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"All our terminology—and the terminology Bill Walsh took with him when he left here—came from Sid, plus a lot of the coaching points and much of the offense, at first. Sid's idea was to spread the field and get everyone into the pattern. He liked the quick strike, the relentless attack down the field, same as Bill Walsh. The quick strike to Lance Alworth, where he breaks a short pass for 60 yards; the quick strike to Jerry Rice, same thing. But then we got away from that and started holding the ball longer, looking for the big one.
"I understand Sid's mind. It's a far-out mind, always looking ahead, always looking to incorporate new things. Anything he liked, he'd put it in. The smorgasbord approach. That's where we eventually differed. I'd see one thing I liked, I'd stick with it. It's like we're both card players and he's got to learn all the games—chemin de fer, pinochle, gin—and I'm a bridge player. I'd say, 'Hell, let's play bridge and win money.'
"But the real treasure I got from Sid was learning how to be a winner, what it took: commitment, love of football, excellence, work ethic. No one could ever outwork Sid. He taught me how an organization should be run. There are just so many intangibles that came from Sid, the foundation of how we practice, for instance. See it, write it, learn it, do it."
Davis considers the late Paul Brown and Gillman the two forerunners of modern football: Brown more from an organizational standpoint; Gillman for organization and offensive concepts. "Every major-college pass offense, and a lot of those in the NFL, stem from the Gillman system," he says.
And what is that system? Gillman says it was born in the early 1930s when he was an All-Big Ten end at Ohio State, and then an assistant to Buckeye coach Francis Schmidt (Close the Gates of Mercy Schmidt), who in turn was influenced by the wide-open football of the Southwest Conference. It developed in Gillman's years as an assistant at Ohio State, Denison and Miami of Ohio from 1934 to '43, then as Miami's head coach from 1944 to '47. From Army's Red Blaik, for whom he worked as a line coach in '48, Gillman learned situational substitution—platoon football, they called it. Gillman taught his linemen option blocking—take the man wherever he was going—with the backs breaking off that block in either direction.
A young coach from St. Cecilia's High in Englewood, N.J., Vince Lombardi, often visited West Point in those days. For hours he and Gillman talked football, and it was Sid's strong recommendation that got Lombardi hired as his successor in 1949. The footprints of Gillman's option-blocking schemes were all apparent in Lombardi's game plans for the Green Bay Packers a decade later. Run to daylight, they called it.
And then there was the film study. Lord, how Gillman loves those films, going back to the days when his father ran a chain of movie theaters in Minneapolis and Sid would get the projectionists to clip football bits for him out of the old Fox Movietone newsreels. "The West Point players had credited him [Gillman] with introducing practice films and game grades at the Military Academy, and Vince brought those ideas to the Green Bay Packers," Jerry Kramer wrote in his 1968 book about the Packers, Instant Replay.
As the head coach at Cincinnati from 1949 to '54, Gillman exploited situational substitution. He came up with a name for his defensive unit, the Chinese Bandits, and a young assistant named Paul Dietzel took the name with him to LSU and made it famous.
Gillman's five years with the L.A. Rams (1955-59) were the launching pad for his concept of the attacking game, and then when he went to the Chargers in 1960, it all came together. Spread the field, put your wideouts at the extremities to force the defense to cover more ground (to open up holes), fill all five passing lanes, preread the defense and hit the receiver on the break. "When the passer's back foot hit the ground on his setup," Gillman says, "I wanted the ball gone. If no one was open, if he had to buy time, I wanted him to bounce in place. And then I only wanted him scrambling as a last resort. When you bounce, you maintain your balance. When you start moving, you create an unnatural position for yourself. I want everything to be natural."
His running plays were quick thrusts, his linemen fast and agile, able to pull and lead sweeps. Ron Mix, nine times an All-AFL choice, was one of history's great pulling tackles. The Chargers were always looking for ways to beat people around the corner.