It is the end of an era. The Giants and their head coach since 2004, Tom Coughlin have parted ways. Coughlin announced during a press conference on Monday that he will be stepping down after 12 seasons at the helm. It is widely believed that the Giants allowed him to step down instead of firing him so that he could make the $7 Million he is owed in 2016. I am not so sure how to react to the news. Coughlin has been the coach of the Giants for Eli Manning’s entire career. Think about that: Eli Manning, a proven veteran and two time Super Bowl champion has only known one coach during his entire professional career. The most shocking part of the Coughlin and Manning dynamic is that Eli Manning is the NFL’s current ironman; he has started the most consecutive games of any active player. This streak will continue week one of the 2016 season with a coach other than Tom Coughlin. Is Coughlin to blame for the Giants dismal 2015 season?
Jason Pierre Paul’s mangled hand following a July 4th fireworks accident
The Giants finished this season at 6-10, their third straight season below .500 despite entering the season with super bowl expectations. The train started to fall off the tracks on July 4th when pro-bowl defensive end Jason Pierre- Paul had two and a half fingers removed following a fireworks accident. This left the Giants most proven and effective pass rusher out until week nine, unable to play exactly half of the Giants regular season schedule. The Giants finished the season with only 23 sacks, good for third worst in the NFL. Their inability to rush the passer gave opposing quarterbacks adequate time to locate open receivers and deliver accurate passes for large chunks of yardage. The Giants inability to sack the quarterback is exactly the reason why they allowed the most opposing passing yards at 298.9 per game. Just last year Pierre-Paul had 12.5 sacks compared to the one sack he registered this season. If the Giants had 11.5 more sacks as a team they would have had 34.5 total sacks, comparable to the total of 36 the Arizona Cardinals accumulated. The Cardinals allowed the eighth fewest passing yards to opposing offenses, at 230.4 per game, and are considered one of the top defenses in football. The mistake of one player on the Giants might have relegated a potentially lethal Giants defense into one of the worst defenses in the league. So no, Tom Coughlin is not to blame for the Giants defensive woes. The poor decision of lighting off fireworks by Jason Pierre- Paul, which caused him to miss eight games is rationale for why the Giants defense was one of the worst in the league this season.
Victor Cruz celebrating a touchdown catch against the Miami Dolphins during week 8 of the 2011 season
Although the defense was the Giants weakest link this season, the offense couldn’t come through when it counted most. The presence of Odell Beckham Jr. alone was enough to make New York forget about the absence of Victor Cruz. Cruz, the target Eli Manning trusted most before the arrival of Beckham, tore his patellar tendon against the Philadelphia Eagles in week 6 of the 2014 season. While rehabbing from the patellar tendon injury, Cruz suffered a setback and injured his calf, effectively ending his 2015 season before it even started. Nobody knows how good the Giants receiving corps could have been with the trio of Beckham, Cruz, and Rueben Randle lined up along the outside. Beckham was suspended for a pivotal game with the Minnesota Vikings as a result of his antics against Josh Norman of the Carolina Panthers the previous week. Manning had problems connecting with his other receivers in the absence of Beckham, and the Giants went on to lose in blowout fashion. This loss squashed any of their remaining hopes of winning the NFC East and making a surprise playoff berth. If Victor Cruz was on the field against the Vikings the outcome might have been different, but may have been the same due to the inability of the Giants defense to stop even mediocre quarterbacks. Coughlin is not to blame for the Giants underperforming, it is lack of talent to fill the voids left by injuries. The end of Tom Coughlin’s tenure has left us with a lot of what ifs.
Four of Tom Coughlin’s potential replacements. (From left: Steve Spagnuolo [top], Sean Payton [bottom], Ben McAdoo, Jon Gruden)
Now that Tom Coughlin is officially out as head coach who is going to replace him at the helm of the most storied NFL franchise in New York? (Sorry Jets). The Giants have already interviewed their offensive and defensive coordinators if they decide to promote from within. The defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo is arguably the reason why the Giants defense was able to stop the Patriots undefeated and historically potent offense in the 2008 Super Bowl and bring the title back to New York. Although the defense had a terrible year due to injuries, Spagnuolo is a solid candidate with head-coaching experience. “Spag” was the head coach of the St. Louis Rams from 2009-11 and was plucked right off Coughlin’s 2008 Super Bowl championship staff. The more intriguing candidate if the Giants decide to promote internally would be offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. Hired in 2014 to replace Kevin Gilbride, Eli Manning has thrived in McAdoo’s system. McAdoo’s scheme Emphasizes the use of quick, short passes to create a higher completion rate and in order to avoid quarterback sacks. Eli Manning has had two of his better years under McAdoo in terms of yards, completion percentage, touchdowns, and interception rate. If the Giants plan to keep Eli Manning happy by ensuring he doesn’t have to learn another new system, they will decide to hire McAdoo as Coughlin’s successor.
Eli Manning’s approval is vital in finding the next head coach of the Giants
It is fun to speculate who the potential replacements are for Coughlin if the Giants decide to bring someone in from outside of the organization. The hottest name being talked about among teams with head coaching vacancies is Sean Payton, the current head coach of the New Orleans Saints. The Saints have struggled since Payton was suspended for the entire 2012 season due to the infamous “bountygate” scandal. Players were financially rewarded for knocking opposing players out of the game by injuring them purposely. Before the scandal was uncovered, he brought the Saints organization a level of success they had never experienced. Payton led the Saints to their lone championship, a 31-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. Payton’s credentials alone warrant him consideration for the head coaching job in East Rutherford, but he also has connections to two former Giants coaches. Payton was a coach under both Bill Parcells and Jim Fassel, two of the coaches who preceded Coughlin. If the Giants have the opportunity to interview Payton I am curious to see how interested he is in the position. If there is mutual interest the Giants would have to give up players or draft picks in a trade to acquire Payton’s rights from the New Orleans Saints.
Jon Gruden during a broadcast of Monday Night Countdown, a position he has held since 2009.
The next potential head coach of the New York Giants that brings me the most excitement is Jon Gruden. Gruden is the youngest head coach to win a Super Bowl and is a current host of Monday Night Countdown. Gruden is known as a quarterbacks guru. Every week he takes the two quarterbacks facing off on Monday Night Football and analyzes exactly what they do well and what they need to improve upon. Gruden won Super Bowl XXXVII as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, defeating the team he coached the previous year, the Oakland Raiders. Gruden is known to be a fiery personality, which is exactly the type of temperament the coach of the Giants needs to have. The only drawback is that Gruden has been out of coaching since 2008 after being fired by the Buccaneers, and has turned down offers throughout the years to return to coaching in order to remain a broadcaster with ESPN. What is so special about the Giants job that would lead him to accept it? The answer is that New York is the biggest media market in the country, and that the Giants have a two time Super Bowl MVP as their quarterback. If the unexpected happens and the Giants name Jon Gruden their next head coach, their overall outlook for 2016 would improve immediately. Stay tuned to see who the Giants choose to lead their team in 2016 and beyond.