Turner Gill is a former American football (gridiron) player and coach and currently serves as an executive director of student-athlete and staff development with the ‘Arkansas Razorbacks’ program at the ‘University of Arkansas’ in Fayetteville, Arkansas. A college football star of the 1980s, Gill is record holder, too. He is a coaching veteran with over 3 decades of experience and has worked with many student-athletes who have later become professional football players at the highest level, such as ‘National Football League’ (NFL) stars Khalil Mack of the ‘Chicago Bears’ (recently traded to the ‘Miami Dolphins’), Chris Harris of the ‘Denver Broncos,’ Walt Aikens of the ‘Miami Dolphins,’ Steven Means of the ‘Atlanta Falcons’, Tyler Patmon of the ‘Miami Dolphins,’ Josh Woodrum of the ‘Washington Redskins,’ and Bradley McDougald of the ‘Seattle Seahawks.’ Lew Perkins, former athletics director at the ‘University of Kansas,’ where Gill helmed the ‘Kansas Jayhawks’ for two seasons, once remarked about Gill’s “universal reputation as someone who is passionate about helping young men to be the best they can be, both on and off the field.” Known for his spiritual disposition and unwavering integrity, Gill was one of only 11 African–American head coaches in the ‘NCAA’s ‘Division-I’ ‘Football Bowl Subdivision’ (‘FBS’) at the time of assuming his latest role as a sports administrator.
Professional Career as Player & Coach
Gill was picked as a third-round selection by the ‘New York Jets’ in the 1984 supplemental draft of the ‘NFL’ but chose to sign a better deal with the ‘Montreal Concordes’ in the ‘Canadian Football League’ (CFL) instead.
Just as he was beginning to blossom as a professional footballer, Gill suffered a number of career-ending concussions in consecutive games. On May 21, 1986, he was declared medically unfit to ever play football at the highest level, putting a premature end to his professional sporting career. He was just 23 at the time.
Shortly after retiring from professional football, however, he was signed by the ‘MLB’ team ‘Cleveland Indians’ as a shortstop. He stayed with them for 3 years, from 1986 to 1988, playing for their ‘Class A’ and ‘Class AA’ associate teams such as the ‘Waterloo Indians’ and the ‘Williamsport Bills.’
In 1989, Gill decided to return to football in a coaching role. Before assuming full-time duties with ‘Nebraska,’ he served as a graduate assistant coach for a season each at the ‘University of North Texas’ (1990), his alma mater ‘University of Nebraska’ (1989), and the ‘Southern Methodist University’ (1991).
During his stint at ‘Lincoln’ as a position coach (for quarterbacks and wide receivers) from 1992 to 2004, his longest tenure ever, he helped ‘the Cornhuskers’ secure 13 straight bowl appearances and three national championships, one each in 1994, 1995, and 1997. He coached the program’s quarterbacks from 1992 to 2003, which included ‘All-Americans’ such as Tommie Frazier (1995) and Eric Crouch (2001). The latter became the third player in the university’s history to win the ‘Heisman Trophy.’ He worked with the ‘Huskers’ wide receivers in 2004.
In 2005, after spending a year as the director of player development at ‘NFL’s third-oldest team, Wisconsin’s ‘Green Bay Packers,’ Gill returned to collegiate football, taking charge as the head coach, first at the ‘University at Buffalo’ from 2006 to 2009 and then at the ‘University of Kansas’ from 2010 to 2011. He finally joined the ‘Liberty University’ from 2012 to 2018, finishing with a college football coaching record of 72–84.
After some much-needed consolidation in his first season with the ‘Buffalo Bulls,’ Gill coached the struggling program to a 5–7 win–loss record in 2007, their best in over a decade, and a 5–3 result in conference play. They also finished with a 4–2 result in the ‘Mid-American Conference (MAC) East Division.’ The year 2008 saw the ‘Bulls’ end with 8–6 overall, winning the ‘MAC’ championship for the season and appearing in their first-ever post-season bowl game.
He joined the ‘University of Kansas’ as their head coach on December 13, 2009, marking his return to the ‘Big 12 Conference’ 5 years after his assistant coaching run with ‘Nebraska.’ Coincidentally, his daughter, Jordan Gill, was studying at ‘Kansas’ and was employed with their athletics department at the time. Gill was the first-ever black coach at the helm in the history of the ‘Jayhawks’ program.
On December 15, 2011, he took over as the head coach at ‘Liberty University’ in Lynchburg, Virginia, and achieved a win–loss result of 47–25 in his seven seasons with the ‘Flames.’
He announced a sudden retirement from coaching on December 3, 2018, citing ill-health of his wife, Gayle, who had been diagnosed with coronary disease earlier in 2016. Gill ended with a career coaching record of 72–84.
In May, 2019, he was recruited as a head coach of Chad Morris’s staff at ‘the Razorbacks,’ marking his return to an administrative and mentoring role for the first time since his gig at Wisconsin. He will be providing “direct oversight for football student-athlete programming designed to foster leadership, personal accountability, social development, academic direction, self-identity and awareness along with emotional intelligence.”
Family & Personal Life
Gill has been married to Gayle DeBrie since December 16, 1984. They have two daughters: Jordan and Margaux.
In 2008, he appeared in the documentary ‘Tom Osborne's Nebraska Cornhuskers,’ which was a tribute to his ‘Huskers’ boss and college football icon who “formulated the most prolific college football program in history.” Osborne was not only a mentor to Gill but was also present at his wedding as a groomsman during an extremely busy recruitment season.
Awards & Achievements
As a college football player, Gill has been a co-captain, a second team ‘All-American,’ and an ‘All-Big 8’ quarterback for 3 consecutive years. He has also been part of the ‘Nebraska Football’ and ‘Orange Bowl’ halls of fame.
As a coach, his championship wins include the ‘NCAA’s ‘Division-I’ ‘MAC’ in 2008 and two ‘MAC East Division’ wins, one each in 2007 and 2008, all with the ‘Buffalo Bulls.’ He also received four ‘Big South’ co-champion honors with the ‘Liberty Flames,’ one each in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2016.
Gill was honored with the ‘Frank Broyles Assistant Coach of the Year Award’ in 2002 and the ‘MAC Coach of the Year’ award in 2007. He was also a finalist for the ‘Bear Bryant Coach of the Year’ award and was named the ‘MAC Coach of the Year’ by ‘The Sporting News,’ both in 2008.
He has also been a member of the board of trustees of the ‘American Football Coaches Association’ for many years. He was named the ‘Bobby Ross Coach of the Year’ in 2014 for his exemplary work with the ‘Flames.’