Turner Gill just led the Buffalo Bulls football team to their first MAC title ever. And in doing so they'll be going to their first bowl game. Ever.
And they did it by beating Ball State--the 12th ranked team in the country. Which, as someone on HuskerPedia pointed out, gives them exactly one more win over a top-15 team in the past six seasons than my beloved Huskers.
Buffalo was invited to the Tangerine Bowl in 1958, but they declined the invitation because the bowl didn't allow black players to play. And the Bulls had 3 black players on their roster that they refused to leave behind.
And now, with a black coach, they're going to their first bowl game.
Coach Gill is a man who just EXUDES character, class, and faith. He doesn't see himself as a coach as much as a campus minister who works with football players. But he does a heckuva job of coaching, too. Check out these stats:
* Buffalo has won 8 games this season....in 12. Prior to Gill's arrival at Buffalo, it had taken Buffalo 54 games to win 7.
* Gill has coached Buffalo now for 36 games (not including tonights contest). Buffalo is 14-22 in those 36 games. Prior to showing up in Buffalo, you have to go back 92 games to count Buffalo's prior 14 wins.
* Gill was 5-7 last season. Buffalo hadn't won 5 games in a season since 1996 when they were 8-3. You have to go back to 1986 to find the next 5+ win season.
* Buffalo has now put up 13 wins over the past 2 seasons. You have to go back to 1985-86 to find the last 13 wins over 2 seasons.
* In the nine seasons before this one, Buffalo was 17-89 in Division 1...with only Duke having a worse overall record.
And in the postgame interview, he was the very picture of humility. He told the interviewer at first that he was "speechless." I think he was trying to find the words to describe the enormity of what had just happened, and of his own struggle and journey...and they just weren't there. His voice cracked and he shed some tears when talking about how proud he was of his players, and afterwards, when his athletic director came over to hug him, Turner broke down completely, sobbing in his arms.
Gotta admit, my own eyes got a little sweaty, too... =)
(Here's the YouTube clip of the end of the game, including the postgame interview. Amazing.)
I've written about Turner Gill before. Here and here. The man is my hero.
Congratulations, Turner. You deserve every bit of success that comes to you and your teams. God bless you for doing what you do and for being someone who helps show young men what it means to be part of something larger than yourself, what it means to love sacrifically, what it means to lead by serving...and for pointing to God as the source of your strength and your example for service and love.
9-9-08 EDIT--I found the following nugget about Turner Gill on KLIN's website. John Bishop (one of my fave Husker radio guys, btw) put into words much better the thoughts that I was struggling to express. Here's the link, and here's the text of what he had to say (pay close attention to what I bolded near the end...that, I think is the key to understanding who Turner Gill is and what he's about):
JOHN BISHOP'S SUNDAY SCHOOL
Buffalo 42, Ball State 24
Welcome to a special MAC Championship edition of Sunday School.
I am going to admit, I sometimes find writing this column to be tedious. After a long week at work and a long day at the game, all I want to do is lay down and do nothing. But tonight is different...oh, so different.
If you call yourself a Husker fan and didn't get excited for Turner Gill and the University of Buffalo Friday night, then please turn your Husker fan card in at the door. We not only saw a program go from irrelevant to relevant, we saw a Husker legend solidify right before our eyes.
Turner Gill as a player and an assistant for the better part of the years 1980 to 2004 had already established a permanent place in Husker lore. But with his Buffalo program becoming MAC champs in three short years under his tenure, Gill just took "the Nebraska way" and planted its flag in upstate New York.
But did you see the postgame interview? If not, then you need to. You Tube. ESPN. Buffalo Bulls website. Find it. Because in two minutes of national TV airtime, Turner Gill went from Husker legend and U. of Buffalo savior to Husker icon and the epitome; the definition of what a leader of young people should be.
Again, go find the tape. It was on SportsCenter, I'm sure you can find it somewhere. If there was any recruit sitting on the fence about going to UB, they probably fell right off. There had to be other coaches watching, some of them tired of the long grind, ready to take a break, frustrated by the rigors of the job of herding young boys-to-men who might just have received a wake up call about why they do this job in the first place. Why they wanted to make a career working 18-20 hour days and living on the edge every gameday with their careers and livelihood hanging in the balance. Turner just showed us all in two minutes what motivates men to excel, to push harder, to work for something and someone greater than ourselves. And then give all the credit to the right people and give all the thanks to his Maker.
I know it got me off the couch and on this computer to write this column.
Way to go, Turner! A Buffalo Bulls nation and a Husker nation are very proud of you.