A CONVERSATION WITH MIKE GILLHAMER

Mike Gillhamer is in his first year with the Colts. Gillhamer has more than 30 years coaching experience, including 11 in the NFL. He joins the Colts after serving collegiately at Illinois in 2011. Gillhamer coached safeties with Carolina from 2004-10. His other NFL role came as an offensive assistant with the New York Giants from 1997-2000. Gillhamer also has held positions at the College of the Sequoias, Weber State, Utah, San Jose State, Nevada, Oregon and Louisville. This is the first of a two-part visit with Gillhamer.

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What was your best sport growing up?  For some people it might not have been football.

"My best sport was football, then snow skiing.  I snow skied for a long time.  I started skiing when I was in junior high.  Then I was on the National Ski Patrol.  I instructed for four years."

What position did you play in football when you started?

"I was a running back and defensive back and started playing on the Pop Warner level in Fresno.  I played that and moved to defensive back in college.  I liked the defensive side of the ball better.  I wasn't good enough to be a running back, I guess.  I knew there were four defensive backs on the field and one running back.  I figured that out quickly and improved my odds of playing.  Growing up, I thought I had speed as a back, but defense was more my deal.  I was a cornerback."

Were you a coachable type of player?

"I was very coachable.  I loved the game.  My defensive backs coach at Humboldt (Calif.) State, Fred Siler, was like a father to me.  I actually had him in my wedding, and I was very close to him.  I always hung around the gym.  I was a gym rat type of guy.  Fred was really the first coach who took an interest in me as a player.  I became close to him, and he was the first true football influence that I had.  I've had a lot of mentors since then, but he was the first one.  He asked me to stay on and be a graduate assistant when I was done, but I went on to teach school instead.  We stayed in contact.  Fred has Alzheimer's now and is in a special home in Washington.  I went out and saw him last summer, and I try to go see him every year because of the role he played in my life.  He was a great coach.  I still use a lot of the techniques he taught me.  I loved the game and he was my coach, and I've benefited from that relationship for years." 

Was there ever a person who tried to talk you out of playing football?

"No, not really.  I was the kind of person who pursued what I wanted to do.  I wanted to be a coach.  I went into special education and taught that, but I continued coaching at the high school level, then the junior college level and it went on from there."

Why did you choose the college you chose?

"I went to three different colleges.  I got a scholarship to Carroll College, a small Catholic college in Montana.  I got hurt my senior year in high school.  I played in the first and last game.  I didn't want to go to junior college, and I went to Carroll when I got an offer from the school.  It was a small school, and I felt I could do better.  I then went to a junior college, Wenatchee (Wash.) JC.  It was a bigger opportunity.  When I got done there, small colleges were the only ones after me.  That was my level of play.  I went to Humboldt, and it was a great experience for me.  I played football, baseball and ran track.  I got to do three sports at the small college level.  It was good experience going to the different schools.  At Carroll, I played under Coach Bob Petrino, who is a legend.  He was there many years and is in five different Hall of Fames, and I learned a lot from him.  Junior college was a step to get to a four-year school.  I got my degree from the junior college to make the move up, and my time at Humboldt was rewarding."

What was your best collegiate experience?

"My best collegiate experience was playing football, just the whole process.  There was no particular game I would pick.  I just like the whole experience, the atmosphere, being able to play the game I love.  I enjoyed being part of a team, for the friendships you build with teammates and being taught by coaches.  I liked the practices, everything that went into being a player."

When did you first think about a career in football after your playing days?

"I knew I wanted to be a coach coming out of high school.  That was my goal.  I wanted to coach and teach.  I think I am fortunate to have known early on what direction I wanted to take and that I was able to do it.  I've been blessed.  It's unbelievable I'm sitting in this desk right now.  I truly believe I've been blessed.  What a great opportunity.  Of all the places I've been and the people I've met, this is a great opportunity."

What is your favorite quote on football, leadership, etc. that has shaped your career the most?  Explain how/why/when you found it and how you have applied it.

"Not really.  I've heard so many over the years.  I may have had a favorite quote of the week, but it always goes on to something else.  If I hear something that is good, I will use it."

How much of coaching is coaching the sport and how much of it is teaching young men?

"I don't think you can separate the two.  Coaching is teaching.  When I was teaching special education, that was the best experience.  One thing when you train for that is they taught you how to teach.  You have to be able to teach.  Everybody learns a different way.  You have to have the same rules, but you have different avenues to get to a certain individual to motivate them.  You have to get students to learn what you are trying to teach.  You have to find a way to get that result.  In special education, if you say a kid has to read at the fourth grade level at the end of the year, he's going to do it because you're going to find a way to get that done.  You will in coaching, too.  It doesn't to any good just to say a player messed up on the field.  You have to get your job done.  Coaching and teaching is very similar."

You were serious enough about teaching special education that you got your master's degree in it.  Do you still keep in touch with some of those students like coaches sometimes keep in touch with former players?

"I wanted to help kids and what better kids to help than special education?  That's something I wanted to do.  I felt a need to do it.  I had an offer to be a graduate assistant in football at Humboldt or Cal-Berkeley coming out of college, but I decided to take a special education job instead.  I wanted to do that and coach in high school.  I do keep in touch with a few former students.  Now that I've moved so much, it's not like it was."

Do you like the relationships along the way, or do you remember the accomplishments?

"I like them both.  As coaches sometimes, if winning were half as good as losing is bad, this would be great profession.  You're always striving to be the best.  That is what's good about it, and it never gets old.  It's a challenge every year, and it's never the same old grind.  The challenges are fresh.  Your team is different.  The coaching and teaching opportunities are different, but you have one goal, to win.  You'll always have the relationships you get along the way.  That's why you're in teaching and coaching."

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