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Jan. 17, 2008, 10:42PM

ON PRO FOOTBALL

Gilbride, Palmer big part of Manning's progress

 

Well-traveled Giants assistants have QB on cusp of Super Bowl

 

 

By JOHN MCCLAIN

Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle

 

Two coaches run out of Houston have played significant roles in Eli Manning's development and the New York Giants' standing on the precipice of Super Bowl XLII.

 

Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, an Oilers assistant from 1989-94, has done an outstanding job of calling plays that have minimized Manning's weaknesses and maximized his strengths.

 

Quarterbacks coach Chris Palmer, a Texans assistant from 2001 through the first two games of the 2005 season, has done a terrific job of coaching Manning, who's in his fourth season in one of the most pressure-packed positions in sports — quarterback of the Giants.

 

When the Giants play the Packers in the NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field, Gilbride and Palmer will try to make sure the recent Eli Manning is the one who takes the field — not the one who spent the first 15 games being widely criticized for interceptions and inconsistency.

 

 

 

Coming on strong

 

In the Giants' last three games — the regular-season loss to New England and playoff victories over Tampa Bay and Dallas — Manning has been exceptional. He's 54-of-77 (70.1 percent) for 599 yards and eight touchdowns with one interception. His rating is 122.1.

 

 

Giants fans are keeping their fingers crossed that Manning's remarkable play will continue. If the Manning who finished the regular season with 23 touchdown passes, a 56.1 completion percentage, 20 interceptions and a 73.9 rating shows up at Lambeau, the Giants will be doomed for sure.

 

It's interesting to note that Palmer hasn't received a lot of recognition for tutoring Manning this season. That's fine with Palmer, who has always preferred working behind the scenes.

 

Palmer got most of the blame for David Carr's regression in 2005, and he was fired and replaced by Joe Pendry, who didn't do any better.

 

After the Texans fired him, Palmer was hired by Cowboys coach Bill Parcells in 2006. Palmer played a key role in Tony Romo's development as a bona fide NFL starter that season. When Parcells retired, Palmer was reunited with Gilbride and Tom Coughlin.

 

In 1990, Gilbride was retained by new Oilers coach Jack Pardee, who replaced Jerry Glanville. Gilbride recommended Palmer as receivers coach.

 

After the 1992 season that ended with the Buffalo debacle, Palmer accepted an offer from Parcells, who was New England's coach. The Oilers filed tampering charges, but there were no repercussions.

 

 

 

Eli fourth in a line

 

With the Patriots, Palmer coached the first of his four quarterbacks who were the top picks in their drafts. Drew Bledsoe preceded Tim Couch, Carr and Manning. Palmer and Bledsoe were members of the Patriots' 1996 Super Bowl team.

 

 

Meanwhile, Gilbride lasted 10 games into the 1994 season before he was fired in the Pardee purge that led to Jeff Fisher's becoming head coach of the Oilers. The next season, Coughlin hired Gilbride to be the first offensive coordinator of the expansion Jaguars.

 

Jacksonville became a power in 1996, and Gilbride parlayed the Jaguars' success into the head-coaching job at San Diego. After that season, Parcells moved to the Jets and offered Palmer a chance to go with him. But Palmer accepted Coughlin's offer to replace Gilbride.

 

Like Gilbride, Palmer turned two years in Jacksonville into a head coaching job. The expansion Browns hired him. Like Gilbride, he lasted only two seasons as a head coach. Tony Dungy tried to hire him to coach at Tampa Bay, but Palmer wanted to return to Houston and accepted an offer from Dom Capers.

 

After Gilbride was fired by the Chargers, he served as offensive coordinator at Pittsburgh and Buffalo, with a season as an ESPN analyst sandwiched between the Steelers and Bills.

 

In 2004, Coughlin hired Gilbride again, this time as the Giants' quarterbacks coach. He arrived in New York the same year as Manning. Before the last game of the 2006 season, Coughlin allowed Gilbride to call the plays, and the Giants won and clinched a playoff berth.

 

 

 

Joyous reunion

 

This season, Gilbride was promoted to coordinator, and he again recommended his old buddy, Palmer, as quarterbacks coach.

 

 

They've taken circuitous routes on the way to their most recent reunion, but it has been worth the wait.

 

For Gilbride, Palmer, Coughlin and the rest of the Giants, the only way life could get much better than eliminating the Cowboys at Texas Stadium would be to escape Lambeau Field with

a 10th consecutive road

victory.

 

John McClain covers the Texans and the NFL for the Chronicle. He can be heard on 610 AM Monday at 7:30 a.m., Tuesday at 10 a.m. and Friday at 4:30 p.m. john.mcclain@chron.com

 

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