Jim Allison – November 10, 1998
San Diego Chargers – 1964-1968
TT – When you came to the Chargers in 1965, what did you notice about Sid Gillman’s offense that was different than others that you had played in, maybe up at State with Coryell or other places that you had played?
JA – Sid Gillman was an offensive genius. He could walk out and look at a hash mark and tell you that a wide receiver was either too close or too far from the sideline for the pattern he’s giving. He was just a genius of it. He broke it down to the very inches of what an athlete does. Just his approach to the game, offset it with a great running attack at the same time. He’s just a genius.
TT – How did you see the offense change during your years with the Chargers?
JA – The head coach has a definite way he wants to go at an offensive strategy and a couple variations dictate. For example, the personnel you have is going to dictate how you approach a certain team. If you have got strong runners that can catch, you are going to bring them into the pass pattern a little bit more. The opponent you play, based upon their strengths, you’re going to vary that, but Sid Gillman had I thought a neat attitude. Everybody copies it now and that’s that “we’re going to go play our game and let them defend us.” Instead of us going in and making all of these changes based upon, we just went at them. I was very fortunate to play with Hall of Famers Lance Alworth and Ron Mix and people like that. Lance just typifies the passing game. When you have got a Lance Alworth you have got a lot of depth you can go at for different things you want to do.
TT – His passing offense was very advanced. How did his offense for backfield players work into that?
JA – Well I came from San Diego State University under Don Coryell. Don Coryell at the time was not “Air Coryell.” I led the nation in rushing at San Diego State College. We also had Gary Garrison there. So when a team came to defend us, we had both. When I went to the pros, Sid Gillman was an advocate of utilizing everybody. In other words, not just running somebody out there that, I don’t think he liked the word decoy, although you have to have a decoy. Our backs, we went out in the flat, I mean we were looped over the center. That’s stuff I never really did at San Diego State that well. I was very surprised that I caught a lot of balls.
TT – What did Gillman do that was really difficult for defenses? How did he challenge a defense?
JA – What did he do that was tough for defenses…I think Sid Gillman, and you gotta remember coming from San Diego State, bringing me into the pass pattern, that was my first awareness off the real passing game. He seemed to teach the quarterbacks reading. If you got a blitz going on and you are man-to-man coverage it dictated a smart quarterback that read well versus when you are in some type of a zone and you had certain envelopes in which to hit these players in. He came at you. He dissected you. He just knew and I don’t know how Frank Gifford and the early guys did it, I was just a kid then. Sid Gillman went after you and he had a plan. It wasn’t just a call something in the huddle and hope it works. I mean he went after you with a plan of the passing game. He just loved it.
TT – What were some of the innovations that Gillman brought to football that you had never seen before?
JA – I don’t know that I’d never seen… Sid Gillman did what everybody else did. I just think he did it crisper and better, and that defines. You know, when you talk about… I think anybody that plays professional football is a great athlete and the next level you have is your Hall of Fame athletes. I think Sid Gillman, and that’s why he’s in the Hall of Fame is that, when you start counting coaches, any coach that coaches in the NFL is a great coach. And Sid Gillman was a great strategist. He went after you and another thing, he taught his players. If he wanted you to do something he walked out on the field and he walked you out there on the field. All of us had to stop what we were doing at the time, I mean offense and defense while he explained this move to a wide receiver or a running back. And then he moved people around and he showed you. He was a great teacher. And then once you understood the concept of what he was going after, either trying to suck a linebacker in there and hook the wide receiver behind. He just had a plan of going at it. He taught you well and we were well prepared when we went in for a ball game. We knew these guys, what size underwear they wore, we were really prepped for going in there. He expected a lot and he was very demanding.
TT – When you say “we” did Gillman specifically deal with maybe just the backs or the quarterback or the receivers, or did he really look over everybody?
JA – Sid worked more with the quarterbacks, but when it came to the passing game we were all part of it. I mean as a decoy, or someone to pull someone off or whatever. He worked with everybody. But in general our backfield coaches worked with us and then when we brought it all together on the field if it was skeleton…skeleton being just the backs…7-on-7 type of thing. When we did that, Sid was just so involved with all seven men. It wasn’t like he was, “this is the primary man and this is the quarterback and I want to see this.” He went to the other players and made sure. He’d come over there and if we’re just running a little five-yard out pass he came over. And if he didn’t like the angle of it or the tempo or the speed at which you’re running, even in practice, he would come over there and he would say, “You’ve got to pull this man out here.” He just taught you what you were doing and that was great. You know something Sid Gillman always did. Don Coryell never did it and maybe I’m getting out of your questioning here. Sid Gillman always had that when you ran to the sidelines he said, “don’t you ever go out of bounds mister. You duck it up and you go get your ass whooping. And it might mean the difference between third and one and third and four. Don’t you run out of bounds on me.” And that’s the one thing I see today these guys running out, it’s just, Sid Gillman would never tolerate that. He wouldn’t. It must be killing him right now to see wide receivers or running backs run out instead of ducking in and going up and getting that last two yards. I mean it really is important to him. That’s the kind of person you’re working with.
TT – That’s interesting. I hadn’t heard that before about Gillman. What were the difficulties in playing for Gillman? He was a tough coach as well, wasn’t he?
JA – Coach was a…I knew Coach Gillman as a player when I was younger. Then as we grew on and I did more things in the community and him and I were put back together I got to know a lot more about him that I wish I would have known when I was a player. If you want to take the time that when I was the player and he was the coach, he had his coldness. He had his coldness and you were his… with Sid you were… I don’t want to say as good as your last performance, but… Sid was very demanding and if you didn’t do that you were out. And that’s what it was.
TT – How did the players view Gillman as a coach? Was he well respected? Did they understand that he was really part of something special in changing the game with the passing game?
JA – Well you gotta understand on a pro football team you have cross section of players from all over the United States. They come from all different walks of life and backgrounds, all different universities, all different social structure and all different financial backgrounds. A lot of them came in and they felt threatened I think, at times because Sid was so… you play against the Lombardi’s and he was very demanding. A lot of people took that as a threat like, “I’m gonna lose my job.” You know that type of thing. I never felt that way. When he came up I felt that if he got on me for something that it was in my best interest and he wanted me to do it better. I would always look at it that way, but there were guys there that I don’t know if they got the picture. They’d just come in and I don’t think they wanted to really understand why… in a certain position the play is running away from you, “Why should he be on my rear? I’m not even in the play.” When really he was trying to show them, and I still believe today that regardless of the notoriety, 11 men work the ball down the field. If it’s a long pass the linemen did their jobs, I mean everybody did their jobs. The guys, some of them, just missed the point.
TT – How did Sid make you a better football player?
JA – Sid made me a better football player by just pushing me. He’d just walk up to me in practice, when I was a rookie, Earl Faison was just beating the hell out of me on some (plays) where the back would block the ends. And then actually Keith Lincoln, my roommate, pulled me over. I never had to pass block when I was at San Diego State I ran the ball and caught the ball, that’s about all I did. Sid came in and got on my case and made me feel small, from time to time, that I was just a rich kid from Los Angeles out here and I better get my stuff together. You take that to heart. I worked on it. Like I always said, he’s the man. I’ve always been one that if someone starts getting one me, I sit there and evaluate it real quick and if I’m not doing those things then I got a problem with that. 90 per cent of the time when Sid Gillman came over and climbed on my frame he was right, I just wasn’t doing that. I’m a 21-year old punk kid out of San Diego State and here’s the master coming over and he just did that. In most of the cases I was wrong and I went to work at solving it and doing it. It’s just his team, so you do it his way.
TT – Tell me about the 1965 team. That was a pretty good Charger team. What made that team so successful?
JA – You know, God we had camaraderie, we had brotherhood. It was a time when there was a black and white problem in the United States regarding sports. The year prior to that at the All-star, the Pro Bowl as you may call it, the AFC All-star Game or Pro Bowl had to be moved out of Kansas City or one of those cities where they would not allow black players in there. Sid started a deal where black and white players roomed together. He brought us together and I honestly believe that we were a group of guys and religion, color, your financial back ground, none of that mattered. We were just in there as 50 brothers with a job to do and that was go out and win the world’s championship. That was what we were after. Sid Gillman brought a lot of that to the team and I gotta believe, I still see it today. Do you realize that a pro football team picks up the personality and the attitude of its coach. If you have got some coach that… I love Mike Ditka. I mean I think that if some guy did that he’s got every right to get in his face. It’s an emotional game and you deal with an emotional people. You know, my wife has never understood me or for a while in this respect. I can get mad and five minutes later I’m not mad no more. She doesn’t understand that. Where she broods about something for a day or two, my analogy to that is I try to tell her, “honey, you know, let me tell you something. You go out for the first half of a ball game and Kansas City has you down 14 points. Now you go in the locker room. Now you better be a motivational person and I mean by that if somebody can’t come and stick their foot in your butt and start motivating you emotionally to go out and do something you didn’t do in the first half, then you’re not going to win any football games. So most professional athletes that I see, one of the common responses or qualities that they all possess is that they’re all motivational people and if a crisis comes up, they’re motivated people, they’re emotional people. Sid Gillman knew how to play on the emotions. He knew how to work the people, he knew how to talk to them. He did a lot for bringing that team and creating attitude with our emotions. And I think when you put that with the talent we had. We had great talent. When you put us down on paper to all the other teams, we had so much speed, we just got powerful…Ernie Ladd 6’9”, 320 pounds on the defensive line. You had all pro linemen. I mean we just had a great football team. You put all that together, and Sid Gillman driving the limousine. And I’ll say it that was a tough combination.
TT – You came along right before the AFL and the NFL merged. How did players feel at that point about playing in the AFL as opposed to the NFL?
JA – I was the last year of the double draft as I call it. The AFL I was drafted by the Chargers, the NFL I was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings. The NFL always referred to us as the other league, the juvenile league. I didn’t really look at it that way. I felt that you got a lot of good, quality players and in that we would be developing a lot of good, quality players. I almost signed with Minnesota, but I signed out here because I liked Coach Gillman, just his whole attitude. That’s what brought me to San Diego State was Don Coryell. You know you got a coach like a Don Coryell that to me, I came here because he wanted 150 percent on the field and he’d give you 150 percent off the field. I think Sid Gillman, for me, I don’t know about other players, he was a good guy with me. And he asked me to give 150 percent on the field and I did. I didn’t think there was any other way of playing. And if you didn’t do that, then you shouldn’t even be out there.
TT – What was the feeling like after the two leagues merged?
JA – Before the leagues merged we had preseason games against each other and there was a lot of hostility between… I was on the first year when we upset the Los Angeles Rams with the Fearsome Foursome. A lot of hostility between the leagues, the teams, you know, “I’m in the NFL and I’m better.” We had a job to do and that was go out and kick their butts and show them that they’re not any better. Then the parity started coming along and Joe Namath pretty much summed it up when he called the shot and went over and the AFL won the Super Bowl. And I think that was really something. But there was always that, if we played the Rams or the Lions or the Bears or somebody like that, we were always one notch up, a little more than playing Denver, Kansas City although we were up for those guys too. But the NFL just brought out that bristled-back hair you or whatever it was, but it was really tough.
TT – What teams consistently gave the Chargers problems and why was that so?
JA – Kansas City always gave us trouble. They used a 3-1 tackle-stack versus a 4-3 and other defenses like that. And that’s kind of a little tough and they had great personnel. They always gave us trouble. We always seemed to beat Denver, but Denver gave us a physical time. God, our injury, our sick bay looked, even after we won we’d look in there and say, “gee, did we win?” We always hated the Raiders. I go back as far as playing the Raiders at old Frank Youell Field up there in Oakland and then to the Oakland Coliseum. I mean we just hated them. It just, whatever. I think those three teams. Other than that Buffalo beat us my rookie year in ‘65. We made it to the AFC Championship game. We got beat by Jack Kemp’s Buffalo Bills that year and I thought we would do better against them. But that was only that one year. The next years after that we seemed to do good against Buffalo. I think Kansas City, Oakland and Denver were always real tough teams for us.
TT – What did you feel that the Chargers needed to win, but never had? What was that one extra thing that could have given you championships?
JA – I think it’s luck. I mean I don’t know. It just seemed like we were even with these teams, I mean as far as talent and being prepared, the whole thing. We were there with them. I think it is a lot of times when you’d kick a ball and it would just bounce the wrong way. The Raiders seemed to have a ton of luck. You’d punt a ball and one of our guys would come down to block it and it would bounce and come back and hit him and the Raiders would recover. Just little things like that and small things like that. But I don’t know that it is any one thing that… we had so much talent and so did the Raiders and the Chiefs. I don’t think there is any one thing.
TT – Once Gene Klein bought the team from Barron Hilton, how did he either help or hurt Gillman in his quest to win games?
JA – You know, I don’t know. Barron Hilton was a good owner. Gene Klein was an O.K. owner. I always think of the funny remark Ron Mix made. Both are Jewish. Ron Mix had signed his contract just that year before Gene Klein bought the team. Ron Mix had always said that he wished he’d have waited a year to sign his contract and do it with Gene Klein, because I guess both being Jewish or something they both would have understood each other. I don’t know. Gene Klein came in the first so many years, he and Sam Schulman they were both aggressive owners and wanted to… and they were in the entertainment world, I mean, that’s what they were. I think Barron Hilton was a little more of a personal owner type thing. Gene Klein kind of ran it like a construction company.
TT – Is there anything else that I should think about or people should think about but they never quite see or never quite touch on?
JA – Well, you say people. You know, I think it’s an awareness thing. You’re very astute and knowledgeable in things and so when things are said to you I think you can evaluate them and you really understand them well. I think there’s a lot of people out there, for example when football season starts and Sid Gillman was inducted into the Hall of Fame, then people sit there and go, “well what was his record?” I don’t know that always a record indicated the genius or the genuine quality of an act. That type of thing. I think Sid Gillman, he changed, I think there was so many young coaches that came out. He came out with Paul Brown and those people like that. I think there is so much that he brought just to the structure of coaching that he even changed coaching a little bit. I don’t know if you know, but one of Sid Gillman’s baby-sitters was Ara Parsegian. I gotta feel that Ara Parsegian, who was a great coach at Notre Dame, had to have some spin offs from Sid Gillman. I mean when I played with the Chargers, look at the great coaches that came out of there. We had Al Davis there. We had A.O. “Bum” Phillips, Chuck Noll, I’m trying to think of who else we had. Faulkner was there, but he was there before myself. But all of those guys, I mean Bum Phillips, I mean Chuck Noll, I mean, God you go through these guys. Players from Sid Gillman. Dan Henning of course, I mean I don’t know if it was his won-loss record that he really followed in Sid’s footsteps. I think there’s a lot of people who have copied or been influenced by Sid Gillman’s approach to preparing a team and teaching them. That kind of seems to be a problem. In coaching, somebody asked me once would I ever be interested in coaching. You have to look at it on levels and Sid Gillman never forgot that and that’s really important. That should be known and that’s that when you’re in Pop Warner, you teach. When you’re in high school, you teach. When you’re in college, you teach and then you’re a strategist. When you get into the pro’s, a lot of them are just strategists. With that personnel, what strategy are we going to use. Sid Gillman was all of that and he never forgot to be a teacher. When a man came out there, just don’t run down here, let’s work on moves. What is a move for a wide receiver? He’d work on us catching the ball. He taught. And I think a lot of coaches at that time feel, “ well if a guy hasn’t learned in his senior year in college, there’s no need in me teaching him. So I’m just going to teach him you run over there. You run through this hole.” And Coach Gillman he sat there and would go, “you know, if you just edge right here by the quarterback, it’s a shorter distance and you can hit the hole quicker.” There’s so many little things that he just brought to the table that a lot of other coaches didn’t bring to the table. That’s why Sid is hired by teams, the Eagles, throughout all the years, that’s why their hired. To sit there and study and evaluate the passing game. And that’s a heck of an honor for somebody to bring in. You know Sid, I don’t know about other coaches, but Sid has a complete movie and film room at his house in La Costa. There were rumors that when Sid and Esther went on their honeymoon, Sid had a projector and two rolls of film under his arm. Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch told me that. I gotta believe it. On his honeymoon he took film and a projector with him. That’s just the type of guy you’re dealing with. You know what I mean? Sid took us everywhere. He took us to the Bear Mountain Inn at the West Point Academy back east. One thing the Chargers used to do that they don’t do today is that we would go back for a three-week eastern swing. We would go back and stay in Niagara Falls in Buffalo, New York on the Niagara Falls side and we would play the Buffalo Bills that week. Then we would stay all week long and we would prepare and then we’d go play the New York Jets. Then we would go back and stay in that same area and then we would break camp up and we would go down and play the New England Patriots at, it wasn’t Foxboro Stadium, but it was the baseball – Fenway Park. That was a trip in itself because it was flat and I almost drowned there in a big rainstorm they had there, because it’s flat. They have no run off. They had to have big cones in the side to show you where the markers where. Sid Gillman’s era we played Buffalo one year for the championship and we had a real fast team and they had a slow team. So it had snowed back there and there was a lot of sand on the field so we went out there and we sunk an inch and a half in this goo that was there. It was the first time that I had ever known that they were almost going to call the football game off. But we went ahead and played and won 17-16. There was all type of trickery and things like that during those times. Now it’s very technical. Your career it’s very political now, even. It wasn’t that way then. Just a bunch of good old boys, for the love of the game, playing football. That’s what it was. Players would call me up, “Jimmy, you got a ride to the airport?” Speedy Duncan was one of my best friends. Gary Garrison, we went to San Diego State and hung out all the time together. But I had so many good friends that I still see today when we have alumni day. We reunite with them. It’s kind of a special time you have in your life. Did you play pro sports?
TT – No. College.
JA – O.K., well you know that… Let me go back to your high school. There’s no friends like your high school friends. For some reason there’s just something about that time. If you take that relationship times 10, that’s your relationship with the pro football guys that I played with. As long as I live, those are times that, I still have videos of runs that I made that have been made into VCR type stuff. You know, the athletes when I was playing, in the off season, free of charge, we would go to the high schools and talk on character, drugs, alcohol abuse. We would talk about all those things. Now today you have to pay an athlete their scale to go talk to these kids. Things have really changed.
TT – That wraps up my questions. Thank you very much. I really appreciate that.
JA – No problem, Todd.