Head coach of the Diplomats from 1974-2002 and the 163rd member of the Hall of Fame since the inaugural class in 1969, Tom Gilburg compiled a 160-112-2 record over 28 seasons at the bench of Franklin & Marshall, the most wins by a coach in the football program's history. Highlights of Gilburg's 28 years at the forefront of the F&M gridiron include a 7-2 record in his first season, followed by the team's fifth Middle Atlantic Conference (MAC) Southern Division title in six years with an 8-1 record in 1976. Gilburg and the College celebrated the 100th season of football in 1987 by winning the Centennial Conference (CC) title with an undefeated record (7-0 CC) and finished with a 9-1-1 overall mark, including a 21-0 victory over Kean College in the ECAC Division III South Championship game for the program's first post-season victory. F&M shared the CC title with Muhlenberg in 1986 and Dickinson in 1988, and defeated St, John's in the 1989 ECAC Division III South title game.
Franklin & Marshall played in four ECAC post-season "bowl" games during Gilburg's tenure, compiling a 2-2 record. Over the final 10 years of his coaching career, Gilburg continued the tradition of F&M football. In 1993, the Diplomats rallied from a 1-4 start to win their final five games of the season and tie Dickinson for the CC Championship. In 1995, F&M completed their "first-to-worst-to-first" three-year cycle with a 6-1 Conference record for the CC title. Gilburg celebrated a personal milestone in the second week of the 1989 season, when the Diplomats rallied from a 14-0 deficit in the final 12 minutes to capture a 15-14 victory at Ursinus on their way to a 10-1 season, the most wins in F&M football history. The victory marked the 100th of Gilburg's coaching career in just 134 games.
During the 1992 campaign, F&M became the fourth team in NCAA Division III history to reach the 500-win plateau with a 41-27 victory over McDaniel College during the Alumni Weekend. In 1998, the Diplomats secured Gilburg's 150th career win in the first home game of the season, a 26-12 triumph over CC rival Ursinus College. Born in Bronxville, New York, at a young age, Gilburg moved to Chappaqua. In Chappaqua, Gilburg's father, Walker, demonstrated an interest in kids' football team and put together an outfit called the Gray Rock Gorillas. "We were mostly 11 or 12 year olds," says Gilburg. "Most of the time we played another team called the Pine Cliff Panthers, and we were pretty good too.
We even played some freshmen teams, and the jayvee team at the high school." He attended Horace Greenley High School, playing offensive and defensive end as well as doing the punting. Gilburg started for three years and also letters in basketball, baseball and track. "It was a small rural high school at that time," recalls Gilburg. "We only had about 40 kids on the football team in those days." Following high school, Gilburg continued his education at Syracuse University on scholarship. "There was a Syracuse alumnus in our area who stayed in close touch with the school and had a lot to do with it. But I was really fortunate because I got a scholarship to Syracuse without them even seeing me play. They took me sight unseen. They sort of took a chance." Under head coach Ben Schwartzwalder, Gilburg quickly advanced through freshman football to make the second team at punter and end as a sophomore. Close to ensuring a first team job, a knee injury knocked him back down to second team but still wound up playing "about as much as I would have if I had started."
In the 1959 Cotton Bowl, Syracuse defeated Texas 23-14 and was named unanimous AP and UPI National Champions. "That was probably one of the greatest college teams ever," stated Gilburg in a news story following his naming as F&M's head coach in 1975. "We led the nation in five departments and were able to do just about anything." A three-year letterwinner with the Orangemen, he was a blocking tight end and linebacker his sophomore and junior season, then moved to tackle and noseguard as a senior. While at tackle, he blocked for All-America running back Ernie Davis. Prior to his senior season in 1960, an operation on his knee added 20 pounds to his weight. As a result, he was switched to inside tackle on offense and middle guard on defense while continuing to serve as the team's punter. Following the season, he was honored with the Bill Horr Award as the team's MVP and was selected to compete in the All-America Bowl and East-West Shrine Game.
The 1959 Syracuse "Athlete of the Year" and a first team All-America selection as a senior, he played in the 1958 Orange Bowl (23-6 loss to Oklahoma). In addition to football, Gilburg was a standout lacrosse player for Syracuse during his four-year collegiate career and was selected for the 1961 North-South All-Star game. Following Syracuse, he was selected in the second round of the 1961 National Football League Draft by the Baltimore Colts. Gilburg played five NFL seasons in Baltimore at offensive tackle and punter under coaches Weeb Eubank and Don Shula. "I played pretty regularly under Weeb," said Gilburg. "I started nine games at tackle. The last three years I backed up a three positions and punted." A highlight of Gilburg's professional career was playing in the 1964 NFL Championship game versus the Cleveland Browns, although Baltimore lost. While playing with the Colts, Gilburg received his first experience with Franklin & Marshall College as he coached the men's lacrosse team from 1964-1966.
"I had no previous experience coaching at all when I took that job at F&M," Gilburg recalled. "I was still with the Colts then and I wanted a place to workout in the off season. I went to F&M and Woody Sponaugle (the Director of Athletics) said I could use the facilities. He also said they needed a lacrosse coach. I had played lacrosse at Syracuse and liked the game.? Following an 0-8 record his first season, Gilburg concluded his first stint as a coach at F&M with a career record of 12-19. Upon his retirement from the NFL, Gilburg turned down numerous job offers to fulfill his dream. "I was very fortunate to play for some great coaches," he noted. "You pick up what's good and learn from what's bad. I always wanted to be a coach, and it just seemed like the natural thing to do." From 1966-70 he served as defensive coordinator and linebackers' coach and assistant men's lacrosse coach at Hofstra University.
In 1971, he moved south to Lehigh University where he served as head men's lacrosse coach and linebackers' coach before being named the 37th head football coach in F&M history. Over his 28-year tenure, eight Diplomats were named First Team All-Americans under Gilburg, while 11 earned Conference Most Valuable Player honors. More than a one-dimensional coach, Gilburg is a life-long believer in hard wok, both on and off the football field. "At a school like F&M, academics are very important," he stated. "If you want to be a success, you have to work hard." Off the field, Gilburg's record was matched only by his athletes' achievements in the classroom. During his career, six athletes earned GTE/Verizon CoSIDA Academic All-America honors, 14 Academic All-District II honors and three have been honored with NCAA Post-Graduate Scholarships. The father of five children (Scot, Bryan, Stacy, Thomas Andrew) with his wife, Joanne, he is grandfather to four (Mary, Tommy, Hayden, Nolan).