Vice-President and Head Coach
"Lou Saban was on hand when the American Football League launched its bold new experiment on July 30, 1960, with a preseason game with the Boston Patriots, Saban's team then, and the Buffalo Bills, his team now.
Playing in Buffalo, where he has since achieved spectacular success in two different tours as head coach of the Bills, Saban directed the visiting Patriots to a 28-7 victory that got the AFL off and running.
That first game is only one of the many milestones Saban has marked in his 15 seasons of professional coaching. Others include:
-the AFL's first regular season game (9/9/60)- Denver 13,Boston 10;
-the AFL's first divisional playoff game (12/28/63)- Boston 26, Buffalo 8;
-the first AFL-NFL preseason game (8/5/67)- Denver 13, Detroit 7;
-the last game to be played in New York's Polo Grounds (12/8/63)- Buffalo 19, New York Jets 10.
It was also Saban who produced the AFL's first 1,000-yard rusher, fullback Cookie Gilchrist (1,098 yards) in 1962. He has since developed two more- Floyd Little at Denver and O.J. Simpson. Saban's 1973 Bills set a standard for rushing excellence unmatched in NFL annals when, triggered by Simpson's record 2,003-yard year, they became the first team in history to gain more than 3,000 yards on the ground.
In the three seasons since his return to Buffalo, Saban has restored the Bills to the stature they enjoyed with back-to-back AFL titles in the mid-1960s. The Bills' 9-5 record of a year ago put them in the playoffs for the first time since 1966.
Lou's personal mark in seven seasons as skipper of the Bills is 58-36-4, a winning percentage of almost 60%. Only one of his clubs finished with less than a winning season, and his 1964 AFL champions reeled off 12 triumphs, still the Bills' best effort ever.
Born in on October 13, 1921 in Brookfield, Illinois, Saban was a single-wing quarterback at the University of Indiana under Bo McMillan. Captain of the Hoosiers, he was the team's MVP in 1942. His collegiate playing career was cut short by World War II. Saban served in the Army for four years, much of it as a Chinese language interpreter in the China-Burma theatre.
Returning from service, Saban caught on as a free agent with the fledgling Cleveland Browns of the infant All-America Football Conference. He played linebacker for Paul Brown's powerhouse teams of the late '40s, appearing in four consecutive Conference championship games and earning a berth on league all-star teams in both 1948 and 1949.
Captain of the Browns' undefeated (14-0) 1948 squad, Saban intercepted 13 passes in his four-year playing career. In addition to linebacker, he was also Otto Graham's backup at quarterback although, 'thankfully,' as Lou puts it, 'Otto was able to play most of the time.' Injuries to both shoulders forced Saban to retire following the 1949 season.
First stop on a coaching career that now spans 25 years was Case Institute in Cleveland, where Saban directed the football program for three seasons (1950-52). He moved to the University of Washington as an assistant in 1953 and to Northwestern in the same capacity a year later. Named head coach of the Wildcats in 1955, Saban left Evanston after one season and spent the next year in private business.
Western Illinois University beckoned in 1957 and Saban accepted the assignment of rebuilding the Leathernecks' football fortunes. He did it in dramatic fashion, taking Western from a 5-4 record in his rookie season to an unbeaten 9-0 mark in 1959.
His success at Western Illinois attracted the attention of the Boston Patriots, who selected Saban as the first coach of the new American Football League club. The Patriots won five games in their initial season and were 2-3 after five weeks of the 1961 campaign when Saban was replaced by Mike Holovak.
Ralph Wilson promptly hired Lou as the Bills' Director of Player Personnel, and a year later (1962) gave him the Buffalo coaching job. The move paid off with AFL titles in 1964 and 1965, back-to-back AFL Coach of the Year citations for Saban, and a flood of Buffalo victories.
A yearn to return to college coaching took Saban to Maryland in 1966, but a year later he was back in professional football as general manager-head coach of the Denver Broncos. The Broncos' stock rose steadily on the field and off under Saban's imaginative leadership. His effort was instrumental in a $1.8 million stadium renovation and his judgement of player personnel laid the foundation for the Broncos' recent successes.
Saban's triumphant return to Buffalo quickened the pulses of victory-hungry Bills fans. 'The Buffalo Bills,' one writer put it, 'are pinning their hopes on the second coming of their very own messiah.'"
-Buffalo Bills 1975 Yearbook