|Gill's can-do spirit has Buffalo in contention|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 11 November 2008 14:00|
In the early 1980s, Gill proved wrong the doubters who said he'd never be a starting quarterback at Nebraska because he's black.
Now he's shooting down the nay-sayers who questioned whether he, in his first chance as a head coach, could turn hapless Buffalo into a contender.
``How come it can't happen?'' said Gill, who went 28-2 as a starter at Nebraska and was a 1983 Heisman Trophy finalist. ``That's what I told this football team when I first came in here. I said to them, `We will be successful here and I will not be ashamed of being the head football coach at the University at Buffalo.'''
Three years later, Gill has nothing to be embarrassed about.
The Bulls (5-4, 3-2 Mid-American Conference), once the laughingstock of Division I-A football, have won three in a row and prepare for a critical game at Akron (5-4, 3-2) on Thursday that will go a long way in determining the East Division champion.
Buffalo has already registered consecutive five-win seasons for the first time since 1980-84. The Bulls are 12-21 under Gill. They were 10-69 in their previous seven years since jumping to major college football.
With one more victory, the Bulls will have their most wins since going 8-3 as a Division I-AA program in 1996.
The turnaround has been so profound and come so quickly, that athletic director Warde Manuel is unable to understate Gill's impact.
``I am so proud of what we've done,'' Manuel said. ``If you would've asked me when I thought we'd be in the position to win a championship, I'd have probably told you in Turner's fourth, maybe fifth year.''
Under Gill, who doubles as the offensive coordinator, the Bulls have emerged as one of the most potent teams in the conference. It's a unit led by senior quarterback Drew Willy, a Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award semifinalist, who has 28 touchdowns and only four interceptions in his past 15 games.
Then there's running back James Starks, who has nine touchdowns and ranks seventh in the nation averaging 125 yards rushing per game. Receiver Naaman Roosevelt ranks 17th in the nation averaging 94 yards receiving.
y last month.
And now they're starting to blow out their opponents, including a 37-17 win against Miami, Ohio, the Bulls' first win in 11 games against the Redhawks.
``It's a wonderful feeling for me as a senior to see this program grow,'' defensive tackle Ronald Hilaire said. ``It's definitely grown tremendously. And I would have to attribute that growth to coach Gill. He came here and instilled a sense of believing in us and in our team.''
Manuel credits Gill for being the catalyst for change, saying he knew five minutes into the interview process that he had found his coach.
``X's and O's, all the coaches I interviewed had that,'' Manuel said. ``What I needed was a coach in this particular case that could get the kids who were down, a program that was down, to believe in themselves.''
Now the question is how long he can keep Gill, whose name continues to be mentioned when coaching vacancies arise. Last year, Gill was a candidate for the Nebraska job, which eventually went to Bo Pelini.
Though Gill's contract is competitive by MAC standards, Manuel is well aware that Buffalo wouldn't be able to match a more lucrative offer from the nation's larger programs.
``We will try to the best of our ability to keep him,'' Manuel said. ``That being said, if Turner Gill were to depart, I would look back and say, `Turner Gill has helped us far more immensely by being here for three years that having not come here at all.'''
And they said it couldn't be done.