Sid Gillman, the longtime professional and college football coach who was considered a master of the passing game, died yesterday morning in Los Angeles. He was 91.
"Sid Gillman was the father of modern-day passing," said Al Davis, the prominent pro football figure who served as Gillman's first offensive coach with the Chargers of the American Football League. "It had been thought of as vertical, the length of the field, but Sid also thought of it as horizontal. Sid used the width of the field."
Bill Walsh, the former San Francisco 49ers coach, said in a 2000 interview with The Associated Press that Gillman was "one of the great offensive minds in football history."
Gillman established his reputation while coaching the Chargers, first in Los Angeles in 1960 and then in San Diego from 1961 to 1971.
His coaching career, which covered six decades, began in 1934 at his alma mater, Ohio State University. By the time he quit coaching, in 1987, he was a member of the collegiate and professional football Halls of Fame.
Gillman said in 1981: "All I know is that when you look over at the coaches on the other sideline and all you see are guys who either coached with you or played for you, then you know it's time to get out."
But he would not be ready, until six more seasons had passed, to retire to his home next to the first tee on the La Costa Resort golf course near Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.
Gillman underwent surgery in August 2000 for an aortic aneurysm. He was working with a personal trainer doing weight training and stretching at his home when he passed out.
A native of Minneapolis and a rugged player at end, Gillman spurned the University of Minnesota to attend Ohio State even though the Golden Gophers were the foremost college team in the nation at the time.
He first became a head coach at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in 1944 and moved on to the University of Cincinnati in 1949. His 10 college teams won 79 games and lost only 18, which caught the attention of Dan Reeves, president of the National Football League's Los Angeles Rams, who hired Gillman.
His first Rams team, in 1955, lost the league championship game to the Cleveland Browns, and Gillman was never able to do any better with the Rams. After a 2-10 season with the Rams in 1959 he jumped to the new A.F.L. The Chargers lost to the Houston Oilers in the inaugural A.F.L. championship game.
His first Chargers quarterback was Jack Kemp, an apt student who quickly absorbed Gillman's complex passing offense. Later, his star players in San Diego included Lance Alworth, Paul Lowe, Keith Lincoln, John Hadl, Ron Mix and Gary Garrison. Alworth, a receiver, and Mix, a tackle, preceded Gillman in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In 11 seasons with the Chargers, Gillman was 86-53-6 in the regular season. In the first six seasons of the A.F.L., San Diego won five division titles and one league championship, in 1963. The Chargers' success and the response of their fans had made San Diego a big-league city.
Gillman was a head coach once more, in Houston, where the Oilers in 1973 and 1974 went from 1-13 to 7-7 and he was named American Football Conference coach of the year. The Oilers' owner, Bud Adams, fired him anyway, replacing him with Bum Phillips.
Gillman later served briefly on the staffs of the Dallas Cowboys, the Chicago Bears and the Philadelphia Eagles of the N.F.L. as well as the the Los Angeles Express of the United States Football League. He was a consultant for the University of Pittsburgh in 1987.
He is survived by his wife, Esther, whom he married in 1935; four children; and eight grandchildren.