Turner Gill? Oh, We Go Way Back...

I hated Turner Gill. It's 1983. I'm sitting in a windswept seat in Nebraska's Memorial Stadium, the third-most populous location in the state, on a cold, grey day...

I'm part of a small contingent of young shakers and movers from Lawrence, future big-money KU boosters (it was hoped) who were being treated to a road trip to Lincoln by the KU athletic department.
 
I was a work-study student, making minimum wage doing "gopher" work for assistant AD Mike Hamrick, who would later be the AD at UNLV and is now at Marshall, his alma mater. Mike invited me to drive the van for the trip. In exchange, I got an expenses paid weekend in Lincoln for the game.
 
I should've said I had other plans.
 
The Bugeaters drilled Kansas, 67-13. The score was 42-0 at halftime with Nebraska going for two after each of their first two TDs against a Kansas team that would go 4-6-1. Dr. Tom was at his RUTSing best that day.
 
The Huskers had 680 yards of total offense for the game, including 567 yards rushing on 66 carries. That's 8.6 yards a pop, kids.
 
RB Mike Rozier had 230 yards rushing…at halftime. By the time he took a seat on the Nebraska bench midway through the third quarter, he had 285 – then a school record – and four touchdowns. Rozier won the Heisman that year.
 
A lot of Rozier's yards came running behind offensive lineman Dean Steinkuhler. At halftime, Steinkuhler used to entertain the capacity crowd by eating a baby and kicking puppies through the stadium goalposts. He won both the Outland and Lombardi Trophies that year.
 
Cornhusker WR Irving Fryar caught a couple of passes for nice gains that day. He was the first pick in the 1984 NFL draft.
 
The guy who stuck out to me, though, was quarterback Turner Gill. He did his fair share of damage by running the triple option like he was born to it. He had 41 yards on seven carries and completed five of 13 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown.
 
Gill wasn't the best player on the field. Hell, the bum only finished fourth in the Heisman voting that year. He did, however, look like the smartest. He made good decisions all afternoon (with the exception of one interception) and sent my Jayhawks home with their tail feathers between their legs. You could tell by the way he played and the way he carried himself that Gill was a leader who respected the game and took pride in his performance, in his team and in himself. He played like a coach on the field. In short, Turner Gill played like a winner.
 
But I couldn't even grudgingly give him any respect. He'd just starred in the worst football game I'd ever attended. I would hate him forever. Or until last Monday, whichever came first.
 
Turner Gill, the man I vowed to hate, stepped up to the Mrkonic Auditorium microphone Monday morning and blew everyone away. He said all the right things, and he said them like he meant them. He even gave the crowd a "Rock Chalk Jayhawk, KU," thanks to some coaching from his daughter.
 
With 1983 barely discernable in my rearview mirror, I was reminded of why everyone but me loved Turner Gill back then. I'm convinced now that the same qualities that made him so good that cold, crappy day in Lincoln will be the same ones that will make him successful in Lawrence.
 
Gill's measured, cool approach reminds me a lot of his former mentor and coach, Dr. Tom Osborne. Like him or not, Osborne was the picture of confidence and control on the Cornhusker sideline all those years. Look for Gill to bring the same deliberate approach to coaching in this conference as he did playing in it. If he can instill in his Jayhawks that same level of quiet confidence, I like our chances in years to come.
 
Clearly he learned the value of surrounding himself with quality people. On the field, he knew he owed his success to studs like Rozier, Fryar and Steinkuhler. On the sideline, he saw Osborne surrounded by the best assistants in the country. He even became one of those assistants after his playing days were over, tutoring Heisman winner Eric Crouch and coaching arguably the greatest QB in Cornhusker history, Tommie Frazier.
 
Gill hadn't even been introduced as Jayhawks head coach before he'd already secured the services of Chuck Long and Carl Torbush, two of the better known and more respected coaches in the country.
 
Finally, if you weren't motivated to strap on a helmet and pads and eat broken glass by Gill's news conference, you'd better check your pulse. I'm old and fat and I want to play for the guy, for crying out loud. That was the same leadership and pride and passion for the game that I saw that day in Lincoln.
 
This time, however, you could add tremendous excitement to the mix: excitement to be the head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks.

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