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Kevin Gilbride Q&A: Former Giants coach discusses coming out of retirement to join XFL’s New York Guardians

Ralph Vacchiano | Facebook | Twitter | Archive

When Kevin Gilbride retired after the 2013 season, he didn’t spend much time looking back. He was happy to put a 40-year coaching career behind him and focus on his grandchildren instead.

That’s why when Oliver Luck, the commissioner of the new XFL called to see if he was interested in coaching again, Gilbride said no. But it didn’t take the 68-year-old former Giants offensive coordinator long to change his mind.

Now, after 25 years in the NFL, 10 years with the Giants and two Super Bowl championships, Gilbride is back on the sidelines as the head coach and general manager of the XFL’s New York Guardians, who won their debut game, 23-3 over the Tampa Bay Vipers at the Meadowlands on Sunday.


As he began preparations for Game 2 — Saturday at the DC Defenders — Gilbride spoke with SNY about his XFL experience and why he began this second act of his coaching career.

In Part I of our Q&A, Gilbride discussed his new team and new league. Now, in Part II, Gilbride discusses how he was lured out of a retirement he wasn’t eager to leave:

SNY: You had a long and great career in the NFL, you got your shot as a head coach, you made some money, got a couple of rings. What brought you back? Why are you doing this?

KG: I love the game, there’s no question about that. And I love the coaching. You get those feelings that you really can’t duplicate outside the field where you feel like your life is hanging in the balance and everything you’ve invested time-wise, effort-wise, total commitment of who you are to try and develop a team, and strategies and your coaching staff and what-have-you … 

But I also did not want to relinquish my family life. I had told (former Giants coach Tom Coughlin) after 2011 that I thought I was going to get another shot (as a head coach). But after we kept winning (through Super Bowl XLVI), that shot disappeared. So I asked my wife one more time and we said, ‘Well, let’s give 2012 a shot.’ Well, we went 9-7 and I didn’t get anything. So I told Tom I could go one more year and if I didn’t have a shot I was going to retire. I had spent too much time away from the grandkids and I wanted to go spend some time with them.

So this league gives me an opportunity to get my fill of coaching, which I love. But, in the offseason, I can do the offseason stuff at home, and be around for my grandkids, which is very, very important to me. No NFL team – though many offered me jobs – would let me do that. You had to be in the city of where you were being employed, and I didn’t want to be away from them 12 months a year. And this gave me an opportunity.

Initially I said no, just like I said no to a bunch of NFL jobs. But when Oliver called back a second time, I started thinking about it. And as he explained it more, I realized the league was going to be serious football, conventional football with some minor tweaks. I could still do the stuff – the offseason evaluation of personnel. I could fly my staff in once a month to be with them where my home base was. It just seemed like too good to be true. 

So even though there are a lot of things that are a challenge, that’s never deterred me. That’s something I’ve always relished anyway, the competition part of it. So I looked at it and the more I studied it the more I said ‘You know, this is perfect. This is exactly what I like. It’s fulfilling two of the things that I love to do: Spend time with the family and to coach.’

SNY: Many athletes and coaches retire and struggle with how much they miss the competition, how they feel a strong pull to return and maybe don’t enjoy retirement at first. But it sounds like you loved being retired.

KG: Absolutely. I cherished every day. I got back into fishing and I got a chance to get caught up reading. And most importantly of all, I’ve got grandchildren ranging from 13 months to a granddaughter who just turned 15 a couple of days ago. I’ve got five of them and there’s a lot of things that you don’t do when you’re coaching. You missed weddings and you missed games of your kids. Now I was missing them with the grandkids. You miss funerals, you miss so many things. So I appreciated all the things I was able to do. And I still will be able to do them most of the year, but not while I’m coaching.

SNY: You talked about the NFL jobs you turned now. Is the NFL now completely in your past, or is there some part of you that would like this job to be a springboard back into that league.

KG: No, that’s zero. I’ve been turning them down every year since I’ve retired. So no, I’m not going back for all the reasons I just alluded to.

SNY: Is the coaching basically the same for you. Will we see signs of your old Giants offense in the Guardians offense?

KG: There’s a lot of aspects that are the same. The foundation is the same, the terminology, the nomenclature, etc. But I hired some people, because of the shortness of the play clock, that are very familiar with and have specialized in the RPO (run/pass option) aspect of football that has been very prevalent at the collegiate level and is now being incorporated more and more frequently at the NFL level. I just didn’t think that I could make a living here with the way I’d done it in the NFL: In other words, calling two or three plays, sending them in to Eli (Manning) or other quarterbacks that I had, and let them choose the play that they need to get to based upon recognition of what teams were doing defensively.

So we always had built-in outlets or solutions if we got surprised, but I wanted to have a more extensive array of plays. So I’ve hired these guys. And I’m actually doing something which is very difficult for me: I’m not calling the plays. I’m letting them call them. So you’ll see a hybrid offense, kind of a mixture of traditional professional, NFL style plays and approaches, but also a heavy dose of the zone read and the RPO offenses that you see highlighted by the Baltimores or the Kansas City Chiefs, etc.

SNY: It must be tough not calling plays after so many years doing it in the NFL.

KG: I bit my tongue a lot (on Sunday), trust me.

SNY: One last question: The original XFL didn’t last very long. It’s still very early, just one game in, but what about this new version makes you believe it has a chance to stick around?

KG: I think the quality of football is going to be surprisingly good. And I think people appreciate that. I also think the thought that went into the rule changes, the minor tweaks, will make the game even more exciting to the fans that love football – that love traditional football. And I just think that after having met Vince McMahon – he had all the coaches in – his commitment and his determination for this thing to go and flourish is unquestionable. So I think you combine all those factors and I really see a bright future.

And I think that’s great. It’s great for fans, but it’s also terrific for those football players that are looking for one more chance, a lot of the coaches who are either in my situation – would like to coach half the year and be able to stay home the other half and do their work there in their homes – or some of the younger coaches. That’s what I did: I hired some young guys and this is their chance to prove their worth, their value at the professional level. And we’ll see where they go from there.

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