To Fix This Mess, the Giants Might Want to Borrow a Page from Their History Book
You can point to the bad drafts that former general manager Jerry Reese delivered in his tenure or the mismanagement of the salary cap that forced the Giants to overspend on players to compensate.
You can even point to the head coaching flops of Ben McAdoo and, more recently, Pat Shurmur. How did this happen? How can the Giants be 2-11 and if they lose to the Dolphins on Sunday will set the franchise record with 10 consecutive losses?
If you’re looking for the turning point where it all went wrong for the Giants since their 2011 Super Bowl championship, look back to end of the 2015 season when the Giants and head coach Tom Coughlin split up.
Did Coughlin need to go? Yes. But where the Giants went wrong is that they left key cogs of the Coughlin era in place on the guise of stability that wasn't there.
A Quick History Lesson
If we go back to the Wilderness Years, a span of nearly two decades starting in 1964 in which the Giants, who had been perennial championship contenders, didn’t qualify for the postseason, a significant reason why they were able to put an end to that misery was that chose significant organizational changes over a patchwork approach.
The Maras—Wellington and nephew Tim—put aside their differences and accepted the recommendation of then NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, who suggested they hire, George Young - a budding football executive who had worked for the Baltimore Colts and Miami Dolphins - to be their general manager,
Young, announced as the team’s new GM on Valentine’s Day 1979 in an evening press conference at a midtown Manhattan steakhouse, became the Giants' first general manager to receive full authority over football decisions (a role previously held by Wellington Mara). He then proceeded to hire a new head coach (Ray Perkins), and he drafted the franchise quarterback (Phil Simms), who became a staple for decades.
By starting from scratch, the Giants, within three years, were competitive again, reaching the playoffs in 1981 for the first time since the 1963 season.
The rest is history as Young, who, along with head coach Bill Parcells, Perkins' successor after he resigned to return to coach the University of Alabama after the 1982 season, continued to build a competitive franchise.
In many ways, the Giants of today now find themselves in a similar situation. Except for 2016, they haven’t been to the playoffs since their Super Bowl championship in the 2011 season.
Their won-loss record has mostly gotten worse from year to year, and they've won just ten games in the last three seasons, the fewest in the NFL.
In what they likely hoped would be a "Hail Mary" of sorts, the Giants brought back general manager Dave Gettleman a few days before the end of the miserable 2017 season. Although Gettleman never having worked directly for Young, he still hails from that management tree, having worked with Young's assistant and successor, Ernie Accorsi.
Gettleman's first move was to hire Pat Shurmur as the head coach, but they left long-time quarterback Eli Manning in place despite concerns whether Manning and Shurmur would be an ideal fit.
They weren't. The Giants won only five games in 2018, drafted Duke quarterback Daniel Jones with the sixth overall pick in April and Shurmur pulled the plug on Manning and benched him after the New York opened the season with back-to-back losses. Shurmur tossed the rookie into the deep end of the pool, a move which was inevitable this season, but one that some might argue might have happened too soon.
After Jones won his first two starts in Tampa and at home against the Redskins, he lost his next eight before missing Monday night's loss in Philadelphia with a high ankle sprain.
With the team's record worse than it was a year ago--and with one more loss, the Giants will have no chance at equaling last year's win total--there's no indication Shurmur is back in 2020.
This mess can probably be traced to the failure to make the clean sweep when Coughlin walked out the door. The Giants now are in a position where they presumably have their franchise quarterback of the future, a topic that still could be a sticking point if the next head coach doesn’t see Jones as the right fit for his system.
If the front office and ownership believe Jones is the future, but a candidate has his doubts, that could create some challenges in getting the right head coach to lead this team.
As for Gettleman, he’ll probably get at least another year, as Young got three years to rebuild the franchise from its shambles. However, the jury is still out on many of Gettleman’s moves and the ineptness of the coaching staff has further complicated the picture.
Still, would the Giants perhaps look to add another voice to the front office similar to what they did in 2016 when they hired one-time Lions general manager Martin Mayhew in 2016 to work on special projects under Reese? (Mayhew left the organization after one season to take a spot with the 49ers as a Senior Personnel Executive.)
Mayhew’s role in the organization was never really crystal clear to those on the outside, but the Giants did go to the playoffs that year.
What About the Head Coach?
As for the next head coach, under no circumstances should it be an NFL retread. It's hard to understand why a team believes that a guy fired from a previous post for being unsuccessful will suddenly flourish in a new setting. (Bill Belichick in New England and Mike Shanahan in Denver are two notable exceptions.)
Instead, why not consider an up-and-coming college head coach like Baylor’s Matt Rhule, who has experience reviving two downtrodden programs?
In addition to having head coaching experience and taking the CEO style to doing his job (meaning he won’t come in and be his own playcaller), Rhule has coaching experience on both sides of the ball, which would presumably qualify him to lean into the headset to overrule a call that isn’t necessary the best fit.
As a bonus, Rhule spent one season (2012) with the Giants as their assistant offensive line coach, so for an organization that likes to have “continuity,” there’s always that.
And a college head coach might be more equipped to install systems that better aid young players in their transition, thus achieving quicker results.
The Bottom Line
Roster turnover is part of life in the NFL, but when an organization finds itself needing to make a change at the coaching or front office level, that means it’s gone off the track. The piecemeal approach used by this organization hasn’t worked, and some might argue that it cast a bigger pall on the franchise’s future.
When John Mara and Steve Tisch evaluate where things have gone astray and set the course going forward, the need to be honest with each other and themselves. There is no stability in a franchise that has won 10 games over the last three years, and before this team can rise from the ashes, that issue needs to be acknowledged and addressed.