Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Not his true calling: It’s a good thing Turner Gill gave up baseball

Turner Gill (7), then a shortstop for Nebraska, catches a high throw from home plate as a Kansas base-runner steals second. Gill, now Kansas University’s football coach, had a short stint in the minors, but quickly learned his career path was in football.

Turner Gill (7), then a shortstop for Nebraska, catches a high throw from home plate as a Kansas base-runner steals second. Gill, now Kansas University’s football coach, had a short stint in the minors, but quickly learned his career path was in football.



Kansas Head Football Coach Turner Gill

Turner Gill was named the head coach of the Kansas football team Sunday, December 15, 2009.

When Turner Gill was named Kansas University’s new football coach, I told our desk people I thought we had an old black-and-white print of him in our photo files.

So I went to search one of the drawers in the large sports-department filing cabinet, found the G section, shuffled through some photos, and there it was — a picture of Gill playing shortstop for Nebraska in the early 1980s.

Here was one of the best quarterbacks in NU’s storied football history, and we had retained a picture of him playing baseball. Go figure.

Well, I could say we kept that pic because we knew Gill would become KU’s football coach a quarter of a century later, but who would believe that?

In retrospect, I imagine we kept it because we figured at the time Gill had a brighter future in pro baseball than he did in pro football.

Gill didn’t project as an NFL quarterback, but he did play professionally for a couple of years for the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian Football League.

After suffering a concussion in the last game of the ’85 season, Gill was advised to give up football. He was only 23 years old, so he opted for pro baseball instead, and for the next three summers toiled in the low minors.

When it comes to baseball, there are two categories of players — those who can hit, and those who can’t. And, like countless others before and after him, Gill fell into the latter category.

Gill played two summers for a Cleveland Indians farm team in Williamsport, Pa., home of the Little League World Series and, to be frank, hit like a little leaguer — .189 in 1987 and .195 in 1988.

And so — again like countless pro baseball players before and after — Gill entered the real world, where he became a college football coach. (Granted, some would say football coaching isn’t the real world, either, but no one can deny the money is real).

Trivia question: Can you name the only other KU head football coach who played minor-league baseball?

Answer: Bob Valesente, the Jayhawks’ head coach in 1986 and 1987, was an outfielder in the low minors for a couple of seasons in the 1960s. And, you guessed it, Val couldn’t hit, either.

As I mentioned, Gill wasn’t regarded as an NFL prospect. Few Nebraska quarterbacks were in those days because the Cornhuskers were primarily a running team, lining up in the I-formation and daring other teams to stop them.

One of those teams was, of course, Kansas, and the Jayhawks were grist for the mill all three years Gill played under center for coach Tom Osborne’s juggernaut.

In 1981, when Gill was a sophomore, the Cornhuskers had to rally in the second half to post a 31-15 victory over KU. A year later, NU romped, 52-0. Then, when Gill was a senior in 1983, Mike Rozier ran for 285 yards and four touchdowns in a 67-13 Nebraska runaway.

Interestingly, though, in each of the three games Gill started at quarterback against Kansas, he threw one TD pass. No more, no less.

A little more than eight months from now, Gill will make his debut as coach of the team he beat like a drum when he was a player.

That’s a good thing, though, because, from all indications, Gill is much, much better in a coaching box than he was in a batter’s box.


Ben Kane 9 years, 11 months ago

i was at the 84 championship game when Miami blocked Gill's 2 point conversion attempt to win their first national championship. I guess it's a small world after all.

now it's time he brought KU our first national championship :)

Al Martin 9 years, 11 months ago


What a game to have attended! Wish I'd been there, too.

I still maintain that Osborne's 2 point conversion call was the dumbest I have ever seen. Nebraska was physcally dominateing Miami's defense at that point and was getting 8 yards per play on straight up runs. Hell, the O-line was moving Miami's line three yards all by itself. I fully expected Rozier to walk in for the win. The pass call was stunningly bad.

9 years, 11 months ago

Good article Chuck, and nice story chuckberry32. I watched that game on TV with a buddy who was a huge Nebraska fan, and he was barely consolable afterward.

In case anyone missed it, there was a nice article in the KC Star over the weekend about Coach Gill.

David Gordon 9 years, 11 months ago

Not only could Val not hit, he couldn't coach either!

Ben Kane 9 years, 11 months ago


yes, it was an amazing game. It was before I attended KU and I was a huge Miami fan at the time so it was a great feeling. Have to remember though, college football worked differently back then. There was no overtime so if Nebraska had merely tied the game against a team they were supposed to beat they probably wouldn't have won the championship. It was a gutsy play call though.

ku_foaf 9 years, 11 months ago

Here's to Turner Gill replacing those awful memories of really cold November days, Memorial Stadium roaring with "Go Big Red," and KU getting stomped while he was quarterback. Hopefully he can replace it with a similar string of wins over Nebraska.

ku_foaf 9 years, 11 months ago


Everybody fussed when they fired Val after only two years. Maybe the program was on the slide already, but there is little doubt that was the low point in the program the last 30 years. Good thing they did! Terry Allen was heading pretty low, too. Two good guys - Val was extremely qualified by experience, including NFL defense and offense, if I recall.

I think we had a one victory season,vand a tie with K-State, the next season ('88). That game with K-State was really pathetic - they didn't win any, I don't think. That was the Big Eight Tidy Bowl.

Michael Leiker 9 years, 11 months ago

Ahhh...looking forward to hearing all about NU Arse Kickings of old for the duration of this guy's tenure...FIRE TURNER GILL

Blake Post 9 years, 11 months ago

Longest losing streak I know of, leikness. Hated every bit of that. After bugeaters put over 70 on us somewehre in the 80s, running up the store, i rarely went to a Nebrasska game until Reesing.. The 76 we planted on them will never be forgotten. Many nebrasskans cried. That is the most special homecoming of all time in my estimation.

Interestingly, at one point, I was watching a Packers game and coach Val and Cromwell were both on the staff there.

KU_foaf, I maintain that tie game with ksu that you reference was indeed the toilet bowl. They were the worst two teams in the country and tied. Domination of the bottom 10. Now jumping back to 2009, As is turns out, ksu and ku were two of the four non-bowl teams in the big 12. That kind of makes this year's game a toilet bowl, although both could have drilled both of those teams of old.

for what it's worth now, one might continue to have a lot of loyalty to the team and coaches for the Orange Bowl. A string over nu is unlikely now, and so is an Orange Bowl. I suppose that might make the one we got remain the bright orange glow through the end of time, along with the valient ones from 48 and 68.

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