Gill Byrd was one of the Charger greats who played for the team in the 80’s and early 90’s. He caught the tail end of the Don Coryell era before Al Saunders replaced him. He would also play a few short years under Dan Henning before he would eventually retire under Bobby Ross. The Chargers did not field many successful teams during most of Byrd’s career, as he only saw the post season once in 11 years. Still, Byrd was a bright spot at corner and holds a few spots in the Chargers record books.
Gill Byrd was born in San Francisco and stayed in Northern California for college, where he earned his degree in Finance at San Jose State University. He played for Jack Elway as a Spartan. If that name sounds familiar, that’s because Jack Elway is the father of Hall of Fame quarterback, John Elway. Byrd saw success his first year with 7 interceptions as a defensive back. He would leave San Jose with a total of 12 interceptions in 3 years, 1 of which was returned for a touchdown. His success in coverage would eventually land him as a first round pick in the 1983 NFL Draft.
One of the things that makes Gill Byrd a Charger great is that he played his entire career for the same franchise. He is the Chargers franchise record holder for most interceptions at 42 and interception return yards at 546. He also had 3 straight seasons of 7 interceptions. From 1987 to his retirement, he was the league leader in total interceptions. It is a little surprising that Byrd was only ever voted to the Pro Bowl twice, yet holds 1 First Team All-Pro and 2 Second Team All-Pros. In fact, he was the first Chargers defensive back to make a pro bowl. Byrd seemed to gain more recognition for his play late in his career when the Chargers began winning more games.
One of the highlights of Byrd’s career came at the end of his last season when he won the Bart Starr Award. The Athletes in Action award is given to the player who “best exemplifies outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field, and in the community.” This goes to show the type of person Byrd was both on and off the field. He once compare his family to a football team:
“Raising a family is tougher than playing football, but there are a lot of similarities. The Head Coach is the father of the team, point-man for all success and failure. His assistant coaches represents the mother because she represents many different roles. And the players are the children. In order to be successful, you need total commitment and a solid plan. The team relies on a gameplay built by the coaches. The plan for my family is found in gods word – The Bible.”
Byrd got his first start as a defensive Assistant with the St. Louis Rams in 2003 and later being promoted to Assistant Defensive Backs Coach. In 2005, Byrd moved to Chicago to take the same role until 2012. He would also coach defensive backs for both Tampa Bay and in Buffalo before moving to Illinois and taking a college job. Byrd has remained a highly touted positional coach and helping his units be very successful wherever he’s gone, but his greatest student might be his son.
Jairus Byrd was the 42nd overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. He played for the Oregon Ducks where he would leave the Ducks with 203 tackles, 17 interceptions, 1 sack, 2 forced fumbles and 4 fumble recoveries in 39 games. He would also be named the PAC-10 Co-Freshman of the Year and All Pac-10 First Team in 2008. Little Byrd went on to have a great professional career as well, making 2 All-Pros, 3 Pro Bowls and led the league in interceptions in 2009. Retired as of 2017, Jairus Byrd left the game with over 500 tackles, 13 Forced fumbles, and 25 interceptions. This all goes to show that the Byrd Pedigree is a strong one.
Gill Byrd found success as a player for the Chargers, as a coach in the NFL and currently at the collegiate level and managed to pass the baton to his son who also had a great professional career. He holds a special place in the Chargers history that shouldn’t go unnoticed.