Football’s sack-king keyed late season surge

By Tim Murphy

Rob Tamillow’s final season with the Chicago football program started off a lot like his first three: badly. While the co-captain and his teammates played well at times, they repeatedly failed to execute at critical junctures, and the Maroons found themselves without a win through four games.

And then a rivalry gave them the chance to make things right.

With the season and bragging rights on the line, Chicago crushed archrival and four-time defending UAA champion Wash U 27–0 on the road, reclaiming the Founders Cup and putting the squad in the driver’s seat in the league race. Then, they did it again the next week against Carnegie Mellon. And again the week after that against Bethany. The Maroons didn’t let up the rest of the way, icing the league title at home November 5 against Case 14–7 and ending the year with a historic 55–7 thrashing of Eureka at Stagg. The contest broke the program modern-era mark for points in a game (ironically set the year before against the hapless Red Devils). Three and a half years of futility were swept away with monster-truck force. The Maroons outscored their final five victims 175–23, and their opponents were lucky to get the 23. Leading the tenacious defensive attack, Tamillow notched 10 sacks and 19 tackles for losses during the streak.

After spearheading his team’s return to the spotlight in Hyde Park and earning himself UAA defensive player of the year honors, a spot on the All-American team, and a trip to the prestigious Aztec Bowl, there is very little that Tamillow (A.B. ’05) did not accomplish in his four years with the Maroons.

It wasn’t just his on-field achievements that stood out. For his academic excellence, he was inducted as a chapter member of the Chi Alpha Sigma Society after graduating in December with a GPA above 3.5. He also finished his fourth year with program modern-era single-season records for tackles for loss (24) and for sacks (12).

After helping to resuscitate a dormant program, you could excuse the philosophy major if he decided to call it quits and end his football career on top. But quitting has never been part of this defensive end’s vocabulary. His love of the sport was just too great for him to simply walk away after graduating in the fall, so Tamillow packed his bags and headed out to California in hopes of landing a spot on an Arena Football League team. While continuing to pursue playing opportunities, he will also begin working as an assistant coach at the University of La Verne in the Golden State this autumn. It’s a task perfectly suited for a player of Tamillow’s disposition and temperment.

“Rob’s a very tireless worker. He’s dedicated but still determined, he’s serious but still funny; he’s very balanced. Rob knows what he needs to do and he does it,” head coach Dick Maloney said. “If you ask me what deficiency he has, I couldn’t tell you. He’s a coach’s dream, a once-in-a-decade player.”

“After 16 years of playing football, the game is almost second nature to me, and I realized that I have the ability to impart all my knowledge, as well as personal experience and desire. onto individuals who will play the game,” Tamillow said. “I didn’t start thinking about coaching until I started trying out for teams. I was thinking about what I would do on the side and I realized that I wanted football to be a part of whatever I did in the future.”

While Maloney has high hopes for his captain’s coaching career, Tamillow does not expect to become the next Bill Belichick overnight. He will be working mostly with the defensive line as he learns the ropes at La Verne, passing on his knowledge of the finer points of the game and his technical expertise to his players.

“I’m sure that I’ll have some impact on sideline decisions and such, but probably not too much,” Tamillow said. “I think that my biggest asset as a coach is my ability to get people to understand everything about what they are doing. A lot of coaches can tell guys what they should be doing but not why. I can do both.”

His leadership skills came in handy during his time on the South Side. As part of a senior class that brought respect ability and responsibility back to the program, he helped to instill a mindset that winning should be an expectation and not just wishful thinking. As an unquestioned leader on defense, it was easy for Tamillow to lead by example as well as with words. The accolades and respect he earned were not won overnight.

When he first stepped onto the practice field in 2002, the future captain was just a talented first-year from the Chicago suburbs looking to get enough playing time to make his mark. Stuck near the bottom of the depth chart on the defensive line, he got most of his game experience that year on special teams. He made his presence felt, hustling down the field and putting his body on the line for the greater good.

The effort and his undeniable skills earned him a promotion to starting nose tackle his sophomore season. It was not exactly an easy experience for the undersized Tamillow. In Maloney’s 3-5 formation, the nose guard has the responsibility of tying up interior linemen to free up the men behind him. At 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, Tamillow was hardly the prototype for a position that has become a stomping ground for behemoths. Nevertheless, he excelled at the position and notched second-team all-conference recognition at season’s end.

“He’s on the small side to play defensive line, so would he take some undue punishment? Yes. But I don’t ever remember him missing a practice,” Maloney said. “[The punishment] is the biggest reason we moved him out of the nose.”

Relocated to defensive end at the beginning of his third season, Tamillow exploded, recording 12 sacks and 21 tackles for losses, both school records at the time. This campaign earned him first-team all-UAA honors, in addition to a second consecutive berth on the all-academic team. Even with opponents concentrating on stopping him, Tamillow would more often than not find his way to the ball carrier, making him a powerful threat in the club’s 3–5 scheme. As far as debut seasons at a new position go, it was a smashing success.

“When you hear players on the other team yelling, ‘Why don’t you block him?’ you know you have a special player,’” Maloney said.

At a school known for its Nobel laureates, graduating early to pursue a spot on an AFL team may sound like a strange road for a student to follow. But for an athlete who made a career out of doing the extraordinary, it seems only fitting.

“That’s not a usual path at this school. But with Rob, if he had told me that he joined the Peace Corps, I wouldn’t have been surprised,” Maloney said.