Dave Gettleman knew the score when he walked into the arena with his boss, John Mara, before the end of the season. And just because the Giants general manager survived the fight doesn’t mean he emerged feeling like a winner.
As a matter of fact, a week later, he’s still sick over the whole thing.
The coach Gettleman helped pick in 2018, Pat Shurmur, is gone now, having lost the same battle that the GM got through. The search for Shurmur’s replacement is underway, and Gettleman isn’t hiding from the fact that plenty of the franchise’s burdens sit with him—which is why he felt anything but “safe” coming out of his end-of-season meetings with ownership.
“Oh, I was interviewing for my job as well,” Gettleman said from his office Thursday morning. “I had substantive conversations with John and [co-owner] Steve [Tisch] over the last week-and-a-half, and my fanny was on the line too. It wasn’t an either or. We were both under the gun. And I feel awful about what happened. Obviously, I’m responsible for supporting him. I’ve told people in our building, really and truly, we’re all support staff.
“Everybody is support staff for the coaches and players. Everybody’s got a piece of what happens. And I’ve got a pretty big piece. And I feel awful about it. Pat’s a fine man, he’s a fine football coach. There are probably a million different reasons, everybody has their own opinion. This is what happened, and I feel awful about it. I truly do. It stinks.”
It was also a wakeup call for Gettleman, one he plans on answering.
We’re into the playoffs now, and this week we’re going to get you ready for the wild-card round. We have…
• Players to watch for every team in the wild-card round.
• Two under-the-radar prospects to watch in this weekend’s bowl games.
• The one thing no one is talking about this week.
But we’re starting with more from head coach-search season, from a guy who will be in the room as interviews get going.
Under all the above circumstances, December sent Gettleman into self-evaluation. Having to fight to keep a dream job will do that to a guy. As such, the Giants GM tried to question just about everything he was doing.
“We’ve got to re-organize here in terms of making use of technology and analytics, and we’re in the process of that,” Gettleman said. “We’ve got a plan in place. I’ve got to do a better job of that. Like I said, we’re support staff for the coaches. I’ve gotta be better there for them. Obviously, you can always tighten up your evaluation stuff and your scouting, and we’re always doing that. I completely tore that apart when I got here. You can always be better at your job. I ask myself every day, ‘Have I given the coaches enough players to win with?’
“And as you move forward, you continue to evaluate that stuff, and evaluate yourself.”
Coming out of it, there are a few things you can expect from the Giants, per the GM.
The analytics question will be answered. The team has traditionally been tight-lipped about how they work in this area. Tyseer Siam, a well-thought-of analyst, has been on staff for years, and Gettleman promises that the team’s going to invest more there—“We’re gonna look to [Siam] to lead us into a world where we have a robust analytics/technology program.”
That’ll likely mean some new hires, and more infrastructure for the department to try and push the team closer to the front of the league.
Another key figure is assistant GM Kevin Abrams, the team’s chief contract negotiator who’s quietly spearheaded the team’s recent efforts to build up its analytics department. Along those lines, Abrams is guiding the team through its reorganization. It’s easy for Gettleman to trust him with that, since the two have a working relationship going all the way back to when each first worked for the team back in the late 1990s.
Leaving the past behind. We’ve written about this recently—the Giants have gotten feedback that parts of the organization have become stagnant, largely because so many people there have been there for so long. In essence, the team was once seen as laudably stable, but some worry they’ve gotten stale. Gettleman, who first started in East Rutherford 20 years ago. didn’t really fight the idea.
“I’ll respond to that this way—there are people in here that have to challenge themselves more,” he said. “Everybody needs to up their game.”
Read that for what it is: a call for everyone to push themselves more. Know that it might extend to creating a carrot for a candidate or two, having a more malleable organization for which to work. Remember that one of New York’s prime candidates, Baylor’s Matt Rhule, did work for the Giants for a year. I can say Rhule has a fairly well-formed idea of what might need to change, and my belief is the Giants are aware of his feelings.
Continuing the push in scouting. When Gettleman said he “tore apart” the team’s scouting system, he wasn’t kidding. The Giants’ grading scale has been flipped the last couple of years to reflect that players coming out of college are younger and less prepared for the pros than they used to be—Gettleman has tried to emphasize physical ability and mental capacity to learn over just what a player has on his college tape.
“There are a handful of guys who are ready to help you right now,” he said. “Then there are guys who are ready at varying levels. But is there anybody coming in with a complete game? Very, very few. So you have to look at the big picture.”
He hopes the team has done that, and they’ll continue to look for areas like this one where they can improve how they look at players. There’s evidence, too, that they’re making progress.
Keep what’s right about the plan. Gettleman has high hopes for his high draft picks over the last two years—like Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley, Will Hernandez, DeAndre Baker and Dexter Lawrence. He’s also excited about some of the guys the Giants have found down the line (like receiver Darius Slayton and corner Corey Ballentine) and even off the scrap heap (tight end Kaden Smith). But he’s most proud of how they’ve all worked together.
“I really believe in the two years we’ve been here, we’ve accomplished the culture piece,” he said. “We’ve improved the talent on the roster, we’ve got a lot of young players on the roster that showed flashes. What it is now is consistency. A lot of the pieces we have in here just have to grow up.”
Now, the question is who will lead this team as that happens.
Gettleman will be one of three in the room for the initial set of head coaching interviews, along with Mara and Abrams, but the final decision won’t be his. Mara and Tisch will make the call. But Gettleman does know what he’s looking for, and it has nothing to do with what side of the ball a coach has or which program he might have come from.
“It’s CEO-type skills,” Gettleman said. “Your head coach has to be intelligent, bright and forward-thinking, and he has to be a leader. If people look at me and things aren’t going as well as we’d like, I can’t fold. And obviously, you need that in a head coach.”
Of course, Gettleman understands those sorts of situations well now because he’s been through them the last two years. The blood from the team’s 9-23 mark over that time is on his hands, and what was forever seen as a Cadillac head coaching job is now viewed with a skeptical eye by coaches with options.
So as much as candidates have to sell themselves to the Giants in the coming days, there will be guys who’ll need to be sold on the Giants—and Gettleman gets that. And after two years in charge, and this particular stay of execution, he’s prepared to sell what the team does have.
“It’s an iconic franchise with Super Bowl championship history,” he said. “You have an exciting young quarterback, an exciting young running back, we’ve got a lot of young talent here. And if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.”
Gettleman’s still got his shot to make it there. He knows he’s fortunate to. And he’s doing all he can now to make the most of it.
WILD-CARD WATCH LIST
Bills QB Josh Allen: Buffalo’s done a lot right this year, with quarterback play standing as perhaps the biggest week-to-week variable. Allen’s last really strong outing was over a month ago, on Thanksgiving in Dallas, which puts the spotlight on the 23-year-old going into his first playoff start.
Vikings QB Kirk Cousins: Different quarterback, same kind of pressure on Cousins this week. We’ll probably all make too much of how he plays, whether it’s good or bad.
Eagles TE Zach Ertz: The Eagles’ November loss to Seattle came at a time when the injury bug started to sting the team at the skill positions. They’ve adjusted since, but one thing that will remain constant is how Philadelphia leaned on its tight ends that afternoon—Ertz had 12 catches for 91 yards, and Dallas Goedert had seven catches for 32 yards.
Seahawks LT George Fant: Pete Carroll hasn’t ruled out Duane Brown yet, but did say that his return for Sunday’s game, coming off minor knee surgery, would be “miraculous.” That puts Fant in the crosshairs, as Seattle tries to run it like they did against the Eagles in November—the Seahawks went for 174 yards on 26 carries in that 17-9 win.
Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore: The Defensive Player of the Year candidate is coming off his worst game of an otherwise stellar season—DeVante Parker torched him for eight catches and 137 yards. And with the Titans bringing A.J. Brown and Corey Davis to Foxboro, how the New England coaches deploy Gilmore should be fascinating.
Titans CB Adoree’ Jackson: The third-year corner has been a full participant in practice for the first time in a month, and his presence would be enormous on Saturday. If he’s right, the Titans should be able to effectively man up a mediocre New England receiver group. If he’s not? Well, the Titans secondary has really struggled without him.
Saints CB Janoris Jenkins: Eli Apple missed practice Wednesday with an ankle injury, and it looks like he could miss his second straight game Sunday, which puts the new acquisition Jenkins in the crosshairs. I’d look for the Vikings to test Jenkins with whoever isn’t being covered by Marshon Lattimore, whether that’s Stefon Diggs or Adam Thielen.
Texans DE JJ Watt: Houston didn’t miss Jadeveon Clowney—until Watt got hurt. Since then, generating a pass rush became a slog for Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. It is, of course, hard to know how much Watt will bring to the table after his lightning-fast comeback from a torn pec. But we also know how dominant he can be.
TWO FOR SATURDAY
(These are actually on Thursday this week, a light one for bowl games)
Cincinnati TE Josiah Deguara (vs. Boston College, Birmingham Bowl, ESPN, 3 p.m.): Once told he was too slow to be a receiver and too small to be a tight end, the 6' 3", 240-pounder has received comparisons from people at Cincinnati to Bearcat alum Travis Kelce as a moveable piece that can play all over. He heads into the bowl game with 36 catches for 492 yards and seven touchdowns on the year.
“He has good toughness as a blocker and he’s a good athlete,” said one NFC scout. “He’s very versatile, able to play H-back. And he ran down a DB on an interception against UCLA to save a touchdown.”
As a reference point, the three-time All-Pro Kelce went in the third round in 2013. Deguara could work his way into that range the next few weeks, starting in a couple weeks at the Senior Bowl.
Tennessee LB Darrell Taylor (vs. Indiana, Gator Bowl, ESPN, 7 p.m.): Taylor—a 6' 4", 255-pound senior—has 24 career starts and 18 career sacks, and enters this game with seven sacks, four pass breakups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery on the season. As is the case with Deguara, Senior Bowl week will be significant for him.
“Very well-built outside linebacker,” said an AFC college scouting director. “Good run defender that can handle NFL tight ends, but is streaky as a pass rusher. His production doesn’t always match up with his build and his physical tools. But he’s going to play for someone.”
Taylor won’t be a first-rounder, but does have a shot to go somewhere on Day 2 of the draft, partly because teams are always looking for pass-rush help.
THE ONE THING NO ONE IS TALKING ABOUT
The formula for winning in 2019 has changed from what it was in ’18. The NFL’s top two running games were in Baltimore and San Francisco, which won the top seeds in the AFC and NFC, respectively. The NFL’s top two defenses were in San Francisco and New England, and Baltimore finished fourth in that category. Meanwhile, the NFL’s top four pass offenses and seven of the top 10 in that category missed the playoffs.
Likewise, we saw a shift on the coaching market this week that many forecast over the last couple of months—a correction over last year’s overreach for young offensive assistants. More guys with head-coaching experience are being considered, and defensive coaches aren’t being dismissed, and the one hire we’ve had so far (Ron Rivera in Washington) is proof of both those things. And there’ll be more coming.
What does this prove?I remember a conversation I had with Chip Kelly a few years ago about RPOs and the option game, and he pushed back hard against calling what was happening in the NFL a “revolution”. As he saw it, it was far more evolution—part of the cat-and-mouse game that’s pushed football in different directions pretty consistently over time, where everyone is constantly adjusting to everyone else.
In fact, Kelly mentioned a coach by the name of Dutch Meyer, who was running RPOs at TCU in the late 1940s and early ’50s, They didn’t call them that, but they were built, like they are, to create conflict for the defense. Defenses then adjusted, and offenses found something new, and so on and so forth.
The point is, football is inherently cyclical. Teams may adjust and innovate faster now, in part because of technology (so much film is readily available to everyone), but the idea itself hasn’t changed.
So if someone says football is changing forever? This year is just more proof, that all you have to do is wait for a little while, and it’ll change again.
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