EAST RUTHERFORD — Two years before John Mara named Ben McAdoo the successor to Tom Coughlin in New York, he was facing an existential crisis of sorts.
As Coughlin’s last playoff appearance and Super Bowl win fell further away, Mara couldn’t shake the idea that the Giants were a dusty franchise more interested in maintaining lifetime appointments and a familial atmosphere.
He remembered the lean years in New Jersey back in the 1970s. The team bounced from Alex Webster to Bill Arnsparger to John McVay to Ray Perkins with little success. An image of a fan, who brought in a prop depicting his father and longtime owner Wellington hanged in effigy, was hard to erase in his mind. He didn’t want to go there again.
He recalled that moment just a few months after green lighting the hiring of McAdoo as offensive coordinator in 2014. Considered a bold move at the time, the Giants started picking off one tenured Coughlin assistant after the next to reenergize the franchise. The ultimate pivot came in January 2016, when McAdoo beat out several experienced candidates like Mike Smith and Hue Jackson to become the head coach.
On Monday, the Giants fired McAdoo after less than two seasons. He was 13–15 with one playoff appearance—a loss to the Packers in Green Bay. And while time has passed since Mara’s revelation that the team must evolve, the fear that comes with such a responsibility—and the anger that he has failed to do so—hasn’t gone away.
“Of course I’m embarrassed,” Mara said. “2–10, there’s no defense for that when expectations were so high. I understand that we’ve had a ridiculous number of injuries—it’s the first time in my life I remember sitting at a game and constantly looking at the flip card to try and determine who we were playing, but that being said, we still started out 0–5 with a relatively healthy roster until that fifth game when all the receivers got injured.”
Mara was doing his best not to be terse. He was clearly upset; a symptom of an emotional series of meetings with Jerry Reese and McAdoo which began at 10:30 a.m. at the team’s facility in East Rutherford, just off Route 3. Prior to firing his head coach and general manager, Mara met with co-owner Steve Tisch and both agreed comprehensive changes were necessary.
While some owners have perfected the faux outrage they need to show in order to pacify their fan base amid a losing season, the decision to fire both mid-season, especially a homegrown scout like Reese, legitimately seemed to gnaw at him. The only comfort seemingly came from the announcement that long-time general manager Ernie Accorsi would consult on the team’s search for a new general manager and that former Coughlin lieutenant Steve Spagnuolo would be interim head coach.
“[The search] starts right away,” Mara said. “Ideally, you’d like to have a general manager placed first before the head coach.”
It capped a strange day in East Rutherford. Out of all 32 NFL franchises, the likelihood that a horde of reporters would descend on this facility uninvited, especially on a day where no press was initially scheduled, was extraordinarily low. There were photographers waiting for the McAdoo getaway shot—a sight reminiscent of the Jets’ facility during some of Rex Ryan's more turbulent seasons. When a formal press conference was set up, Mara spent roughly half of his time in front of cameras explaining the almost comical disconnect between himself and McAdoo over the benching of Eli Manning, a moment that Mara said had no impact on McAdoo’s firing.
The departure from normal operating procedure is exactly why Mara needed to make wholesale changes he did on Monday morning. This is his life and burden: To maintain the standards and character of the Giants organization while marrying it with a coaching and managerial philosophy that can sustain success in this new NFL.
He’ll face a fan base on Sunday as the only person left on the masthead to be blamed for this mess. Luckily for those fans, it serves as motivation.
“I’m very conscious of the fact that three of our last four games are at home,” Mara said when asked why he changed his mind and decided to fire a coach in season. “I’m conscious of, having lived through it before, what the reaction was going to be.”