from Division I-AA to I-A in 1999, the Bulls arguably have been the worst program in major college football: 10-69 in that span with five wins over the last four seasons.

"I know I'll be measured in terms of wins and losses," says Gill, "but I'm interested this year in simply changing the way my players think. The first step is getting them to have faith that they can succeed."

Thinking like a winner is second nature to Gill, 43, who suffered more than three losses in a season only three times in 18 years at Nebraska, where he was a quarterback (28-2 as a three-year starter) and an assistant coach. The quarterbacks coach under Tom Osborne from 1992 through 2002, Gill recruited and tutored such standouts as Tommie Frazier (two national titles) and Eric Crouch (Heisman Trophy winner). After Osborne's successor, Frank Solich, was fired in 2003, Gill was the preferred candidate of many in Lincoln, but the job went to former Oakland Raiders boss Bill Callahan.

After one season under Callahan as receivers coach, Gill left Nebraska and spent last year as an assistant for the Green Bay Packers.

Why Buffalo? "It didn't matter what school hired me," says Gill, who had no other head-coaching offers when he took the job. "There are challenges, whether you start at the top or at the bottom."

His predecessor, Jim Hofher, knows those challenges. "It might have been different if UB had been given a fair shake when it jumped to Division I-A," says Hofher, who was head coach at Cornell ('90-'97) and quarterbacks coach at Tennessee (1989), North Carolina ('98-'99) and Syracuse (2000) before taking the Buffalo job. "UB is not first in the MAC in anything typically associated with having a winning football team. It's not first in operating budget, head coach salary, assistant coach salaries, facilities, tradition or location.

"There's not a culture there of the kind of giving that there is at other schools," Hofher continues. "It takes winning; it takes time to create that culture. I know something about the culture around big-time athletics. Fans at those schools pay premiums just to pay for better seats. UB doesn't know what it doesn't know yet." 

With the Bulls, Hofher labored for five years with one of the smallest budgets in the MAC, but Gill appears to have arrived at an opportune time.