Gillman Era Grid Iron Gang Checks In

It was pointed out by one of the Premium members of Bearcat Insider that the game on Saturday has something even more at stake than the Victory Bell. If UC wins it will be their sixth win in a row, the last time UC had a winning streak that long Sid Gillman was leading the Bearcats to 16 wins in a row spread over the 53 – 54 seasons.

As part of Miami week we thought it would be a good time to catch up with some of the players from the Gillman Era and get their perspective on Bearcat football and the Miami rivalry.


Sunday afternoon I spent a good portion of the day talking with two Bearcat greats who played quarterback for Sid Gillman, Don McMillan and Mike Murphy. Their playing days are over but there is no shortage of great stories and passion for Bearcat football and life in general.


Both of these men agreed on quite a few points, but one that was very clear is the significance of the Miami game to them and to Coach Gillman during their playing days.


Mike Murphy told me that Gillman went to a different level during the week prior to the game, "every thing was more intense, practice, quarterback meetings, everything. That intensity transferred right to the players, we couldn't wait to start the game".


The atmosphere was a must win attitude, in fact Don McMillan pointed out "there is no reasonable excuse to lose to Miami", "that isn't meant as disrespect but as an expectation that every UC player had in my playing days and what players today must have."


In fact Don's passion for the game is so great that his wife of 61 years Patti doesn't' even like to be around the week of the game. I'm sure Patti has gotten used to the game over the years but it certainly was great to hear that kind of passion. They both agreed that preparation for this game was done with a great sense of urgency, "the game was a bowl game as far as we knew".


A major topic of the day back then was the need to get out of the MAC. UC was building a great program in the late 40's to early 50's, but coach Gillman knew if they were to compete at a high level on a regular basis that UC needed to rise above the MAC. It has taken a lot longer than anyone could expect but these guys agreed that the Big East has opened the door for UC to take that long awaited step. "UC is on the right path, they have the conference, the facilities, and the coaching staff in place".


There were things that Don and Mike saw in similarities when comparing Sid Gillman to Brian Kelly. As Don said, coach Gillman was offensive minded and so is Coach Kelly, but they both knew to build with defense first. "Build the defense and then worry about the offense, you can score more ways from the defensive side of the ball then on offense so it just makes sense. Plus if the other team can't score they can't win." There are also other similarities, "both coaches approach the game with intensity on the field but more importantly both win."


The topic of where this game should be played has been making headlines all week. This was somewhat of an overblown topic for these two guys, "the game was traditionally played on Thanksgiving Day at Nippert Stadium" Having games in Oxford is a relatively new idea, of the 112 games played only 22 have been played in Oxford. Since most alumni of both schools live in Greater Cincinnati it seems perfectly sound to have the game played in the city.


The crowd size at Nippert is forever being discussed on talk radio and in the papers, why can't UC draw crowds. I asked Mike Murphy about that, "we played in front of packed houses, it comes down to winning and an expectation of winning" "we even drew packed houses for alumni games" Those alumni games sounded like some of the best games that most people never knew were played. Mike told me those were some of the toughest games he ever played in, he also pointed out that he led his team to victory all three times he played.


I had to ask what it would take for UC to get back to the Gillman glory days. "Winning consistently will fill the stands", "win this Saturday in Oxford and you can expect a full house the following game." Another thing is to focus on getting the local players, "when we played almost everyone was from the area", "even today if you could get the top players within 100 miles of Cincinnati you could win". Both of these men know something about high school football, both had long coaching careers at local high schools; Mike coached at Highlands while Don coached at Taylor. 


We talked a bit about the current players; they were very impressed with Ben Mauk. "His ability to escape and keep a play alive shows great leadership." Don wondered if "the rivalry means as much today as it meant to us?" I couldn't answer that question but I know it needs to mean everything this year. "No acceptable excuses…" kept ringing in my ears. Both Don and Mike are right, it's time for UC to take the next step. No acceptable excuses, this week is a must win game just like when Sid Gillman was on the sidelines.

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