|Lots of credit for Eli Manning's growth as quarterback should go to Kevin Gilbride. (Getty Images)|
Because without Gilbride, Tom Coughlin wouldn't be where he is today. Of course, neither would Gilbride and, in all likelihood, neither would the New York Giants.
Let me explain. Before Coughlin saved the Giants, Gilbride saved Coughlin -- and I take you back to the 2006 season finale when the Giants absolutely, positively had to beat Washington for Coughlin to retain his job. If they won, they reached the playoffs; if they didn't, Coughlin and his coaching staff were toast.
Simple as that.
"We would've moved on somewhere else," said Gilbride.
That's one way of putting it. Another is: They would've been fired.
It was one of those desperate situations that demanded a desperate measure, and Coughlin responded with one of the most extraordinary moves in recent history: He canned his offensive coordinator before the Washington game and promoted Gilbride, then the quarterbacks coach, to the job.
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In essence, the responsibility for saving the season fell on Gilbride's shoulders, and he responded with a game plan that had Tiki Barber run for a club-record 234 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-28 victory. One week later, Barber struck again, this time running for another 137 yards in a 23-20 last-second loss to Philadelphia in the opening round of the playoffs.
That ended the Giants' season, but it saved Coughlin. He was given a one-year extension, allowing him to improve on an 8-8 record the following season ... and the rest you know.
"You get so immersed in the moment," Gilbride said this week, "that it's only afterward that you realize the consequences and magnitude of the game. I just thought we could do some things, and I'm very proud of the fact that we had Tiki for two games. I feel like we did some things that helped him get off, and I was certainly appreciative of the effort he gave us. He was certainly a significant part of the win."
But so was Gilbride, and one of these days someone will credit him for saving Coughlin who, in turn, saved the Giants. In fact, if Coughlin were to win Sunday he would have as many Super Bowl victories as Bill Parcells, one of 15 finalists this week for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Then, of course, people will want to know if it makes him Hall worthy, and, sorry, I don't know. What I do know is that he wouldn't be in the conversation without his offensive coordinator.
That makes Gilbride valuable -- or invaluable -- to the Giants, which you think would make him attractive to others. But it doesn't, and for the life of me I can't explain it.
I mean, Mike Mularkey lands a head-coaching job and Gilbride can't get a sniff. Someone please explain why. I understand Mularkey had the last winning season with Buffalo, while Gilbride bombed out in his year-and-a-half as head coach in San Diego. But Mularkey had Drew Bledsoe for a quarterback. Gilbride had Ryan Leaf.
End of discussion.
Now, let's look at what happened this season. Mularkey's Falcons ranked 10th in yards and were seventh in points where Gilbride's offense ranked eighth overall and ninth in points. The Giants were eighth in red-zone offense, the Falcons 13th; and their quarterback ranked second in fourth-quarter play -- setting a league record with 15 fourth-quarter TDs -- where Matt Ryan was 13th.
But here's the exclamation point: When the two met in the playoffs, the Giants produced 442 yards, 24 points and a victory; the Falcons' offense was shut out.
"You have to give him a lot of credit for the way Eli Manning developed," said one AFC head coach. "But the funny thing is: Nobody talks about him. Nobody really talks about their offense being special or explosive, either, yet they were second in the league in plus-40-yard receptions. It's like Gilbride is just sort of just there, and that's not really fair because they've been very, very effective, especially in the passing game where people have improved."
He wasn't just talking about Manning; he was talking about Cruz. He was nearly cut in 2010, yet wound up with a team-high 1,536 yards receiving and nine touchdowns this season. He was talking about wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, too, and all he did was produce 1,192 yards and seven touchdowns during the season, then add four touchdowns and 18.7 yards per reception in the playoffs.
You would think someone outside the Giants' organization and the New York metropolitan area would notice, but last time I checked Gilbride's phone wasn't ringing. My question is: Why?
"I don't have the answer to that," Gilbride said. "You would wonder why it didn't happen this year. I don't know."
Maybe it's because the Giants ranked last in rushing. Maybe it's because they were on nobody's radar until late December. Maybe it's because the perception of the club is and always has been defense, defense, defense ... or because of San Diego ... or because people haven't forgotten the Buddy Ryan incident ... or because of his age (he's 60). I don't know. What I do know is that Kevin Gilbride is on nobody's short list, and the Giants -- and Tom Coughlin -- should be grateful.
"I'm very proud of what we did this year," said Gilbride. "To be able to develop the group we did develop is very rewarding. You'd hope [people] look at what you've done and say, 'We'd like to have something like that with us. We have a young group of guys that require a good teacher, a disciplinarian and somebody who can take us where we'd like to be.'"
Somebody has. It's the New York Giants.