In Memoriam: Tennessee State Legendary Coach Joe Gilliam Sr

Photo from TSU Athletics. He was honored in May at Tennessee State University. He was 89.

Joe Gilliam, Sr. is one of the most respected coaches in the history of the game. He began his intercollegiate football career at Indiana University, where he played on the Hoosiers’ national championship football team. He then went into the armed services, and upon his discharge, enrolled at West Virginia State College, where he played both basketball and football. At West Virginia State College, he received All-American honors as a quarterback and earned a place in the Yellow Jackets’ Sports Hall of Fame. Coach Gilliam began his 35-year coaching career on the high school level in Kentucky, where he earned the Kentucky High School Football Association’s Coach of the Year title. He went on to coach on the collegiate level at Jackson State College in Mississippi, helping lead the Tigers to two consecutive Black National Championship titles. From 1963-1981, Gilliam was the assistant head football coach and defensive coordinator for Tennessee State University. During this period, Tennessee State University had nine Black National Championship teams. In 1989, he took the helm as head coach for four seasons. During this time, he was inducted into the TSU Sports Hall of Fame, and was selected as Coach of the Year in the Ohio Valley Conference in 1990. His illustrious career record of 254-93-15 included coaching five undefeated teams and five other teams that lost only one game. In the process, he coached 10 teams to national championships, and helped guide 144 players into professional football careers with the National Football League. Most recently, he worked with the Arizona Cardinals’ coaching staff as an offensive consultant during the summer. Gilliam currently conducts a summer football camp for underprivileged children in Nashville, Tennessee. Throughout his extensive career, Gilliam has earned numerous awards, including the All-American Football Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award and the College Football Hall of Fame Contribution Award. A frequent guest speaker and sought-after lecturer at football clinics, radio programs, and sports banquets, he is widely renowned for the ability of his teams to employ his innovative offensive concepts and insights.

Bio From Coaches Choice More

Someone is collecting stories about Coach Gilliam. Please email your best Joe Gilliam story to We will combine stories to formulate a book. Please send only 1 story or quote that you would like people to know about Coach. Please forward this to all who may have a story. We will take stories for about 4-6 months. Don’t delay, tell your story today. Coach will be missed. He was the greatest story teller! 

This is one of my favorite speeches.


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