Byrd ready for 'new chapter'

Byrd ready for 'new chapter'

CHAMPAIGN — After his playing career ended in 1992, Gill Byrd had a chance to go into coaching at the college level. San Diego State made an offer.

But the timing wasn't right.

"I didn't think I was ready to spend this much time devoted to coaching, when there were some things I had to do as a husband and father."

For the next eight years, he had part-time jobs and did TV work in San Diego. And he coached his sons, Gill Jr. and Jairus.

"I was able to see their first touchdown, their first home run, their first two points in basketball," Byrd said. "I really appreciated that. I don't think I'd be where I am today had I not stepped back and gotten out of football."

Eventually, he got the itch to coach. And the NFL called with a job offer.

"That's where I had my contacts," Byrd said.

Byrd worked in the league from 2003 to '17. His final season was with Buffalo.

Now, he's back in school. And thrilled about it.

"It's a new chapter in my life," Byrd said. "I really believe the only way you grow is when you are outside your comfort zone. The NFL has been a comfort zone for me for so many years."

The chance to work with college players is appealing to Byrd.

"I love mentoring and developing young men," Byrd said. "Right now, these guys are going from adolescence to young adults, a very important time in their lives."

Why Illinois?

Start with the relationship between Byrd and head coach Lovie Smith. They have worked together on staffs in St. Louis, Chicago and Tampa Bay.

"A man of character and a man of integrity," Byrd said. "He understands it's about the man first and the player will come. That's what I'm going to try to instill in these young men."

Besides Smith, Byrd has taken lessons from his high school coach, Ed Burns, Greg McMackin, his position coach at San Jose State, and John Fox and Don Coryell in the NFL.

"Those are just a few that I would say were special, special individuals to me," Byrd said. "Lovie has just been a godsend as far as me and my career and helping me become a better coach."

Recruiting will be new for Byrd. As a coach. But he saw the parent side of recruiting with his sons.

"To me, it's just developing relationships," Byrd said. "That's all I want to do. I want to be real. I want to be transparent."

Three of the coaches on the defensive staff — Byrd, Donnie Abraham and Hardy Nickerson — were standouts in the NFL. The experience should help in recruiting, Byrd said.

"They say it's hard when you've been a player to be a good coach because of the patience," Byrd said. "To me, the organizational skills of Hardy are just very impressive.

"Both of those guys are men of integrity, men of high character. They both sacrificed. We all know what it takes to get to the NFL."

During his first meeting Monday with local reporters, Byrd shared his life statement.

"The way I live, the way I coach is to never trade what I want most for what I want in the moment," Byrd said.

"That one phrase has defined my whole life. When I'm dead and gone that will be on my headstone."