The Vikings are mourning the passing of Frank Gilliam, a scouting pioneer who helped build some of the best rosters in Minnesota history for the better part of four decades until retiring in June 2007.
Gilliam passed away Sunday at the age of 89.
The Ohio native was one of the first Black scouts in NFL history. He was the first Vikings scout hired by former Director of Player Personnel Jerry Reichow under Hall of Fame General Manager Jim Finks in 1970.
The hire reunited Gilliam with Reichow, his former Iowa Hawkeyes teammate. Reichow, a receiver with the Vikings from 1961-64, transitioned to the front office and worked for the team through his retirement in December 2019.
"Frank and I were freshmen together at Iowa and became close friends — friends forever really," Reichow said. "Frank went on to play in Canada and was back coaching at Iowa when I started scouting with the Vikings. I was down there once and asked if he would be interested in scouting with the Vikings, and he became the first guy I hired, and we worked together for over 30 years.
"Frank was a great guy and a really good scout. He had grown up in football and really studied it," Reichow added. "I don't think we ever had an argument in all those years working together because I think we complemented each other with how we did things. From the start, we hit it off really well. We never did get over the hump, but we got the Vikings real close. I'll miss him."
Gilliam was part of the "Steubenville Trio" with high school teammates Calvin Jones and Eddie Vincent at Iowa. He was named to the Hawkeyes all-time football team, played for Hall of Fame coach Bud Grant at the Winnipeg Blue Bombers from 1957-59 and taught for a few years before becoming an assistant coach under Jerry Burns at Iowa.
The personnel department and Grant went on to put together some of the most successful teams in franchise and football history.
Jim Marshall, who was well into his 19 seasons (1961-79) with Minnesota at the time of Gilliam's hire, said he admired Gilliam's abilities during a previous interview for a Black History Month series.
"I always had a great deal of respect for Frank and not because we're the same race," Marshall said. "It was because he had a lot of skill, a lot of talent. He had the ability to look out and pick players who had a significance that they could offer to the team. I know as a group we were very proud of him because we could see he did his job and did it well."
Scott Studwell followed his 14 seasons as a linebacker (1977-90) by joining Gilliam and Reichow in Minnesota's personnel department. Studwell said Gilliam was a "consummate professional and evaluator." Their relationship went much beyond work.
"Not only was he a great leader with unmatched skills and a keen eye for what it takes to play and be successful in the NFL, he was also a great mentor and friend," Studwell said. "The Vikings family lost an iconic piece of their past successes, and I am forever grateful to have Frank in my life — RIP my friend. I love you and will miss you for the rest of my days."
Retired Vikings scout Conrad Cardano, who began his 34-year run with Minnesota in 1987, said "you don't find very many men like Frank."
"He was dedicated to the job and to the people he worked with. He had such integrity and pride in his work that everyone around him adopted that same work ethic to make him proud," Cardano said. "He was a mentor to me and so many others. He was a good football man but a great friend. He's a legend at the Vikings and across the NFL."
In July 2022, the Vikings honored the significant contributions of Gilliam and Reichow by launching the Gilliam-Reichow Personnel Fellowship.
The program is run in conjunction with the leaguewide Nunn-Wooten Scouting Fellowship, which the team has participated in since 2015.
The Gilliam-Reichow Personnel Fellowship creates opportunities for hands-on education for aspiring personnel and scouting executives to learn more about player evaluation, scouting, film study, data analysis and intangible elements that factor into the development of an NFL roster.
"It was a great privilege to name our personnel fellowship after Frank Gilliam, and we will continue to honor his name through that program," Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah said. "He was a pioneer for NFL personnel departments and had an incredible career. Rest in peace, Frank."