One day someone approached Gillman to do some work for
the Gray Panthers. "What is it?" he asked. A senior citizens'
group, he was told. "It's not for me," he said. "Hell, I live like I
did when I was 35. I don't believe in retirement groups
because I don't believe in retirement. How long can I keep
coaching? How about forever? I'll never walk off the field."
But that's exactly what he did after the '77 season. He wanted
to open up the offense. The Chicago brain trust wanted to keep
it closed. "Younger coaches with old minds," Gillman said,
and he went back to La Costa and his film room.
The next phone call came from leftfield. United States
International University, formerly known as Cal Western,
wanted to know if he was interested in coaching its team --
USIU with 3,450 students on its San Diego campus, including
1,500 undergrads, about a third of them foreign; USIU with
campuses in London, Nairobi and Mexico City. Sid Gillman
working there would be like Henry Ford working at a local
"My president told me to make the call," says Al Palmiotto,
USIU's athletic director at the time. "I was practically laughing
when I phoned Sid. I mean Sid Gillman, the father of modern
offensive football. I said, `You wouldn't by any chance be
interested?' and he said, `Sure, why not?' "
"What a lucky sonofabitch I am," Gillman said afterward,
"finding a place like this for the last years of my life." It was
December 1978. He was 67 years old. Four months later he
was gone, having signed on with the Philadelphia Eagles to
put in a passing attack for coach Dick Vermeil's offense. But
what he did in those four months at USIU became something
of a West Coast legend.
Three of the coaches he hired -- Tom Walsh, John Fox and
Mike Solari -- went on to coach in the NFL. A fourth one,
Mike Sheppard, is now head coach at New Mexico. Two of
the players he recruited, quarterback Bob Gagliano and
cornerback Vernon Dean, became NFL starters. The '79 USIU
team, eventually coached by Walsh, went 8-3, tying the best
record in school history.
"Sid put everything together in a month," says Walsh, who
now is an offensive assistant with the Los Angeles Raiders. "It
was frantic. We were interviewing people in two offices at
once. Running 'em in and out. Everyone wanted to come in
and meet Sid. We got Gagliano on the rebound from
Southwestern Louisiana. [He had left because he was
homesick.] When we found him, he was reading gas meters
for the city of Glendale."