January 16, 2003
Football Coach and Hall of Famer, Dies at 91
Sid Gillman, former Rams and Chargers football coach, died in his sleep on Jan 3. He was 91. The following tribute was written by Pro Football Hall of Fame member Ron Mix for the San Diego Jewish Press-Heritage.
Sid Gillman was my coach. There is no greater compliment one can give a person, because a coach is a teacher; a teacher of not only athletic skills, but of fundamental character traits that serve as a foundation for a society with values. He recognized that it is on the athletic field we learn loyalty, discipline, the value of hard work, acceptance of responsibility and respect for oneself and others.
I first learned of Sid when I needed him most. In 1955, he was named the head coach of the Los Angeles Rams, the team of my boyhood. I had been born in Boyle Heights, at the time an East Los Angeles Russian Jewish ghetto. When I learned about Sid, I was short of a father figure and short on identity. Then, I read that a Jew had been named the head coach of the team I had loved for years. And I learned that this Sid Gillman guy had been an All-American end at Ohio State and played in the first College All-Star Game.
What a revelation it was for me: Jews were All-American football players and leaders of the Los Angeles Rams. My world had begun an expansion that continues to this day.
He was my coach during my 10 years as a member of the Chargers. He personified the adage "tough but fair." Sid demanded that players perform to their potential and never stopped challenging them to reach their potential. As much as he demanded from you, he gave more of himself. His work habits were legendary. His contribution to the development of the game is matchless.
Football did become a bigger canvas than just wins and losses. In the early '60s, when the civil rights movement was in its infancy, and some professional football teams appeared to have a quota on the number of black players allowed, Sid had open competition and initiated social integration on the team: he assigned training camp roommates by position so that there would be a natural reason for blacks and whites to room together.
Coach, life flew by in a wink. It was only yesterday that you were playing on the green field of Ohio State; that you were playing jazz piano and meeting your future wife, Esther, that you and Esther raised four children in a home filled with love and excitement while forging a career culminating with your induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But you treated life's time as precious and you went through it as a noble warrior.
Sid Gillman is survived by his wife, Esther; four children; eight grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.