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Giants Fire Ben McAdoo, Whose Personality Clashed With the Demands of the Head Coaching Job

The Giants needed a Tony-Robbins style head coach during this tumultuous season. Instead, with McAdoo, they got Elmer Fudd.

When Ben McAdoo was a child, unable to make weight for his peewee football team in Homer City, Penn., it never made sense to foster his size and wait for high school. He wanted to play now, with his friends, so he taped a garbage bag over his body and ran around town trying to shed pounds.

When he was a young assistant coach in the NFL, it never made sense to play office politics despite everyone jockeying for position around him. So, he just buried his head in the encyclopedic playbook and became Mike McCarthy’s resident Bunsen Honeydew. The smartest man, he thought, would eventually get the promotion.

When he was finally promoted to head coach of the New York Giants, it never made sense to him that so many of his contemporaries associated how one looks with how one performs, so he showed up at his introductory press conference in an oversized Men’s Wearhouse special, partially flummoxed by the buttoned-up, suit-and-tie Tom Coughlin regime. People in Homer City wore Timberlands with jeans, and everything seemed to work out okay.

On Monday, McAdoo was fired. He is the first Giants head coach to last two seasons or fewer since 1991 (Ray Handley) and the first fired in-season since Bill Arnsparger in 1976, proving once again that the NFL is no place for the sometimes-stubborn introvert. As much as this move was a stunning departure from the Giants’ normally pragmatic ways, the firing speaks to how fundamentally doomed ownership believed McAdoo was in New York. He wasn’t the only one—general manager Jerry Reese was also let go.

There is a certain level of psychopathy involved in being an NFL head coach. The most successful leaders are part used-car salesman, part Mega-church televangelist. They can make you see things that aren’t there. They can craft an alternate reality. Coughlin was discipline. Bill Parcells was toughness. McAdoo was a quiet soul—a doting father and coach who did most of his best work in one-on-one settings. As much as the family-oriented Giants fell in love with this authentic persona when they hired him to replace Coughlin back in 2016, they came to quickly understand that it takes a bit of narcissism, insanity and panache to survive an avalanche. But like any normal person, it never made sense for McAdoo to sit out there covered in snow, telling people how much he enjoyed the cold.

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Who Is Ben McAdoo, and Can He Reclaim the Giants?

His inability to tap-dance around the Eli Manning benching—a decision that was agreed upon at the highest levels of the organization—ended up being a tipping point of sorts, according to a person with knowledge of the team's turmoil. But it was not the deciding factor in his firing on Monday morning after a 24–17 loss to the Raiders. Amid a season where the team started 0–5, lost their transcendent star wide receiver and dealt with player walkouts, anthem protests, anonymous rip jobs and on-field loafing, the Giants needed a coaching equivalent to Tony Robbins. Instead, they got Elmer Fudd.  

While McAdoo dealt with a hollow roster, a mild-mannered quarterback at the end of his career and a locker room split between rudderless rookies and pissed-off, high-paid veterans who expected an NFC East title, he was ultimately responsible for his own undoing.     

He waited weeks to give up play calling, finally ending a perception among players that he only cared about what happened in the quarterback room. He waited months to finally start pulling his best players aside and asking them what the hell was wrong. He suspended certain players quickly, while giving others an incredibly long leash. His Packer-hybrid offense was predictable even with Odell Beckham on the field, despite the Giants making the playoffs in McAdoo’s only full season as head coach.

Giving up after the avalanche speaks to more than just one man’s failure, though. It’s the reason McAdoo is almost certainly not the only high-profile name that will be swept up as the snow rolls downhill. When ownership rebuilds from the ground up, they’ll have to decide what can make them better, and not just make them the Giants. As one of the league’s most successful franchises, it won’t be difficult for them to attract the highest-profile coach and general manager combination, a la Josh McDaniels and Scott Pioili, on the market this offseason. It will take longer for McAdoo to recover. After all, it never made sense for McAdoo to fight back; to campaign and save himself at the first sign of trouble.