He’s always had a reputation problem, though, dating back to his days running
Then, when the ball is snapped and the defense goes in motion, everything
“Yeah, it’s definitely tough,” says receiver Victor Cruz. “It’s one
of the biggest things I had to adjust to, learning how to read coverages and
adjust mid-route. We had a few read-routes in college, but nothing to this
extent where it’s 15 yards down field and you have to make an adjustment.
Sometimes they may line up one way, then when the ball comes they move to
somewhere else. So you have to see all of that.”
It’s a demanding system. It can be confusing. It can be frustrating, too,
especially to a young player. It’s also explosive, “quarterback-friendly,”
potent, and the most prolific offensive system the Giants franchise has ever
“That’s the beauty of it,” says backup quarterback David Carr.
“When we’re rolling, it’s hard to stop.”
That’s what the 60-year-old Gilbride has created in his eighth season with
the Giants and fifth since taking over as the offensive coordinator. He’s helped
turn Eli Manning from an erratic, interception-prone quarterback into a
near-5,000-yard passer. He’s built an offensive machine that has rallied from
six fourth-quarter deficits this year. It can strike so quickly, the Giants
never feel like they’re out of a game.
And he’s done that with a rebuilding offensive line, the 32nd-ranked rushing
attack in the league, and a tight end (Jake Ballard) and star
receiver (Victor Cruz) who had never had a single catch in the NFL before this
Manning gets all the credit, and much of it is deserved. But it’s not like
he’s on the field drawing up plays in the dirt.
“Eli’s playing so well and that’s a tribute to Kevin,” says former Giants
quarterbacks coach Chris Palmer, who is
now the offensive coordinator with the Tennessee Titans. “The guy is an
outstanding football coach and does a great job. What is perceived about him and
what is real is not necessarily one and the same. Kevin should get a lot of
credit for the success they’ve had this year.”
Ask anyone in the locker room, and Gilbride does get the credit. Tom
Coughlin praises his ability as a teacher and his players praise his
patience and the way he calls a game. It drives them crazy that he’s a target
for angry fans, who sometimes call him “Killdrive” when games don’t go the
KEVIN GILBRIDE'S "OPTION" OFFENSE IN PASSING GAME FUELS GIANTS
"The hands clap and the huddle breaks and the receivers jog out to their
positions. Kevin Gilbride has
already relayed the play to Eli Manning, but the
receivers still have no idea where they’re going to go.
That’s part of the beauty of the Gilbride offense. Everything the receivers
do is based on what happens next. Is there man-to-man coverage or a zone? Which
way are the safeties shading? Are the corners pressing on the line or leaving a
the run-and-shoot offense with the Houston Oilers (1990-94). Gilbride got a
label he couldn’t shake when former Oilers defensive coordinator Buddy
Ryan famously called his wide-open passing attack the “chuck-and-duck” and
then even more famously when Rex’s dad tried to punch him on the sidelines in
the middle of a game.“Coach Gilbride and I have a very close relationship,” Manning says. “When I
Yes, Gilbride may look like a pass-happy coordinator at times, but it’s easy
to forget that in 2008 the Giants had the NFL’s seventh-best offense with the
No. 1 rushing attack. In fact, in three of his five seasons as offensive
coordinator, the Giants’ rushing attack was ranked higher than its passing
attack in the league.
What makes Gilbride appear pass-happy is this: He runs what everyone
considers a “quarterback-friendly” offense that puts a lot of responsibility on
the receivers and control in the quarterbacks’ hands. They throw because they
can. And it works.
“A lot is asked of the quarterback,” Carr says. “You’ve got the freedom to do
pretty much whatever you want. The playbook’s open to you. You’ve got to be on
your game. But if you are, it’s a great thing.”
Explained very simply, Manning has the ability to change the play to almost
anything in that week’s game plan, based on what he sees in the defensive
alignment. And when he calls a pass play, the receivers have several options to
change their routes on each play, depending on what the defense does. It’s
complicated and hard to learn, and it can be very tricky for the quarterback and
receiver to make sure they’re seeing exactly the same thing out of each
Because there are so many options in Gilbride’s offense, though, when it’s
run correctly there are more chances for it to work.
“You give the receivers several options to get open and when guys get open
you, as a quarterback, have an opportunity to throw the ball,” Palmer says.
“When a receiver doesn’t get open, that becomes a burden. It’s reassuring to the
quarterback that ‘Hey, one of these guys are going to get open.’ I would say on
most plays there’s going to be a guy that’s open in this offense.”
“I’ve been in offenses where it’s all based on progressions - 1, 2, 3, find
the back,” Carr adds. “There’s some of that. But we’re trying to scheme. We’re
trying to find the best possible play vs. that defense at that time to just gash
them. That’s why it works.”
It also works because Gilbride is an outstanding teacher and someone that, as
Coughlin says, can “evaluate your talent and see what they can and cannot do.”
He was the quarterbacks coach through the first three years of Manning’s career,
learned his strengths and his weaknesses well, developed a special bond with him
and helped him grow into the Pro Bowler he is today.
first got here, he was the quarterbacks coach, so I got to kind of learn from
him, and hearing him directly and watching old film of the Oilers and different
things when they were running it. We think the same way on a lot of things and
certain looks. A lot of times he doesn’t even need to finish his sentence,
because I’m already on the same page.”
Sure, it helps that Gilbride likes to throw. A lot. He even jokes that
Coughlin sometimes sits in on the offensive meetings just “to make sure I don’t
veer too far off of the reservation and throw the ball 65 times in a game or
something like that.” Manning says Gilbride calls plays with “a quarterback
mentality.” And while he’ll go with whatever’s working, it’s obvious what he
“If we’re not running it really well and we’re throwing it well, I’ll just go
up to him and say, ‘Hey, they can’t stop us throwing it. Let’s just keep
throwing it,’?” Manning says. “And he kind of gets a smile. I think that’s what
he likes to hear.”
That’s the way the NFL is now - a pass-first league - which makes Gilbride
the ideal offensive coordinator for this era. If he were 15 years younger his
work with the Giants might have already earned him a head coaching job
somewhere. He’d probably still be an attractive candidate if he hadn’t already
had a failed stint as a head coach with the San Diego Chargers in 1997-98, when
he was run out of town with a 6-16 record after he couldn’t connect with his
hot-headed rookie quarterback, Ryan Leaf.
When those 22 games are added to his image problem, it helps paint a picture
that belies the numbers his offenses regularly produce. It also paints a picture
his players believe is completely unfair.
“I don’t think he gets enough credit,” says guard Chris Snee. “I
feel like I always hear a lot of negative stuff about him. He’s the first one
everyone wants to blame for play calling and things like that, but I think he
does a great job.”
Some might say it’s the best job Gilbride has done in his five years running
the Giants’ offense.
Considering the players the Giants lost before the season started, the
injuries that forced him to reshuffle his line and play four games without his
starting running back, and how he helped turn a blocking tight end and an
unknown receiver into stars, it might be the best job he’s done in his 23 years
in the league.
“I’d rather let you answer that than me,” Gilbride says. “Let me just say
that I’m very proud of the guys that I work with. We started with five new guys
and then we had all of the injuries and the youth and the guys who haven’t
played and some of the things that we ask them to do. You don’t just, in our
offense, go out and run a 12-yard curl or a 10-yard in-cut. We ask them to read
a lot of things. We put a lot of pressure on receivers to see things as a
quarterback would. It’s very difficult as a coach to get those things
“So to see them grow like that - obviously, what are you? You’re a teacher.
When you’re a teacher and you can see your pupils getting better and feel like
you contributed, you’re very proud of their growth and development. So you feel,
‘Maybe I helped them a little bit.’”
Not that he ever gets the credit for that. He’s too busy taking the blame
when everything doesn’t work to perfection.
“I think it’s just the nature of the position,” Carr says. “I think he does a
good job just by not paying attention to it. He’s going to be who he is.
Nobody’s going to change him now.”