NEW YORK — The New York Giants were a cocky group in training camp four months ago, and no one typified the self-assurance more than the team’s robotic coach, Ben McAdoo, and his aloof boss, general manager Jerry Reese.
The 2017 Giants were coming off a stellar 11-5 record from the previous year and were widely lauded as Super Bowl contenders. But when this season started, a series of debilitating injuries, lethargic play and glaring missteps exposed the Giants’ manifold weaknesses, many that could be traced to years of poor draft selections by Reese.
As the team’s losses mounted this season, the Giants, NFL standard-bearers since 1925, were humiliated and mocked, never more so than last week when McAdoo benched popular longtime quarterback Eli Manning.
The furious outcry over the treatment of Manning rattled the normally stoic Giants ownership, and on Monday they abruptly fired McAdoo and Reese with four games remaining in the season. On Sunday, the Giants had been defeated by the Oakland Raiders to drop their dismal record to 2-10, the second worst in the league.
It was the first time the Giants had fired a coach in the midst of a season since 1976, when the team, with a 0-7 record, dismissed Bill Arnsparger. And since 1978, there had been only two predecessors to Reese as the Giants general manager — both departed via voluntary retirement.
“Wholesale changes need to be made to this organization,” John Mara, the team president, said at a news conference Monday. “It was pointless to wait any longer to make these changes.”
He said of McAdoo, “I feel he will be a successful head coach sometime in the future.”
Mara said the decision to bench Manning was not a factor in the decision. “2-10 is 2-10,” he said.
Mara added: “We’ve kind of been spiraling out of control. I just felt like we needed a complete overhaul.”
Steve Spagnuolo, the team’s defensive coordinator and a former head coach of the St. Louis Rams, was named the interim Giants head coach. Mara said that Spagnuolo would be a candidate to coach the team full time next season. Kevin Abrams, the assistant general manager, will be the interim general manager.
Spagnuolo will make the decision on which quarterback to start for the rest of the season, Mara said.
McAdoo, who had a 13-15 record with the Giants, had always been a risky choice, since he had no head coaching experience at any level. But in two years as the offensive coordinator under Giants coach Tom Coughlin, McAdoo, 40, had elevated a moribund Giants attack. When Coughlin was fired after the 2015 season, Manning had personally lobbied Giants ownership on behalf of McAdoo’s candidacy for the head coaching job.
The Giants were impressed with McAdoo’s organizational skills, work ethic, almost fanatical attention to detail and seasoned football acumen. After the Giants bolstered their defense with a free agent spending spree, the Giants surprisingly qualified for the playoffs in McAdoo’s first season at the helm. They lost a first-round playoff game to the Green Bay Packers.
But from the beginning, McAdoo seemed an ill fit for the public aspects of his job. He was stiff, humorless and obsessively guarded at news conferences. His communication skills — with the news media and eventually with many of his players — never developed into a strength. Increasingly this season, it appeared that McAdoo had lost the ear, or respect, of many of his players.
Two cornerbacks, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Janoris Jenkins, were suspended after violating basic team rules, like one requiring players to show up for practice on time.
Then, last week, McAdoo announced that Manning, the team’s revered, two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback who had started a mind-boggling 210 straight games, would no longer be the team’s starter. Columnists and talk radio callers blasted the move and how it was handled, saying Manning had earned the right to finish out the season at least. Manning was near tears discussing his benching.
Equally galling to Big Blue faithful was that Manning’s replacement was not a heralded rookie who might bring hope for the future, but the journeyman Geno Smith, who had washed out as a starter with, of all teams, the New York Jets. Smith was a competent 21-for-34 for 212 yards in his debut as starter Sunday.
A few days after the announcement about Manning, McAdoo’s communication abilities were called into question again by Mara, who had signed off on the move but told reporters a slightly different story about how he thought Manning’s benching was going to play out.
McAdoo’s version was that he had offered Manning a chance to start Sunday’s game with the understanding that he would come out for Smith at halftime regardless of the game’s score. Manning blanched, and said McAdoo should start Smith.
But Mara said it was his understanding that Smith, and the rookie quarterback Davis Webb, would gradually be eased into the lineup rather than the halftime arrangement Sunday.
Quizzed about the discrepancy a day later, McAdoo stood firm and in essence contradicted Mara by saying that Mara knew of the stated plan all along.
It was an embarrassing episode for the team and appeared to lay bare the fractions and dysfunction within the organization.
On Monday, when Mara was asked if he and McAdoo had been on the same page regarding the handling of Manning, Mara answered: “We were and we weren’t. Ben came up with the plan. I initially signed off on the plan. My hope had been to talk to him to try to have a little more flexibility with it.”
It seems unlikely that fans will protest McAdoo’s dismissal too loudly. Many have criticized the Giants players’ effort. Other fans have simply been lethargic; there have been many empty seats at MetLife Stadium this season, especially in the second half of games. The fans’ torpidity sometimes seems to be drawn from the coach’s; McAdoo was rarely a demonstrative or passionate presence on the sidelines.
McAdoo’s dismissal came even though the Giants said last month that he would remain for the rest of the season. “We changed our minds,” Mara said Monday. “Why prolong it?”
The Giants have four more games to play and are in danger of putting up a historically terrible record. Some fans have already surrendered to this, or are even rooting for it, hoping for a high draft pick that will turn the team’s fortunes around.
Reese had been considered on the hot seat for at least two years. Mara had put Reese on notice after the 2015 season, saying he was foremost responsible for a quick revival when Coughlin was fired after four consecutive seasons without a playoff game.
Mara said that the timing of the decision to fire Reese was made, in part, so that the team could have a head start in looking for a new general manager. Already, Mara said, “we have names in mind” and there is a possibility the position could be filled even before the end of this season. Former general manager Ernie Accorsi has been brought in as a consultant for the search.
The Giants appear to be moving toward hiring the general manager first, then the coach — an “ideal scenario,” Mara said. Traditionally, the Giants have kept their general manager and coaching roles separated, rather than a setup that gives the coach more power to make roster decisions. But Mara indicated that he might be willing to be flexible for the right coach. “I would never say never if the right candidate was there,” Mara said.
That immediately seems to open the door to coaching candidates who might conceivably expect more personnel influence, such as Nick Saban at Alabama, Brian Kelly of Notre Dame, or retired Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher. Mara said hiring another first-time NFL head coach is also not out of the question.
“There are a number of new head coaches that are very successful in this league this year, so you can’t shy away from that,” Mara said. “If you think you have the right guy, you have to go for it.”
Reese’s 11 years as the Giants general manager began impressively in his first season as the team he inherited from Accorsi won the Super Bowl in 2008. Four years later, a Giants team that was 9-7 in the regular season barely made the playoffs but charged to another Super Bowl victory. But overall in Reese’s tenure, the Giants have made the playoffs four times. Moreover, Reese’s draft record was among the worst in the NFL. Only six players he drafted in his 11 years have become Pro Bowlers.
When the Giants’ young offensive line struggled mightily early this season and was directly responsible for the team’s 0-2 start, Reese’s puzzling decision not to sign a veteran free agent in the offseason to reinforce the line was oft-criticized.
In the end, perhaps most damning for Reese, the Giants’ record since their last Super Bowl appearance is 41-52.