NFC East: New York Giants
The New York Giants have so many needs on defense that it's impossible to break them all down in a single blog post. So we looked at safety last week, and today we'll look at the pass rush. Jason Pierre-Paul is a free agent with a unique set of questions swirling around him. Robert Ayers is a free agent who was hot in the second half of the season. Either or both of those defensive ends could be re-signed, but at this point neither should be viewed as an elite, long-term solution as an anchor for the defensive line.
Kerry Wynn is a nice, young rotational piece, but Owa Odighizuwa lost a year to injuries, George Selvie didn't show anything and the Damontre Moore experiment is obviously over. With Pierre-Paul and Ayers unsigned, the Giants' pass-rush cupboard is basically bare. And even if those guys do come back, they need to beef up. Once the defining strength of the franchise, the Giants' pass rush is in disrepair. So here's a look at some options for help:
The top target: Olivier Vernon.
Forget Super Bowl MVP Von Miller. Put him out of your mind. He's not getting out of Denver. The Broncos will franchise him if they have to, and they'll sign him eventually. You can't have him, and neither can anyone else. The next guy down the list is Vernon, the 25-year-old Dolphins defensive end who's averaged 8.5 sacks for the past three years. At 6-foot-2, 275 pounds, he fits the Giants' size profile for a 4-3 defensive end. He's not likely to fit under the Dolphins' cap, especially given how committed they are to defensive linemen Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake. The Giants will have competition, but if their aim is to sign the best pass-rusher available, this is the guy to target.
Outside-the-box option: Bruce Irvin
He's a strongside linebacker in Seattle's 4-3, but at 6-foot-3, 260 pounds, he wouldn't be totally out of place on the end of a 4-3 defensive line. What's interesting about Irvin is that he's shown some pass-rush ability in spite of not really being asked to do that in Seattle's scheme. He had eight sacks as a rookie in 2012 and had a total of 12 sacks the past two seasons. The Giants already have a young strongside linebacker with some pass-rush skills in Devon Kennard, but it's possible he could move to the middle, or that Irvin could fit as a pass-rush specialist who plays some linebacker and some defensive end. He's 28 and he's going to be a popular guy, especially since he's going to market himself as a better pass-rusher than Seattle asked him to be.
The incumbents: Jason Pierre-Paul and Robert Ayers
Pierre-Paul's chances to return depend on his contract demands. No one knows whether the surgery he had on his middle finger immediately after the season will allow him to play without the heavy club wrap on his damaged right hand, though that is Pierre-Paul's hope. He believes he still has elite ability and should command that kind of deal, and if he convinces some team to pay him $9 million or $10 million a year, he's almost certainly gone. But if he'll come back for something in the $6 million a year range, I imagine the Giants would welcome him back as part of their rotation -- just not the every-down anchor they once believed he could be. Ayers turns 31 in September, and if he wants a raise, he's likely got to find it elsewhere.
Other possibilities: Vernon's Dolphins teammate, Derrick Shelby, played well when Wake went down with an injury this season. The Giants had some preliminary interest in Adrian Clayborn last year, and he's free again this year. Tamba Hali is a name you know, but at 32 he's not likely on the Giants' target list unless the price gets really low.
The dream: Joey Bosa.
But the cost to trade up will be too high, even from No. 10. This is a player with a legitimate chance to go No. 1 overall, and even if he doesn't, I can't see him sliding past the Chargers at No. 3 or the Cowboys at 4.
The more likely target: Shaq Lawson
The Clemson defensive end is 270 pounds, knows how to play the run and has the tools to develop into an impact pass-rusher at the next level.
Todd has the Giants taking Louisville defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins in the first round. Rankins is a 300-pound run-stuffer who would help the Giants' league-worst defense right away -- possibly as an immediate starter but certainly at least as a member of the defensive line rotation. As an added bonus, his last name rhymes with that of Johnathan Hankins, the 2013 second-rounder who's already established himself as a solid starter at one of the defensive tackle positions. The pair would make the interior of the Giants' defensive line both tough and sonorous for years to come.
Now, I know some of you are going to see UCLA's Myles Jack going off the board at No. 11 and wonder why the Giants wouldn't take him. But if you read this page regularly, you know well that the Giants haven't drafted a linebacker in the first round since Carl Banks in 1984. That that's not a coincidence, but rather a deep-seated organizational belief about which positions are and are not worthy of high-end resources. I don't care how great Jack looks on film; the Giants aren't taking a linebacker at No. 10.
In the Giants' ideal world, I think they get a pass-rusher at this spot. McShay has Oregon's DeForest Buckner going one pick earlier and Clemson's Shaq Lawson all the way down at 17. I could see either of those guys emerging as a Giants pick. But if they believe they've addressed pass-rusher in free agency and/or don't love their options at No. 10, then someone like Rankins makes total sense.
The Giants' current predicament has a lot to do with the deterioration of both of their lines over the years. They've picked offensive linemen in two of the last three first rounds, but they haven't drafted a defensive player in the first round since Prince Amukamara in 2011 and they haven't picked a defensive lineman in the first round since Jason Pierre-Paul in 2010. It's time to think that way again.
When you cover pro sports for 20-plus years, it's rare to find players with whom you feel any kind of real connection. These guys make $1 million, $5 million, $20 million a year and have been unassailable stars since they were in high school. They operate in a different world than the one in which you and I live, even if I get to visit a small part of that world every day and ask them how it's going.
Tuck was unquestionably a great player. You don't need me to remind you that he sacked Tom Brady four times in two Super Bowls, or that he's sixth in Giants history in sacks, or that Michael Strahan looks at him as an equal or that Osi Umenyiora, Jason Pierre-Paul and Khalil Mack (among others) look at him as a mentor. Tuck is a two-time Super Bowl champion and a surefire Giants Ring of Honor member -- one of the most significant figures in the history of a franchise studded with them.
To me, though, Tuck the human being was always more interesting. He always seemed self-aware, which is a rare enough trait for high-profile pro athletes. But more than that, Tuck was -- and still is -- a player who's aware of the world around him, his place in it and the effect he has on it. He knew why the Giants put Pierre-Paul's locker next to his, and he took that responsibility seriously. He understood the jobs of those of us who walked around the locker room with notebooks and microphones, why we were there, what we needed and how we planned to use the insight and information with which he has always been so generous.
Bigger than all of that is the fact that Tuck and his wife have devoted such a significant chunk of their time to helping kids learn how to read. Go look up Tuck's R.U.S.H for Literacy and understand that this isn't just some charity at which Tuck has thrown his money or his name -- he spends his real time and energy on it to a stunning extent. If nothing else, Monday's announcement means even more hands-on time and effort from Tuck himself in helping children read. That's worth all of your admiration no matter how many sacks he had.
Tuck the player is worth celebrating. Tuck the person is even more fascinating. He could end up being a coach, a talk-show host like his man Strahan or a TV colleague of mine at ESPN and be great at any and all of it. I'm eager to see what he has planned next, after a well-deserved rest.
Meantime, if you're a Giants fan, Tuck is a representative of your team's latest glory days -- and a player and a person of whom you can be proud to be a fan. Congratulations to him on his career and his retirement. He has been the best of what you want in the players you root for.
As Ben McAdoo's New York Giants coaching staff continues to take shape, he's added a couple of interesting outside names in recent days. According to sources, McAdoo will hire Patriots linebackers coach Patrick Graham as their defensive line coach. Graham is a 37-year-old Yale graduate who's been on Bill Belichick's staff in New England since 2009 and is regarded as an up-and-coming defensive coaching mind.
Last weekend, ESPN's Adam Caplan reported that the Giants were hiring former Eagles linebackers coach Bill McGovern as their linebackers coach. McGovern is a well-regarded former Boston College position coach whose proteges there included current Giants linebacker Mark Herzlich and Carolina Panthers star Luke Kuechly.
McAdoo has said he won't announce any staff hires until the entire staff is complete, but we've been able to confirm most of the plans for the new coaching staff. Quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan is expected to succeed McAdoo as offensive coordinator, though the expectation is that McAdoo will continue to call offensive plays as the head coach. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and special-teams coordinator Tom Quinn are expected to remain in the same roles.
Former Chiefs offensive coordinator Mike Solari is expected to replace the departed Pat Flaherty as offensive line coach, with former Rams offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti replacing Sullivan as quarterbacks coach. Running backs coach Craig Johnson and tight ends Kevin M. Gilbride are expected to stay on, possibly in those same roles, while former LSU and 49ers wide receivers coach Adam Henry will join the staff and reunite with star wideout Odell Beckham Jr., whom he coached in college.
Secondary coaches Dave Merritt and Tim Walton are expected to remain with the team, as are offensive assistants Ryan Roeder and Lunda Wells and defensive assistant Rob Leonard.
As expected, the Giants will make a change at strength and conditioning coach. Jerry Palmieri, who's been with former Giants coach Tom Coughlin for decades, is being replaced by former Notre Dame strength and conditioning coach Aaron Wellman.
When he saw that Odell Beckham Jr. was one of the team captains for for Team Jerry Rice at this year's Pro Bowl, New York Giants teammate and fellow Pro Bowler Eli Manning says he didn't want to put too much pressure on his star wide receiver.
"I told Odell, 'I know you're captain, don't feel any pressure to draft me'," the Giants' quarterback said on a conference call Wednesday. "'But if you don't draft me, don't expect to catch any balls next year. No pressure at all.' I left it at that, and I think he'll make an educated decision at the draft."
When the Pro Bowl draft kicked off Wednesday night, it was Team Michael Irvin who had the first pick and took Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson. With the second pick, and with an eye toward the wishes of his captain, Rice took Manning.
A few picks later, Rice selected Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry, who's Beckham's best friend and former college teammate from LSU. So Beckham gets his quarterback throwing to him and his best buddy lined up in the slot next to him when the Pro Bowl gets going Sunday night on ESPN. And just in case Manning wasn't kidding, he can rest easy that his quarterback won't "forget" to look for him come September when the games count again.
Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was selected to the Pro Bowl initially and will be there, as will quarterback Eli Manning, who was added Friday as an injury replacement for Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger. The teams for the Pro Bowl will be drafted from the eligible participants Wednesday night and the game will be played Sunday night in Honolulu and televised on ESPN.
Rodgers-Cromartie had three interceptions and 13 passes defensed in his second year with the Giants. He returned one of the interceptions for a touchdown -- at home against the Cowboys on Oct. 25 -- and also returned a fumble for a touchdown in the season opener in Dallas. This is his second Pro Bowl. He last went in 2010 as a member of the Arizona Cardinals.
This is the first Pro Bowl for Brown, a 13-year veteran who made 30-of-32 field goal attempts for the Giants in 2015.
Jason Pierre-Paul had surgery Monday on his damaged right hand. It was planned. Actually, it was delayed until after the season so that Pierre-Paul could return from his July 4 fireworks accident and help the New York Giants' pass rush in the final weeks of the 2015 season.
Pierre-Paul said shortly before the end of the season that the goal of the surgery was to further repair his middle finger, which had been augmented by several skin-graft procedures due to his burns, so that he could flex it better and hopefully play with a four-fingered glove on his right hand instead of the big heavy club he wore this season. No word on how the surgery went, whether it accomplished its goal, and what Pierre-Paul's recovery timetable might be.
But all of those things remain of interest to the Giants and any other team that might be interested in signing Pierre-Paul, who is eligible for unrestricted free agency again this year. He is still hoping -- as he was a year ago -- for a big contract. He still spoke openly in the final weeks of the season about his belief that he is an uncommon, difference-making player, with the underlying point being he should be paid like one. Pierre-Paul said he would like to be back with the Giants, but that he couldn't predict where the market would place him.
So let's try.
There's no chance the Giants franchise-tag him again at $15 million or so. They did that last year because they expected him to be an elite performer and just weren't sure they wanted to commit long-term. After his accident and his return, Pierre-Paul showed he could still deliver high-quality performances, but his abilities as a game-wrecking edge defender were clearly limited by the club. He himself admitted "the film shows I can't tackle," and while the Giants and the tackles against whom he played were impressed by his speed and quickness off the edge, he struggled to shed when blockers engaged him.
It's possible the surgery fixes that, but there's not going to be any way for Pierre-Paul to prove that during free agency. Some team is going to have to take a chance. And that's why you won't see the Giants franchise him again, and you're not likely to see him compete for a top-of-the-market deal.
The Giants will consider bringing back Pierre-Paul, but they will set a price they think he is worth; if another team beats it, they will let him leave. That's basically the way the Giants handle all of their free agents, but in the case of Pierre-Paul, their perceived value is likely to be a lot lower than he expects. My guess (and this is a guess -- this is not sourced information) is that he can expect an offer in the range of $6 million to $7 million per year on a relatively short-term (two years? three?) contract. If he'll sign for that, then I wouldn't be shocked to see the Giants bring him back. If he wants more, I would expect him to have to find it elsewhere.
Now, I could be wrong. Pierre-Paul has a talented agent who, in spite of the summertime "he's getting bad advice" narrative the Giants were putting out there, handled the aftermath of the accident and the ultimate contract negotiation very well. Pierre-Paul ended up making about $6.95 million in 2015 thanks to playing-time and active-roster incentives -- not bad for a guy who didn't show up until late October and could use only one hand.
But as impressive as Pierre-Paul's comeback story was -- and it was one of the better ones of the season, in my opinion -- I think the damage to his hand will end up depressing his market value significantly. Lots of teams will be looking for the kind of edge pass-rusher who can get off as quickly as Pierre-Paul and get into the backfield to cause disruption. That pays well, and Pierre-Paul's performance over the second half of the 2015 season ensures he can continue his NFL career and make a fine living at it. But he probably has to sell himself as that situational speed rusher as opposed to the high-end game-wrecker he once was.
I don't know how Ben McAdoo is going to do as New York Giants head coach. Neither do they, and truth be told, neither does he. I'm sure he and they believe McAdoo's ready for the job, but there's no way to be sure. This is, to a large extent, a big leap of faith.
It's a hopeful, optimistic leap, though, and that's why I like it.
The most commonly cited reason the Giants might have decided to promote McAdoo instead of hiring someone from the outside to be Tom Coughlin's replacement is going to be the continuity factor with quarterback Eli Manning. But while the fact that Manning played well in McAdoo's two years as coordinator matters, it's not the reason to make McAdoo the head coach. Success as a coordinator doesn't guarantee success as a Head Coach, capital H, capital C. The qualities required for the two jobs are not identical.
The reason to give McAdoo this job, the details of which he and the Giants were finalizing Wednesday night, is because the Giants think they have in him a future coaching star. Having just sent one of the true, proven Head Coaches, capital H, capital C of the NFL out the door last week, the right move for the Giants is to swing for the fences in trying to replace him. They might end up being right or wrong about McAdoo, but they believe in him and his potential. So they're putting their chips on his number and casting a hopeful eye at the wheel of NFL fate.
Former Falcons coach Mike Smith, who interviewed Monday, would have been the do-no-harm choice. Everyone likes Mike Smith. He's well respected. He had great success in Atlanta, knows how to run a meeting room and hire a staff. Since he couldn't finish the job with the Falcons, he'd likely have come with something to prove, which would have been a bonus. But a vote for Smith would have been a vote for comfortable competence. He was probably the least likely to turn this thing into a total mess.
Former Bills coach Doug Marrone, who interviewed Saturday, would have been the shake-things-up choice. Marrone likely would have swaggered in with a new-sheriff-in-town vibe and a goal of making everyone uneasy in the intense pursuit of success. Word on Marrone is that he's a good coach with a strong, assertive personality that looks great when things are going well but might tend to rub people the wrong way when the losing starts. Might not have been the easiest dude with which to work, and that matters to the people who run the Giants.
McAdoo, again, is a risk, because he's never done this before. Heck, he'd never been a coordinator until the Giants hired him two years ago. He's 38 years old and alarmingly untested, but the Giants have seen enough glimpses of what they look for in a leader to entrust him with this thing.
McAdoo has demonstrated some of that comfortable competence, impressing Coughlin and his fellow coaches for the past two years with his work ethic, his intelligence, his sense of big-picture responsibility. But he's also shown a willingness to be aggressive and take chances with his playcalling. His is not a dull competence, and his lack of experience means he has everything to prove.
He has demonstrated some of that intensity, exhibiting a Coughlin-level focus during practices and in meetings. But he's also, the players say, big on individual relationships and knowing which specific buttons work best or worst when pushed on which specific guys. His training under Coughlin, and Mike McCarthy before him, has stressed the importance of coaching the individuals for the good of the whole. Since they've worked with him for two years, the people running the Giants don't worry about what he's like to work with.
Is he a real Head Coach, capital H, capital C? No idea. We need time to tell us that. But he sure looks like he can be. And while you as a Giants fan might not roll into work this morning beating your chest between the 1 and the 3 on your Odell Beckham Jr. jersey and hollering, "Yeah, Baby!! We got McAdooooooo!!!!", I think you have reason to look at this move with hope and optimism.
The Giants of the next couple of years could well continue to take their lumps as they continue to rebuild their roster. And McAdoo, as a new head coach, might need to take some lumps as well. But he's got the qualities and the caliber you want in a coach, and if he makes good on those things, the Giants have a chance to have something special. When you're replacing a coach like Tom Coughlin, you have to at least shoot for something special.
The reason I haven't been writing is because I've been on the phone, trying to figure out who's going to be the next head coach of the New York Giants. Here's where things stand as far as I know it, based on the most recent conversations I've had with people connected to this and other coaching situations around the league:
- The Giants are trying to bring in Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson for an interview later this week. At the moment, Giants owner John Mara is busy with the NFL owners meetings in Houston and can't meet with Jackson in New Jersey until Thursday. There was a strong sense Tuesday that Jackson did plan to take the interview, but nothing has yet been scheduled and Jackson is getting a hard push from the Cleveland Browns, who'd like an answer soon. It's still possible Jackson could take the Browns' head coach job before he ever meets with the Giants, though that doesn't seem like the wisest move in the world.
- Giants offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo remains a candidate for the job, but he's also emerged as a strong candidate in Philadelphia, where the Eagles are thought to be deciding between him and Doug Pederson, with Pat Shurmur still lurking as a possibility. The Eagles interviewed former Giants coach Tom Coughlin for the job Monday, but people close to the situation there consider that a long shot.
- Coughlin, by the way, was meeting with San Francisco 49ers GM Trent Baalke in New York City on Tuesday and could emerge as the top candidate for the 49ers' head-coaching job. I've been told Coughlin wants to go somewhere he can win right away, and it's tough to imagine how the 49ers can sell him that, with their unsettled quarterback situation and with Arizona and Seattle in their division. But if he wants to keep coaching, he probably can convince himself.
- I've been told not to overlook former Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith as a candidate for the Giants, especially if Jackson ends up in Cleveland and McAdoo ends up in Philadelphia. The Giants like Smith's demeanor and his record of success as a head coach in Atlanta, which had just two winning records in the nine seasons before he got there and went 56-24 in his first five years there.
- Others who've interviewed include Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, former Bills coach Doug Marrone and Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. The sense I get is that the Giants consider Marrone the strongest candidate from that group. The Giants currently have no other head coach interviews scheduled at this time.
In last week's news conference, New York Giants GM Jerry Reese cut off a reporter who asserted that his mid-to-late-round draft picks weren't panning out as successfully as were those of other teams. Reese demanded to see some numbers. He should be careful what he wishes for.
Our man Mike Sando offered this number today in his Insider column on whether Washington should be favored to repeat as NFC East champions in 2016:
"The players the Giants drafted since Jerry Reese became GM in 2007 combined to play a league-low 10,767 offensive and defensive snaps in the NFL this season. Other teams' picks over the same span averaged 16,448 snaps per team, or about 53 percent more snaps than the Giants' selections."
I mean, wow.
You can't stand up there and talk about building through the draft when you're using fewer of the players you've drafted over the past nine years than any other team in the league. You can't stand up there and say it's bad luck or your picks were too late in the round or you've had some injuries when your picks are participating in two-thirds as many plays as those of the average NFL team.
That's not bad luck. That's malpractice. We have enough of a sample size to say with accuracy and confidence that Jerry Reese, since becoming GM of the Giants, has done a terrible job of drafting NFL players -- maybe worse than any other GM (or combination of GMs!) that has been employed in the league during that time. It's not stunning news if you've been following along, and the team's 19-29 record the past three seasons speaks to a hollowed-out roster that needs years' worth of help.
By the way, the reporter from whom Reese demanded numbers, Jordan Raanan of NJ.com, did some research and came up with some damning numbers of his own. Any way you slice it, Reese and the Giants need to do better at the draft, or the doldrums in which they currently find themselves will continue. Giants fans had better hope Reese is more aware of the extent of his own failures than he lets on publicly. Because if he really thinks things haven't been that bad with the Giants and the draft, he's not looking at the numbers.
It was just a week ago that Tom Coughlin resigned as head coach of the New York Giants. And while it may feel as though it's been longer than that, the process of hiring Coughlin's replacement still likely has a ways to go before it's complete. They're not done interviewing candidates yet, and owner John Mara has to be in Houston on Tuesday and Wednesday for the special owners' meeting that will decide on Los Angeles relocation. So while the Giants' coaching search could wrap up this week and they would prefer it did, there's no guarantee it will.
That said, here's an update on where things stand, based on the conversations I've had in the past few days with people connected with the search:
-- The Giants interviewed former Bills coach Doug Marrone on Saturday. He appears to be a strong candidate, possibly even a front-runner, as there are some involved with the search who seem focused on finding a coach with previous NFL head-coaching experience. The Giants consider Marrone a program-builder based on his work in the college ranks at Syracuse and their belief that he had the Bills on the right track before taking a $4 million buyout last year after the team was sold. Buffalo was 9-7 in 2014, Marrone's second season there. That is the only winning season the Bills have had since 2004 and just their second since the turn of the century.
-- They will interview former Falcons head coach Mike Smith on Monday. Smith was 67-51 (counting playoffs) in seven years as coach of the Falcons from 2008-14, including 13-3 records in 2010 and 2012. He is 56 years old, so only five years older than Marrone, and he's well-liked and respected around the league. Smith had a rough final two seasons in Atlanta and earned some measure of negative fame for some high-profile game management blunders, but he may look a lot like Coughlin looked to the Giants when they hired him in 2004.
-- The other candidates who have interviewed are Giants offensive and defensive coordinators Ben McAdoo and Steve Spagnuolo, Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and former Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase, who was hired as head coach of the Miami Dolphins on Saturday and is therefore and obviously off the table. Of that group, McAdoo appears to have the best chance of landing the job, due to his work with the Giants the past two years and the success quarterback Eli Manning has had since McAdoo's been there. But McAdoo is only 38, has no head coaching experience and has only been a coordinator for these past two years. Current Giants players and coaches say positive things when asked off the record about McAdoo. He's intelligent, works hard and could be a rising star.
-- For those reasons, McAdoo appears to be a strong candidate for the Philadelphia Eagles' vacant head coaching job as well. I'm told the Eagles, who were interviewing Kansas City offensive coordinator Doug Pederson on Sunday, were impressed with McAdoo when they interviewed him last week and that he's under serious consideration there. The Giants would have to be very confident in their own choice if they were to let McAdoo go to a division rival.
-- Speaking of the Eagles, they'll be talking today with Coughlin himself. Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie called Coughlin last week and asked if they could talk. Coughlin, who still wants to coach, agreed, and the Giants (who still hold Coughlin's rights because he resigned) granted the Eagles permission to talk to him. You can't rule out the possibility of Coughlin moving down the Turnpike to Philly, but the people to whom I've spoken about this believe the Eagles will go younger and more progressive at head coach and are talking to Coughlin mainly to pick his brain and ask him about McAdoo, whom they're seriously considering.
-- One intriguing name who hasn't shown up on the Giants' interview schedule yet but still could is Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. He interviewed with the Browns and 49ers on Sunday and could be snatched up before the Giants can interview him. But I have been told that the Giants are interested in speaking with Jackson. They just haven't reached out to the Bengals yet to secure permission.
At this point, I'd be surprised if the next head coach wasn't someone from this list. I'd expect the Giants to have this wrapped up within the next week. But that's just my feeling on the subject based on my reporting, and you can't rule out the idea that a new name or two will surface or that the process will take longer than they want it to take.
A surprising name hit the list of potential new Giants coaches late Wednesday night when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fired head coach Lovie Smith. As the New York Giants sift through the usual-suspects list of coordinators, they'd be wise to schedule some interview time with Smith, who offers something others on their current list of candidates do not.
As discussed here Tuesday, the most important thing for the Giants to find in their search to replace Tom Coughlin is a HEAD coach. Not an offensive-minded coach. Not a defensive-minded coach. Not a former Giants assistant coach. Not someone who'll keep the offense the same for Eli Manning, who's professional and adaptable and will be fine no matter what. All of that stuff falls into place if you have the right leader -- a person who understands the responsibilities of the head coach and can prioritize execution over the installation of some new "system."
Smith is a head coach. He led the Bears for nine years from 2004 to 2012. He took them to a Super Bowl with Rex Grossman at quarterback, for cripes' sake. Yes, he's a disciple of the Tampa 2 defense of Tony Dungy from his time with Tampa Bay in the late 1990s. And he got his head-coaching opportunity thanks in part to his work as the Rams' defensive coordinator in the early 2000s. But he has been a head coach in the NFL for 11 of the past 13 years. He had five winning seasons with the Bears, including two 11-win years and a 13-win year that culminated in that Super Bowl loss to Dungy's Colts. He has led and inspired players to be their best. He has put together a staff. He has made the calls on game day.
Now, as we've been saying here, there is no perfect candidate. Smith was 8-24 the past two years in Tampa Bay. You'd certainly want to ask some questions about why the Bears fired him after a 10-6 season in 2012 and why the Bucs gave him only two seasons before kicking him out the door. Those are questions you need to get answered, in case there's something under the surface here that makes Smith a less desirable guy to have around than his record and reputation indicate he is.
But assuming you get satisfactory answers there, Smith is a candidate who brings a level of heft and experience not found on the current coordinator carousel. He may not turn out to be the best candidate, but he has something most of the others don't: a record of success as a head coach in the NFL. The Giants would be nuts not to at least bring him in for a chat.
The New York Giants are lining up interviews with candidates to succeed Tom Coughlin as their head coach. They interviewed offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo for the job Tuesday, the day of Coughlin's farewell news conference, and have at least three more interviews set up with candidates for later in the week.
McAdoo's candidacy is interesting, and not just to the Giants. A source said he has an interview scheduled Thursday with the Philadelphia Eagles for their head coaching job. Just 38 years old and with only two years of coordinator experience, McAdoo feels like he would be a long shot candidate as a head coach at this point. But I've spoken with several Giants players in recent days who have told me they believe McAdoo has the demeanor and the work ethic to succeed as a head coach. I also spoke with a source who said Coughlin would support and endorse McAdoo as a candidate because of his work ethic and his so-far successful relationship with Giants quarterback Eli Manning.
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will get his interview Thursday, according to sources familiar with the search. My understanding is that the Giants aren't interviewing candidates Wednesday because co-owner John Mara has a meeting of the league's L.A. relocation committee to attend, but that the team will interview Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase on Friday and former Bills coach Doug Marrone on Saturday.
I've also been told the Giants have an interest in Carolina defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, though as of Wednesday morning no interview had been scheduled with him. Since Carolina is on a playoff bye week, Panthers assistants can interview this week and weekend, but not next week.
If the Giants want to interview coaches whose teams are playing playoff games this weekend -- i.e., Cincinnati offensive coordinator Hue Jackson -- they have to wait until next week. Coordinators and assistants on teams that win in the wild-card round and advance to division-round games are permitted to interview in the week between those games. Traditionally, the interviewing team would fly in to meet the candidate, so as to minimize disruption to the playoff team's preparation.
Expect the Giants to continue adding names to their list. As of now, none of the candidates on the interview schedule would satisfy the Rooney Rule (though Jackson would, if he's added to the list). It's been 12 years since the Giants interviewed head coach candidates, so casting as wide a net as possible to gather as many possible candidates and perspectives makes a ton of sense.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- There is a feeling of unbalanced blame around the New York Giants this week. Why, when everyone seems to agree that the roster wasn't good enough to win, is coach Tom Coughlin the one who's leaving while general manager Jerry Reese gets to stay?
"Listen, we've had three losing years in a row, and a lot of that is due to some personnel decisions that have been made," Giants owner John Mara said Tuesday. "But I still believe that Jerry Reese is the right guy to lead us going forward. Why do I believe that? Jerry put together two Super Bowl-winning teams. I would venture to say, if we were to poll all of you in this room two years ago about who the top general managers in the league are, every one of you would have him on your list. So now, two years later, after another bad season, do we want to throw all of that out? I still think he's capable of putting a great team together, and he's going to get that opportunity. I still have full confidence in him."
It's a pretty major stretch to credit Reese with the 2007 Super Bowl championship team, as he became the GM that year and most of the key pieces were put in place by his predecessor, Ernie Accorsi. And the 2011 team that won it again was a 9-7 team that took off when a lot of those remaining championship pieces woke up at just the right time late in the season. So Mara's inflating Reese's accomplishments a little bit.
But that's just the opinion of one sportswriter who probably wouldn't have answered Mara's theoretical 2014 poll the way he suggests. You can disagree with me on Reese; Mara does, and it's his team. So let's stick to the issue of why the Giants' GM position isn't fungible and the coaching one is.
The Giants have changed GMs twice in the past 37 years. George Young got the job in 1979, ceded it in 1998 to Accorsi, who held it until Reese took over in 2007. Accorsi worked for the Giants for three years before getting the big job. Reese worked for the Giants for 13 years before becoming the GM. The Giants' GMs come from within the family, from within the organizational structure. It's not a position they view as one they seek to change.
"I think that's part of our philosophy," Mara said. "If you still believe that the person has what it takes to build a winning team, you have to stay with him. You have to ride through the highs and lows and give him a chance. And he's going to have that opportunity."
He's going to have to do better with it. If you're going to credit Reese with the two Super Bowl titles, you also have to point out that the Giants have made the playoffs in only three of his nine seasons as GM. The Giants are 85-62 in those nine seasons (counting postseason games), but just 67-52 since the first two. Once the roster started reflecting Reese's drafts, the team began its slide into mediocrity.
"We have lost some credibility as an organization," Mara said.
That's the worst thing for an owner of a team like this, and it can't be allowed to linger. Mara said he has spoken with Reese and that Reese knows this is on him. Reese seemed a little less convinced Tuesday.
"The roster is up to me, and I take full responsibility for everything that's happened," Reese said in one breath. Then in the next: "Nobody has a perfect roster. But you have to manufacture wins in different ways. You've got to play the hand you're dealt, and you've got to win with it. We lost too many close games we had a chance to win."
That's something that would have been better for Reese to say in his head and not out loud on a day when the coach was heading out the door and he wasn't. But more important than what Reese said in a news conference is what he and the Giants can do from this point forward. He has a a ton of cap room and a second straight top-10 draft pick. He has the support of ownership. He'll get a say in picking the next coach.
There aren't a lot more safety nets for Reese here. The Giants have gotten rid of a coordinator, another coordinator and a head coach the past three offseasons. Eventually, if you keep going 6-10, the fact that your team hates to fire the GM isn't going to save you anymore.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Of course it was a prepared speech. It had to be. Preparation is right there next to breathing on Tom Coughlin's priority list. The now-former New York Giants coach's farewell news conference on Tuesday wasn't going to be some unpredictable Q&A with reporters. Coughlin had a message, and he delivered it with military-grade energy and precision.
"While the two Super Bowl trophies out here are incredible accomplishments, and I'm very proud of them, don't get me wrong," Coughlin said in the climax of his pulpit-pounding speech, "I believe it is the unbreakable bond between coach and player that defines me as a coach and any humble success we might have had here as New York Giant coaches."
Yes, pulsing at the center of a news conference he didn't even have to give was a message from Coughlin to the Giants and any other NFL team looking for a coach this offseason: Rather than focus on what's hot or what's wrong, consider what's important.
"While it is the job of the head coach to get the technical football right, to make sure the X's and O's are efficient, that the players have a great plan and a chance to win games," Coughlin said, "it is our duty to equip these men with the virtues that will last a lifetime -- the values like honesty, trust, responsibility, respect, service and integrity. Those are the things that we teach, in addition to football."
You want to know who the next Giants coach will be. Whether he'll be an "offensive-minded" or "defensive-minded" coach. Whether his "system" will suit Eli Manning. Whether he'll keep offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo (assuming the new head coach isn't McAdoo himself). These are all good, buzzy questions being asked around the league.
But the better question, when looking for a head coach, is what kind of leader he is. Whether he can dig into the hearts and minds of his players, find what moves them and use it to motivate them and galvanize them and spark something in them that drives them to win games. That's the skill that brought the Giants the greatest of Super Bowl glories during the time Coughlin spent as their coach. That's what matters.
Someone asked Giants owner John Mara whether the idea of changing the offense around Manning was a factor in the decision about the next coach, and he said, "It's certainly a factor, but at the end of the day you have to get the right man for the job."
Not just empty words, those. The Giants clearly hit that part of it out of the park 12 years ago, and everyone here knows there's no guarantee it goes as well this time. Quality NFL head coaches are a bit like quality NFL starting quarterbacks, in that there might not be enough of them for all 32 teams. The skills required for the job go well beyond the televised decisions about when to throw challenge flags or go for it on fourth down.
"It has become the source of drive for me, that when our players, whether they're still in their career or after their career, when they come back to me and say, 'Coach, I love you,'" Coughlin said. "They follow that up by saying they've become better men, better husbands, better fathers, better friends because of their experience having been a New York Giant."
You as a fan who just wants the team to win games can dismiss this as sappy hogwash, but you'd be missing a vital point. Coughlin's players don't love him because he coddled them and let them do whatever they wanted to do. Quite the opposite, actually. Coughlin's players love him because he drew something out of them. They love him for giving them the incentive and the ability to make themselves successful. That's a skill that transcends any coaching system or philosophy.
"Championships are won by teams that love one another, respect one another, play for and support one another," Coughlin said.
Two of those aforementioned Super Bowl trophies in the lobby of the Giants' building prove the man knows whereof he speaks. The Giants -- and any other team out there looking for a new coach -- would do well to pay attention. What do you want in your next head coach? Offense? Defense? College? Pro? Young? Old?
Leader. That's what you want. A leader of people, one who understands the skills and responsibilities inherent to the task. Nail that part and the rest will all fall into place.