2005 Hall of Fame Inductee
While Gayland “Mike” Mills had many achievements on the football field during his BYU career, perhaps his most important victory came in 1942, when he helped the Cougars defeat the University of Utah for the first time. Before Mills and his teammates on the ‘42 squad took the field in Salt Lake City, BYU had played Utah 20 times, and the best the Cougs had ever managed was a tie.
Mills played at BYU from 1939–46, with his career being interrupted from 1942–45 while he served in the Army and the Army Reserves. While playing for the Cougars, Mills played both offense and defense, earning the nickname “Iron Mike.” As a sophomore, junior, and senior, Mills earned all-conference honors. In 1941 he scored the Y’s only touchdown when BYU tied Utah, 6-6. Then in 1942, he helped the Cougars defeat Utah, 12-7, for the first time in school history.
In 1942, Mills was listed in the Football Illustrated’s All-American Preview. He was one of only two players from the conference that were selected for this honor by coaches, officials, and sportswriters from coast to coast. There was no postseason All-American recognition given that year, due to the United States’ involvement in World War II, and troop movement on the railroads forced the cancellation of BYU’s final two games that season.
Following his playing days with the Cougars, Mills was drafted by three NFL teams: the Green Bay Packers, the San Francisco 49ers, and the New York Giants. He decided to decline all three offers because he wanted to focus on his family. At the time, Mike was married and had two children.
Mills was not only a decorated athlete, he was also decorated as a soldier for his heroic military service. He was part of the second wave that landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Mills also fought in five major battles in the European Theater, including the Battle of the Bulge. He was awarded eight medals for his WWII service—the D-Day Bronze Arrowhead, five battle campaign medals, the Liberation of France medal, and the Liberation of Belgium medal.
Upon returning from the war, Mills completed his bachelor’s degree in 1946 in coaching and physical education. He is married to the former Margaret Vance, and they have four children: Sherry Ann Mills Phair, Gayland Leroy Mills, Charlene Mills Ashworth, and Scott Ranson Mills.
The Mike and Margaret have 15 grandchildren (including current BYU football player Luke Ashworth) and 22 great-grandchildren. After graduating from BYU, Mills coached at Pocatello High School for two years with Chick Atkinson. Following his coaching days, Mills moved his family to Arizona where he entered the car business. He has since retired and resides with his wife in Tempe.
1940 | Sophomore Year
1941 | Junior Year
Scored BYU's only touchdown in a 6-6 tie at Utah on October 18 ... named all-conference.
1942 | Senior Year
Mills was named pre-season All-America in the annual Football Illustrated’s All-American Preview ... one of only two players from the conference selected for this honor by coaches, officials, and sportswriters from coast to coast ... no postseason All-American recognition was given that year, due to the United States’ involvement in World War II ... troop movement on the railroads forced the cancellation of BYU’s final two games that season ... helped the Cougars defeat Utah, 12-7, for the first time in school history. The game was played at Utah on October 10 ... named all-conference. Was given another year of elegibility in 1946 after serving in the Army and the Army Reserves from 1942–45.