Gillman Had Other Love in Life

Special to The Times

For years, Sid Gillman was a football coach with three passions: pass offense, jazz piano, and his wife, Esther.

These might be listed out of order, but in any case, as Esther used to say, pass offense was always first.

She met him long ago at North High School in Minneapolis, where Gillman, who died Friday at 91, learned to play football and piano.

Since that day, Sid and Esther were practically inseparable.

When he was coaching the old Los Angeles Rams in 1955-59, he took her with him on the team's charter to out-of-town games.

In late years, with taped piano music playing in his film room, he could and often did maintain a spirited conversation with Esther and at the same time analyze the taped play-by-play of a football game, indulging his three passions simultaneously.

Their long love story ended Friday in Century City, where she survives. They moved to town to be nearer their children a few years ago after several decades in Carlsbad.

Gillman will be remembered by family and friends as a stocky, urbane, bright and bright-eyed pipe smoker. For decades, in fact, he smoked a pipe even at the piano.

"My first job was playing piano in my dad's theater in Minneapolis," he once said, recalling the silent-movie days when the only theater music of any kind was live. "I go back a long way."

His favorite jazz musician was Art Tatum, and when someone argued with him about that one day, citing Nat King Cole as a better pianist in the years before Cole converted to pop singing, Gillman said, "Tatum was a perfectionist."

And so, of course, was Gillman, who began as a two-way end on football teams in Minneapolis and at Ohio State before launching an 18-year career as a professional head coach -- a career he ended only after discovering that he preferred counseling other coaches.

In recent years, seeking Gillman's opinions from all over the country, pro and college coaches alike sent him the game tapes that supplanted the game movies that he was the first to use extensively in his coaching days.

He got the idea, he said, during his Ohio State years, when on summer vacations in Minneapolis, he spliced together football newsreel footage at his father's theater.

In Carlsbad, the biggest room in his house -- the film-projector room -- was stacked with football movies and tapes, which he analyzed by the hour, enjoying himself thoroughly.

One day, when Bum Phillips, then coaching the Houston Oilers, called on him, Gillman tried to interest him in a big play by one of Phillips' players. As Phillips tells the story, he could hardly stay awake as Gillman excitedly reviewed slow-motion movies of that one play a dozen times before commenting, "Hey, Bum, this is better than making love."

Phillips, stifling a yawn, replied, "Either I don't know how to watch film, Sid, or you don't know how to make love."

It was every team's pass offense that Gillman tried to improve when in contact with the coaches who sought his advice.

In an era when most coaches settled for running plays most of the time, Gillman, during his Ram tenure, had seen what passing could do. His passing teams, with quarterbacks such as Norm Van Brocklin and Billy Wade throwing the ball, made pro football big time in Los Angeles in the early 1950s when New York -- and much of the rest of America -- still thought of baseball as the national pastime.

During Gillman's final years in Los Angeles, after he had built pro football into what it remains today, average Ram attendance hit 83,680.

There was, for instance, a November day in 1957 when a Ram-49er game packed in a record crowd of 102,368 at the Coliseum.

That was Gillman's doing. His offense was so entertaining that the game sold out even though, that morning, the Rams stood dead last in their division.

He won it too, 37-24.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Sid Gillman

AT A GLANCE

* Born Oct. 26, 1911 in Minneapolis, Minn.

* Father of the pro passing game, created offensive schemes designed to make defenses vulnerable by spreading them out with multiple receiver sets. Gillman is also credited with bringing film study to the fore, as his crude editing allowed him to group and study specific offensive situations and defensive sets, an innovation that would later completely transform the game.

* Elected to both College and Pro Football Halls of Fame, he led college teams at Miami (Ohio) and Cincinnati to combined 81-19-2 record from 1944-54; coached Los Angeles Rams (1955-59) in NFL, then led Los Angeles-San Diego Chargers to five Western titles and one league championship in first six years of AFL.

COLLEGE CAREER

* Played at Ohio State, 1931-33; he was an offensive and defensive end; Was Denton University assistant coach, 1935-37; Ohio State assistant coach, 1938-40; University of Miami of Ohio coach, 1942-47; University of Cincinnati coach, 1949-54.

NFL/AFL COACHING CAREER

Year Team Result

1955 L.A. Rams 8-3-1

1956 L.A. Rams 4-8-0

1957 L.A. Rams 6-6-0

1958 L.A. Rams 8-4-0

1959 L.A. Rams 2-10-0

1960 L.A. Chargers 10-4-0

1961 San Diego 12-2-0

1962 San Diego 4-10-0

1963 San Diego 11-3-0*

1964 San Diego 8-5-1

1965 San Diego 9-2-3

1966 San Diego 7-6-1

1967 San Diego 8-5-1

1968 San Diego 9-5-0

1969 San Diego 4-5-0

1971 San Diego 4-6-0

1973 Houston 1-8-0

1974 Houston 7-7-0

* won AFL championship

GILLMAN'S CONTEMPORARIES

Ara Parseghian -- Notre Dame coach played for Gillman at Miami.

Bo Schembechler -- Legendary Michigan coach played for Gillman at Miami.

Al Davis -- Hired Bill Walsh away from John Ralston's staff at Stanford and taught him Gillman's offense, which Davis learned as an assistant with the Chargers.

Bill Walsh - Walsh meshed Brown's organizational skills with Gillman's innovative passing game and created West Coast offense.

Paul Brown - Coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, hired Bill Walsh as assistant in 1968.

Chuck Knox -- Knox and Gillman shared time together on the Rams coaching staff.

Bud Adams -- Cantankerous owner of the Houston Oilers, who fired Gillman following the 1974 season in which Gillman was named NFL Coach of the Year.

Don Coryell -- Hired Bill Walsh as the offensive coordinator for the Chargers in 1976, where Walsh would create "Air Coryell" with Dan Fouts at the helm.

Dick Vermeil -- Hired Gillman as offensive assistant in 1979, and credited Eagles' 1980 Super Bowl appearance to him.

GILLMAN'S LEGACY

Present and former head coaches and disciples of Walsh's West Coast offense:

Brian Billick (Baltimore)

Bill Callahan (Oakland)

Pete Carroll (New England, N.Y. Jets)

Bruce Coslet (New York Jets, Cincinnati)

Tony Dungy (Tampa Bay, Indianapolis)

Jim Fassel (New York Giants)

Jeff Fisher (Tennessee)

Dennis Green (Minnesota)

Jon Gruden (Oakland, Tampa Bay)

Paul Hackett (USC, Pittsburgh)

Mike Holmgren (Green Bay, Seattle)

Steve Mariucci (San Francisco)

Marty Mornhinweg (Detroit)

Ray Rhodes (Philadelphia)

George Seifert (San Francisco, Carolina)

Mike Shanahan (Raiders, Denver)

Mike Sherman (Green Bay)

Andy Reid (Philadelphia)

Dick Vermeil (Phila., St. Louis, Kan. City)

Tyrone Willingham (Stanford, Notre Dame)

Sam Wyche (Cincinnati, Tampa Bay)

-- Roy Jurgens

For The Record Los Angeles Times Tuesday January 07, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 7 inches; 262 words Type of Material: Correction Sid Gillman -- Bo Schembechler did not play for football coach Sid Gillman at Miami University of Ohio, as reported in a Sports chart Saturday. Schembechler was a letter winner there in 1949 and 1950. Also, Gillman was Miami's coach from 1944 to 1947, not 1942 to 1947.
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