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 discusses his new team and new league, which is not the XFL you might remember from years ago:
SNY: It's been a few years for you since you experienced a win in football, so how did it feel?
KG: It felt great. I felt terrific for the kids. I said to them, if there's one thing I would love to give them, it would be a 'W' after the way they worked and their cooperation and their effort to get better. But I said to them it was the one thing I couldn't give them, that they had to go get it themselves. So to win the way they did, with tremendous resiliency, particularly on the defensive side … we stopped them four times inside the 10-yard line from crossing the goal line, which I thought was incredible. I don't think I've ever seen that before. I've certainly never been part of that before.
It wasn't perfect or flawless in any way, shape or form, but in terms of courage, mental toughness and resiliency, it's as good as it gets.
SNY: Is a win, a win whether it's the NFL or the XFL? Was the feeling and the emotion the same for you?
KG: Absolutely. There's no difference at all. That's what I told them: Wins at the professional level are hard and you need to savor them and appreciate them and recognize how special they are. That feeling … that's why I came back, to be part of that where you're totally invested in something and you're kind of on a high wire with no nets underneath, and you roll the dice and see what happens. We were able to come out with a 'W' so we were delighted.
SNY: I wasn't sure what to expect from this league, but it's clear this isn't the XFL that we remember, that wrestling version from (2001). This one seems to better resemble professional football. What has your experience been like, and what challenges have you had to overcome?
KG: I think the quality of football, as you witnessed, is really a high level of football. There's a lot of good players, a lot of good coaches. You're seeing football as you'd expect to see it at the professional level.
I think that any time you start out new, from the ground basement working your way up, there's some things as you put it together that you don't have to deal with at a level where it's been established for 100 years. That aspect, in terms of finding facilities, where you're going to work out, where you're going to house the players, where you're going to have your summer training (which for us is winter training) are all things you never had to worry about in the NFL.
But in terms of the effort by the players, the professionalism, I've been very, very impressed with the way they go about their business.
SNY: Is this a higher caliber of football than was played in the old XFL?
KG: I don't know. I didn't watch the old one. I just know this one, the way it is, there's a lot of great coaches here. I knew that they would have their teams ready. I think that was reflected in the performances you saw this weekend.
SNY: Do you like some of the new rules and quirks in the league?
KG: Well, they're all designed to please the fans, to make it more exciting. They took what the fans - after extensive study - don't like about the National Football League and, while retaining the nucleus and essence of the game, incorporated some minor tweaks they thought the fans would appreciate. Between the faster pace of the game to the adjustments of the special teams that makes that a truly significant part of the game … We as coaches always say 'one third, one third, one third' (about offense, defense and special teams), but sometimes that's just lip service. Well, here you better have that because if you kick the ball out of bounds or kick the ball into the end zone, the penalty is so severe. You're going to let returners have a chance to return the football, so they're adding to that excitement yet still retaining some safety features in the kickoff, which are unique.
It's interesting, there's no question. There's more strategy involved, particularly when it comes down to the additional plays you need in the red zone area because all your extra points, there's no kicks at all. You're going for it from the field, whether it's the 2-yard line for one point, the 5-yard line for two or the 10-yard line for three. You've got to have additional plays than you would normally have, just for your tight red zone offense. And of course you better have some great ones in reserve because if the game's tied in the end it goes into a 'sudden death' type of set up, where your team goes one play from the 5, then the other team goes one play from the 5, and at the end of five plays the game is over.
So the strategizing is a little bit more extensive, which as coaches that's just what you need: More time you've got to spend in preparation. But I think the fans will love it.
(Next, in Part II: Gilbride discusses why he was lured out of a retirement he wasn't eager to leave).