Legendary Recruit Turner Gill Knew Osborne 'Would Make Me a Better Man'
Randy York's N-Sider
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Turner Gill will never forget Oct. 3, 1981, the day after Nebraska had beaten Auburn, 17-3.
In his usual understated style, then Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne told Gill, a sophomore, that he would be Nebraska's starting quarterback for the Big Eight Conference opener against Colorado.
Gill, after all, had earned the job after leapfrogging Mark Mauer and Nate Mason on the depth chart. With Nebraska trailing Auburn, 3-0, at halftime, Osborne took a chance on Gill, and one of the Huskers' most prized recruits ever from the state of Texas disappointed absolutely no one.
Taking immediate control and leading Nebraska to a 59-0 win over the Buffs in Lincoln, Gill never looked back on his way to becoming one of the Huskers' most popular leaders in the history of the program.
Sure, he led Nebraska to six wins that sophomore season before the Huskers lost to Clemson in a national championship Orange Bowl game.
That was followed by a 12-1 finish in 1983, the only loss being a controversial 27-24 decision at eventual national champion Penn State.
Then, of course, came Nebraska's NCAA record-breaking Scoring Explosion team of 1983 that went 12-0 before Gill's two-point conversion pass just missed Jeff Smith's fingertips in that gut-wrenching 31-30 loss to national champion Miami.
The Huskers averaged 52 points a game and 400 yards rushing that season. Overall, Gill finished with a 28-2 record as Nebraska's starting quarterback. Under his leadership, the Huskers won three consecutive outright Big Eight championships, including its first outright title in 10 years.
Gill was 20-0 as a Big Eight starter. He was also a winning leader and teammate. That's why Osborne hired him as his quarterback coach, so he could join a staff that just kept on winning and winning. Gill was part of a Husker program that won three national championships and just missed two other ones in a five-year span.
For Gill, Winning is Defined in Spiritual Terms
But here's the deal with Turner Gill. He doesn't measure "real winning" in terms of wins and losses. He measures it in terms of values and what you become as a man, a husband, a father, a friend and yes, even a citizen of this great country.
"I knew the minute I met Coach Osborne when he was recruiting me that he would help make me a man," said Gill, now the head football coach at the University of Buffalo.
Gill was so immersed in Osborne's style of leadership and became so close to him personally that he asked his head football coach to be one of the five groomsmen in his wedding.
"Whether it was as a player or a coach at Nebraska, the thing that gave me the greatest pleasure was learning how God can be involved in your life," Gill said. "Seeing Tom in his last few years of coaching was really exciting for me. Scoring touchdowns and winning national championships were important, but the thing I found most enjoyable was hearing a coach stand up there and talk about Scripture. That was a truly defining moment for me."
It represented the last bit of polish that Gill needed to become a head coach - the kind of wisdom he uses in his own daily journey at Buffalo.
Osborne teaches all players and associates to begin with the end in mind, and that's what Gill has done in building Buffalo from one of college football's biggest losers into one of its most respected up-and-coming programs.
Buffalo's vision is to provide a positive, motivating environment that encourages excellence, growth and balance in the lives of all staff and student-athletes.
"We've defined the behaviors we're looking for and what we want our staff and our student-athletes to do," Gill said. "They have to understand our mission. They have to feel it, and they have to believe it."
From Believing in Each Other to Enjoying the Experience
Gill was so inspired by the word "Believe" that he built his program's mission around it. Here are the behaviors he values and prioritizes:
Believe in each other and the things not yet seen.
Empower people by encouragement.
Learn and push toward the goal.
Influence by being a positive role model.
Expect great effort all the time.
Enjoy the college football experience.
"That's our mission statement for the University of Buffalo football program," Gill said. "I could go more into the details and explain the hows and the whys, but if you came here and asked anybody about our mission statement, they should be able to tell you what it is because we talk about it every day."
Gill points out there are seven letters in "BELIEVE" because he wanted the word to be relevant for all seven days in the week.
"B - Believe in each other - is for Sundays and the last E - Enjoy the college football experience - is for Saturdays," he said.
For Gill and for Buffalo, it works.
It works because in Tom Osborne teaching him that football is about more than winning, Turner Gill became the man that he always knew he could be.
Voices from Husker Nation
I was born and raised in Omaha and moved to Buffalo in 1987. I can tell you all first hand that Turner Gill has, in my opinion, built the foundation for a program that seems to me to be similar to what Bob Devaney did in the 1960s for Nebraska. Turner is the absolute personification of class and leadership...qualities that in this area, have been sadly lacking in far too many areas...sports...business and politics included. Tom Burke, Buffalo, New York
Turner Gill was, is, and always will be my favorite Husker. Not only was he a great football player, but a great person. He is a great role model for any young man; not just the football players lucky enough to be coached by him. I wish him the best of luck in whatever he does. Scott Jackson, Ft. Worth, Texas
Turner Gill had talent, leadership and poise. He set the standard for option quarterbacks at Nebraska. He could disect a defense and beat you first with his legs. If you set your defense to stop that, he would slice you up with his arm. He also had an uncanny ability to get the ball in to the hands of a back that the defense had not accounted for. Thanks for taking the time to share what really made Turner Gill such a legendary recruit -- his genuine humility and his devout belief. We still root for you, Turner. Pete Edwards, Des Moines, Iowa
Everybody has a favorite quarterback, and that sign of ultimate respect isn't always measured in terms of wins and losses or yards and touchdowns. For me, it's the aura that a quarterback brings to the rest of his team, and I always felt like Turner Gill just made everyone around him better. It's a God-given quality that mixes confidence with humility. Turner is one of those leaders who could bring out the best in everyone, and I don't mean just the guys who looked at the world like he does. Even the meaner, nastier personalities that played on defense seemed to look to Turner for motivation. I love Tommie Frazier, and I love Eric Crouch, and they will always hold a huge place in my Husker heart, but Turner Gill will always be my all-time favorite quarterback, and this column helps explain why. John Peterson, Omaha, Nebraska
Turner Gill Profile
Name: Turner H. Gill Jr.
Residence: East Amherst, N.Y.
Family: Wife Gayle; Daughters, Jordan, 19 and Margaux, 14.
Why I chose Nebraska: Pretty simple - Tom Osborne. I knew he would make me a better man. I also visited Oklahoma and Texas. I visited Texas because my high school coach wanted me to go there. Oklahoma was trying to recruit me for football and baseball and came to my house again the day before signing day, even though I'd given Nebraska my verbal commitment. I guess they were hoping I'd change my mind. I remember (then-Nebraska assistant) Lance Van Zandt advising me to stay at a friend's house the night before signing day, but the two OU coaches still showed up at my house. Coach Osborne came straight to my house from the airport that day, and I assured him that I wasn't even considering changing my mind. He's a man of his word and has great integrity, and that's the kind of man I wanted to be, too.
Why Nebraska was a good decision: Coach Osborne had a lot of qualities that I wanted to model...genuineness, trust, integrity, poise, faith, intelligence, humility. He had an amazing ability to define each person's purpose. He could communicate what your strengths were on the playing field, and he could influence your life off the field. And I'm not just talking about football players. I'm talking about every employee who worked with him. He defined their purpose for that program, and I saw that, and I loved that. I really wanted to model all of his best qualities, but there's one that really sticks in my mind - how important it is to treat people with respect, to explain how they can help young men in the program and why - even if they weren't coaching, but volunteering. Coach understood his purpose in life and why God put him here, and I understand how I'm wired and what my purpose is. I understand my strengths, and I understand my weaknesses. I don't try to do it any way other than the way God made me. I didn't understand it when I was 20 years old, but it's a continued process. I get who I am and what my purpose is on this earth.
What I'm doing now: I'm head football coach at the University of Buffalo in the Mid-American Conference. I enjoy coaching here and leading young men here. Buffalo is a unique and very special place. In a different sort of way, it's a lot like Nebraska because there's a unity here, and there's a passion here. It's also very similar to Nebraska because people take care of each other here and share a bond.
Most memorable moment as a Husker: Mine might be a little different than most, but the greatest thing was how God came into my life at a young age. Through Coach Osborne, I was able to see how scripture related to football. That was a real 'wow' for me, so when I was named the starting quarterback at the University of Nebraska my sophomore year, I was ready to take on the challenge. It didn't overwhelm me. I was ready physically, mentally, emotionally, even spiritually.
Most memorable moment in life: When I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior in December of 1985. One of my Nebraska teammates, Todd Brown, was also a teammate of mine with the Montreal Alouettes at the time. He and his wife spent time with me and my wife to explain the Christian life, what it means and how it can change you. That decision influenced everything I stand for and believe in.