Bob Lutz

Former teammate has faith in Gill

Jeff Smith doesn't mind sharing an opinion that could be construed as slightly anti-Nebraska and strongly pro-Turner Gill.

"I think he should have been hired at Nebraska two years ago,'' said Smith, one of the best running backs in City League history at Southeast during the late 1980s and later an I-back and return man for the Huskers from 1980-84.

Smith played in the same backfield as Gill, who in two-plus seasons as starting quarterback led Nebraska to a 20-0 record in Big Eight games.

Smith isn't sure why it took Gill so long to get a head coaching job at a BCS school, but has no doubts Kansas hired a coach who can win a lot of games.

"It's crazy, because I think he's probably five or six years overdue for a job like this,'' Smith said. "I think Nebraska should have gotten him when they got rid of (Frank) Solich. It was very disappointing and there are a lot of former players at Nebraska who played with Turner who feel the same way.''

At the time, Tom Osborne, who chose Bo Pelini over Gill, explained there was a bigger need at Nebraska for a defensive-minded coach.

I didn't buy it then and I don't buy it now. If Osborne believed Gill was the right coach for the job, he would have hired him. Especially over a similarly unproven coach like Pelini.

But that's not relevant now and Gill is the coach at Kansas. He's back in Big Eight/Big 12 country, where his name still resonates because of the success he had at Nebraska as a player, assistant coach and recruiter.

Gill, raised in Fort Worth, has always made Texas a recruiting base, even during his four seasons at Buffalo. You can bet he'll put an even bigger emphasis on landing some of that state's best players to Kansas.

"It's a great hire for KU,'' said Smith, a probation officer for the state of Kansas. "I definitely think they got the right guy. Turner has the credentials to run a great, big-time KU program.''

Smith and Gill were part of the Nebraska glory years. They played with the likes of Roger Craig, Irving Fryar, Tom Rathman, Dave Rimington, Mike Rozier and Dean Steinkuhler.

Twice with Gill at quarterback, the Huskers were on the verge of winning national championships before falling short.

"I remember, back in the day, how Turner would motivate us in the huddle,'' Smith said. "He made sure everybody was geared up and on the same page. We always came out of that offensive huddle with so much confidence. Turner was really verbal and we always had a lot of fun.''

Who doesn't have fun when you're averaging 52.1 points and 401 rushing yards? Those were Nebraska's offensive numbers during Gill's senior season in 1983.

He was an option quarterback who almost always chose the correct option. Loaded with game-breakers, the Nebraska offense couldn't be stopped.

Gill took that offensive mindset into coaching and breathed life into a Buffalo program that had been down forever.

Still, it's fair to wonder why it took Gill, 47, this long to land a BCS job. Osborne's explanation doesn't satisfy everyone.

"I think Turner will be an all-around coach at Kansas,'' Smith said. "He believes in defense and he'll go and find a defensive coordinator (Gill has announced that Carl Torbush, formerly at Mississippi State, will be in charge of KU's defense). Offensively, if you're not scoring any points, you're defeating the whole purpose.''

Smith likes the defensive mentality Pelini has instilled at Nebraska, but like so many other Husker fans he wonders where the offense is going to come from.

"I'm used to Nebraska scoring points,'' he said.

Gill's KU teams, Smith predicts, will score points. That doesn't mean defense will be an afterthought.

So, does Gill's hiring at Kansas carry enough clout to sway Smith to become a Jayhawks' fan?

"I'm not going to take that bait,'' he said. "I'm thrilled for (Gill), but I'm still a Husker through and through. I'm still going to wear my red next year when KU plays Nebraska. I know that's going to be tough for him, too.

"But after a couple of years, I think he'll get over it.''