LINCOLN — Turner Gill, who spent nearly two decades in around Nebraska football as a player and assistant coach, announced Monday he’s retiring from coaching to spend more time with his wife.
For the last seven seasons, the 56-year-old was head coach at Liberty University, which recently made the transition from Division FCS to Division FBS in football. Coupled with a four-year stint at Buffalo and two years at struggling Kansas, Gill had a 72-84 career record as head coach. He was 47-35 at Liberty.
In a press release, Gill said he made the announcement with a “heavy heart” and mentioned that his wife, Gayle, was diagnosed with a heart condition in 2016.
“Both Gayle and I wanted to be here to help Liberty through their transition and we are so glad to have done so,” Gill said. “We have come to the realization that it is now time for me to step away.”
Nebraska director of player development Ron Brown — who worked with Gill 12 years at Nebraska and for Gill at Liberty from 2015 to 2017 — said Monday he was surprised, but not shocked, by Gill’s decision. Close friends for more than 25 years, Brown said Gill must have thought deeply about the choice and leaned on his Christian faith to do so.
“Any decision Turner makes usually has a lot thought in it,” Brown said. “I know he got direction from the Lord on which way he wanted to go on this. I’m excited for him and Gayle.”
Gill was one of the best quarterbacks in Husker history, leading NU to three straight Big Eight titles – and three straight wins over Oklahoma – in 1981, 1982 and 1983. Following a two-year professional career in Canada, Gill began coaching at his alma mater as a grad assistant in 1989. After jobs at North Texas and SMU, he returned to Nebraska in 1992 as quarterbacks coach.
Brown and Gill coached together under Tom Osborne through the greatest era in Husker football history. Gill coached some of NU’s best quarterbacks, including Tommie Frazier, Eric Crouch, Brook Berringer and current Husker coach Scott Frost. He was one of the few coaches retained after the firing of Frank Solich in 2003; Gill spent one year on Bill Callahan’s staff before leaving after the 2004 season.
He joined the Green Bay Packers coaching staff in 2005 before earning his first head coaching job in 2006 at Buffalo, where he won MAC coach of the year after leading the Bulls to a conference championship in 2008.
After that title, Gill’s name was attached to several open jobs, including Auburn, where famous alum Charles Barkley lobbied for Gill to get the job. In 2007, Gill was also a top candidate for the open Nebraska job. Gill’s former coach and boss, Tom Osborne, ultimately went with Bo Pelini. Osborne has said and written in a book that, at the time, Nebraska needed more help on the defensive side of the ball, which was Pelini’s expertise.
Gill eventually took the job at Kansas in 2010 after the school parted ways with Mark Mangino, the Jayhawks’ most successful coach in years. Mangino resigned in the midst of an investigation into his treatment of players, not his on-field success. Gill, left to deal with the fallout, went 5-19 in two seasons and was fired. The two KU coaches who came after Gill – Charlie Weis and David Beaty – were no more successful than he was.
Liberty hired Gill in 2012. In May 2015, Gill brought Brown onto his staff at Liberty.
Brown said he “loved” working for Gill at Liberty before returning this season to work for Scott Frost in a support role within the program. Gill had “integrity” and “talent” for the job, Brown said, but made time for his wife and kids and allowed assistants to do the same.
“It may be anything that a coach has with his family – a need for a priority of time – and he granted it,” Brown said. “The guys in the profession who do that, they’re becoming more rare as time goes on. People tend to think the more hours you put in, it’s automatically going to mean you’re more successful. But if you lose precious relationships along the way, particularly family, there’s a point of diminishing returns.”
Brown didn’t know if Gill would return to Nebraska. Gill could live anywhere in the world, Brown said, “but he’s going to do what’s best for his family.”