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Gilbride quick pick

Steelers' new offensive coordinator/QB coach lost out to Cowher in '92, but embraced now

Friday, January 08, 1999

By Gerry Dulac, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Kevin Gilbride was back in the Steelers offices yesterday, talking with Dan Rooney, chatting with Tom Donahoe, doing many of the same things he did almost seven years ago to the day. One difference, though.

 
  Kevin Gilbride's hiring yesterday came quicker than anyone expected, especially Gilbride. (Bob Donaldson, Post-Gazette

This time, he got the job.

After spending most of the day interviewing with the very same person who beat him out for the position he was seeking in 1992 - Bill Cowher - Gilbride was named the Steelers' new offensive coordinator, putting an end to the brief search for Ray Sherman's replacement.

Gilbride was also given the title of quarterbacks coach, a move that was designed, in part, to appease those critics who thought the team needed a personal mentor for Kordell Stewart.

"He's done a good job with every quarterback he's been around," Cowher said.

Well, almost. Gilbride did not get much of a chance to work with his most recent project - Ryan Leaf, the No. 1 pick of the San Diego Chargers. Gilbride was fired as head coach six games into the season after the Chargers started 2-4.

That did not deter Cowher. He was so impressed with Gilbride that he wasted little time getting him to agree to a two-year contract, then immediately got on the phone to cancel today's scheduled appointment with Matt Cavanaugh, the former Pitt quarterback who had been offensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears the past two years.

 
  Kevin Gilbride: Up Close

1989-94

Houston Oilers:
QB coach, offensive coordinator, asst. head coach

1995-96

Jacksonville Jaguars:
Offensive coordinator

1997-98

San Diego Chargers:
Head Coach, Record 6-16


Gilbride to help in search for WR coach

   
 

Cowher said he had discussions by phone with Cavanaugh and also former Seattle Seahawks Coach Dennis Erickson, who he planned to formally interview next week at the East-West Shrine Game in Palo Alto, Calif. He also talked to tight ends coach Mike Mularkey, the only Steelers assistant coach to interview for the position.

But, after having dinner with Gilbride Wednesday night and meeting with him for four hours yesterday at the stadium, the decision to hire an offensive coordinator was an easy one.

"Bill can be very persuasive and he's very persistent," Gilbride said during a hastily arranged afternoon news conference at Three Rivers Stadium. "It happened much more quickly than I expected. I thought it was a good fit."

"If [Gilbride] was interested and I was interested in having him, why delay?" Cowher said. "It wouldn't change my mind talking to those two individuals. This guy seemed like the best fit."

What sold Cowher and others in the Steelers organization was Gilbride's background in the passing game and the potential for developing the team's young wide receivers. What's more, the numbering system used by Gilbride in his offensive playbook is very similiar to the one employed by the Steelers, making for an easier transition with the players..

Ironically, Gilbride got the system from his former boss, Jacksonville Coach Tom Coughlin, who got it from Ron Erhardt when they both were assistants with the New York Giants. Erhardt was Bill Cowher's first hire as offensive coordinator in 1992 and introduced the four- and five-wide receiver sets the Steelers still use.

"That was the beginning of what they were doing here with Ron Erhardt," Gilbride said. "We've kind of evolved in different directions, but the main part of [the offense] is the same, the starting point is the same. I'll try to put in things that will add to it."

That's just what Cowher was seeking. He said he wanted a coordinator who could retool a passing game that finished 29th in the National Football League this season. He also needed someone to restore the confidence in Stewart, who produced just 13 touchdowns this season - 19 fewer than in 1997.

Also, the Steelers would like to get more production from their receivers, even though Courtney Hawkins (66) and Charles Johnson (65) combined for 131 catches and 1,566 yards receiving this season. Hawkins had just one touchdown catch and Johnson, who finished with a team-high seven, did not have any in the final seven games.

"He's creative enough to come in, see what we were doing and add to it," said Donahoe, the team's director of football operations. "He can correct some of the problems we have."

Gilbride carries the monicker of being a run-and-shoot disciple, but he said that's because he was the offensive coordinator with the Houston Oilers under Jack Pardee, who used the run-and-shoot with great success in the old United States Football League. He used two- and three-wide receiver sets in Jacksonville when the Jaguars had the NFL's No. 1 ranked passing game, averaging 259.7 yards per game, and the league's No. 2-ranked offense overall in 1996. That same year, quarterback Mark Brunell led all NFL quarterbacks with 4,145 passing yards.

Before that, he spent five seasons running the offense for the Houston Oilers, which led the league in passing from 1990 to 1992 and ranked third in 1993. But he might always be more remembered for his sideline bout with defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan during a nationally televised game in 1993.

"He's going to be well-received around here," Cowher said. "Our football team wants that. They need that."

It was an easy match, Gilbride and Steelers. It almost was seven years ago, too, when Gilbride met with Rooney and Donahoe about becoming the next Steelers coach. He was a late entry in the derby because the Oilers refused to grant the Steelers permission to speak to Gilbride until the league office intervened. Gilbride made it to the final four of candidates, ultimately losing to Cowher.

"He impressed everybody when he was here seven years ago," Donahoe said. "It's kind of ironic he's back here now on our staff."



NOTES - Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett met yesterday with Chicago Bears executive Mark Hatley to discuss the Bears' vacant head coaching position. The meeting took place in Pittsburgh. Haslett will interview with the Baltimore Ravens today in Baltimore. .... Sherman has several options. He is expected to either rejoin the Vikings, where he served as quarterbacks coach before joining the Steelers, or go with Vikings offensive coordinator Brian Billick if he gets a head coaching position with another NFL team. ... The Steelers signed defensive lineman Matt Harper from the practice squad to the active roster.



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