LANCASTER, PA -- After a half hour with Tom Gilburg, Frank Granito knew Franklin & Marshall College was where he wanted to go to school and play football.
Why would Granito, a kid from the Bronx, want to get his college education in Lancaster? Largely because of Tom Gilburg.
"I remember like it was yesterday," said Granito, now an attorney in New York, talking about his recruiting visit to F&M. "You spent time with the players on Saturday and then on Sunday, before you went home, you met with Coach Gilburg.
"I was somebody who needed discipline and I needed someone in my life who was going to keep an eye on me, because I was a lazy student and immature. Talk about having a father figure watch out for you. When you met Tom you had a sense that he had a presence and was going to care about you as an individual, not just a football player."
Turns out that Granito and many like him feel and felt the same way about Gilburg, who never set out to be a father figure but knew no other way.
The George W. Kirchner Award is presented each year to a person who has made significant contributions to athletics in Lancaster or has drawn a spotlight to Lancaster County through his or her athletic accomplishments.
Gilburg, the football coach at F&M from 1975-98, certainly did both. But the intangibles, the ones Granito spoke about, are the mark of the man, who was honored with the 54th Kirchner Award at Thursday night's Lancaster Old Timers Athletic Association Banquet.
"The older you get, the more you appreciate what he did," said Tom Sheridan, an F&M middle linebacker who graduated in 1986. "He was concerned with shaping people's lives. I can look back and see that now."
Sheridan said Gilburg would monitor players' grades. If you were an "A" student, and you weren't living up to that, he would give you a little "encouragement."
Ken Pederson played for Gilburg from 1977-81 and then was an assistant coach on Gilburg's staff from 1985-92. His brother, Curt, was recruited by and attended Pitt. But when Pitt wasn't what he thought it would be, Curt transferred to Montclair State. Curt, however, ended up spending a lot of time at F&M.
"Curt started coming out to F&M to see some of our games and he ended up making friendsand knowing Coach Gilburg better than anyone at his own college," Ken said.
"He'll tell anybody he talks to that the program at F&M was just special."
Gilburg made it special but his teams won a lot, too.
He coached the Diplomats for 28 seasons, compiling a record of 160-112-2. When he retired after the 2002 season, his record was the sixth-best career mark in Division III history. His teams won 76 of 136 Centennial Conference games.
He led the Diplomats to five Centennial Conference titles, two ECAC titles and a Middle Atlantic Conference South title.
His '97 team went 9-1-1 and went undefeated in the conference. His '89 team went 10-1 and in 1996, the Dips were 9-2.
He coached eight First-Team All-Americans and six Academic All-Americans. He watched six of his players earn the Centennial Conference Most Valuable Player award.
Prior to coming to F&M, Gilburg was an All-America lineman at Syracuse University. He went on to play in the NFL for the Baltimore Colts from 1961-65.
"This is a guy who should be in the College Football Hall of Fame, because of his playing career and coaching career," said Granito, who was a wide receiver at F&M from 1977-80. "But I don't think any of the accolades that Tom gets mean anything to him. All that Tom has ever cared about is his relationship with his players."
During Gilburg's tenure, he did most of the recruiting by himself, taking a week here and a week there to visit New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania or wherever the prospective F&M player might live.
"One of the best things about running that program at F&M was that we attracted some fantastic kids," Gilburg said. "That's one of the things I'm most proud of."
You get the feeling that all of those recruiting trips, whether successful or unsuccessful, paid off not only on the field but in the friendships formed.
"Wins and losses were always important to Tom, but he always put the kids first," Pederson said. "So many people pay lip service to this, but he did know your brothers, the names of your mom and dad. He remembers all of our numbers. He knows when players graduated, what they are doing now."
Gilburg worked at making his program a family affair. He understood that parents were paying a lot of money to send their sons to F&M and he wanted to give them something in return.
"Family was always important to me and (his wife) JoAnne," he said.
"We talk about Tom as a person but Tom wanted to win more than anybody," Granito said. "But he realized what the big picture was all about. He was trying to create men who were going to go on in life and be successful. He taught you those lessons on the football field."
Gibby, as Gilburg is affectionately known, doesn't roam the sidelines anymore. But he left his mark at F&M and on this community. And on everyone who came in contact with his program.
"You hope that he's not a throwback," Sheridan said. "You hope that there are more coaches like him."