In his sleep, Hall of Fame football coach and master innovator Sid Gill man, 91. Gillman created the West Coast offense with the Rams and the Chargers in the AFL. He later coached the NFL's Oilers and in 18 years as a pro coach went 123-104-7. SI's Paul Zimmerman reflects.
It was a December night in 1966, and Sid Gillman's Chargers had just beaten the Jets 42-27 Gillman was having dinner, as he often did, in San Diego's leading sports restaurant, Pernicano's Casa di Baffi, with the owner, George Pernicano. "I feel sorry for those New York guys," Pernicano said, "getting the hell beat out of them and then having that long flight home. I think I'll drive out to the airport and take them some pepperoni and cheese." Gillman looked at Pernicano as if he were nuts. "The hell with 'em," he said.
That was the Gillman I knew. Tough, uncompromising. When I saw him that year at a luncheon, he strode to the podium, frowning, checking his watch, his muscular neck cramped beneath his bow tie. "Some see football as a game," he said. "You know what it is to me? It's blood!"
His offense was beautiful: the deep strike to Lance Alworth, the swerving and swooping of his twin backs, Paul Lowe and Keith Lincoln. Yet there were brutal elements too. The offense was built on the vertical attack—Alworth on the deep post, a tight end splitting the hash marks, Lowe or Lincoln pushing it down the seams. The theory was to punish the defense, and in the '63 AFL title game Gillman beat the Boston Patriots 51-10. His was the true West Coast Offense (later adapted and modified by Don Coryell, Joe Gibbs and Ernie Zampese), the antithesis of Bill Walsh's horizontal approach.
A few years ago I spent a week watching film with Gillman at his house, learning his theories. He was kind and gentle and very patient. One day I told him, "You know, when I first met you, you scared the hell out of me." His wife, Esther, laughed. "He scared a lot of people," she said. "Until they got to know him. Then he wasn't so bad."