Tears welled up in Buffalo Head Coach Turner Gill's eyes.
"I'm just proud of these guys," he said. "I'm proud of them."
The strong emotion could be heard in his voice. The University of Buffalo knocked off No. 12 Ball State, previously unbeaten, in the Mid-American Conference championship game Friday night, 42-24.
Third-year head coach Turner Gill, former stand-out quarterback and Heisman finalist at the University of Nebraska, had emotion painted all over his face in the post-game interview. Gill has much invested in his program and saw dividends of that Friday.
Before coming to Buffalo, Gill served as quarterbacks coach for Nebraska from 1992-2003 and was hired back on as wide receivers coach after the head coach transition in 2004. During that stretch, Nebraska won three national championships and Gill coached Husker legend Tommie Frazier and Heisman trophy winner Eric Crouch.
Gill was certainly no stranger to success. Buffalo was.
Before Gill arrived, Buffalo's program had a dismal stretch in which the Bulls only won 10 games in their first seven seasons after joining Division 1 in 1999.
Gill's first year, the Bulls went 2-10. Last year, the Bulls improved to 5-7. This season, Buffalo won its first conference championship to cap off a spectacular 8-5 season. The Bulls are bowl-eligible for the first time. Gill has instilled a confidence in his players that they can win football games and be successful.
"I talked about being champions, and they did it," Gill said.
On Friday night, No. 12 Ball State came into the conference championship repeating a familiar mantra: We're undefeated and we deserve a shot at the national championship. And Buffalo came in to finish the program's best season by winning a conference championship.
The Cardinals' quarterback Nate Davis had a hand in each of Ball State's four fumbles, turnovers that Buffalo capitalized on for points each time, and also threw an interception to close out the game.
The Bulls' quarterback Drew Willy threw to wide receiver Naaman Roosevelt 10 times for 116 yards and three touchdowns as Buffalo rolled to victory.
The game silenced Ball State and surprised the nation.
Where are coaches like Turner Gill anymore? When Nebraska fired Bill Callahan, Gill was a front-runner for the head coaching job, but Gill declined because he said his work in Buffalo wasn't finished.
Gill has something most coaches are missing: loyalty. He turned down a potentially huge contract with his alma matter to stay at the program that had given him his first head coaching chance. He knew the program would probably sink again if he left but was confident he could keep building the program up if he stayed.
Needless to say, with its first bowl trip, conference championship, and win over a top-15 program, Buffalo is happy he stayed.
As a Nebraska fan, it warms my heart to see Gill so successful. And as a college football fan, it gave me chills to see so clearly how much Gill cares about that program and his players.
See the interview for yourself. It starts about a minute and 48 seconds into the video.
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