The New York Giants are now out of the playoffs for a fourth straight year. That means it is speculation season, and the future of head coach Tom Coughlin is, of course, front and center. Jason LaCanfora of CBS Sports reported Sunday morning speculated that "many execs around the league believe any decision to depart may well come down to whether Coughlin elects to retire."
LaCanfora said that offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo and current New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton would be atop the short list of candidates to succeed Coughlin should he step down.
Let's break down the situation.
Stay or go?
First and foremost, I do not believe John Mara will ever utter the words "you're fired" to Coughlin. That does not mean I am convinced Coughlin will continue as coach of the Giants. As much as Coughlin has always professed to love his job, even joking at the end of last season that he would "like to have" a 10-year extension, I believe there have been subtle signs that the 69-year-old coach is reaching the end of the line.
If you are part of the "Coughlin must go" crowd you will point to the end-of-game decisions and the possibility of three straight losing seasons and say the old man has lost his touch. Those aren't the signs I am talking about. There are other, more subtle, signs.
The sound of his voice, where he seems resigned, is one. The fact that he violated his own principles last week in his handling of Odell Beckham Jr. is another. The Coughlin of five years ago, or a Coughlin thinking about the big picture with Beckham, would have handled that far differently. The fact that he and his wife sold their New Jersey home recently is another.
I believe Coughlin is tiring. Not because he is old, he still has plenty of energy and competitive fire. I believe he is tiring of the losing. I believe he is tiring of dealing with players who don't seem as concerned about winning as he is. I believe that he and GM Jerry Reese have not seen eye-to-eye in personnel matters for years and that Coughlin is tired of the losing and the fractured roster that has caused. I believe that Coughlin and McAdoo don't see offensive football the same way and that Coughlin is tired of that, too. I believe that Coughlin is tired of watching players in position to make plays fail to make them.
I also believe that Coughlin, the last coach hired by Wellington Mara, won't put John Mara in the position of firing him. If Mara believes the time has come, I'm certain he will make that known to the 69-year-old, two-time Super Bowl winning coach. I do, however, believe that if and when Coughlin is removed from the Giants' sideline that will happen in a way that keeps his dignity intact.
Payton, McAdoo and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo were all high on the list of candidates we put together recently.
Payton, if he is available has the connection to the Giants that the organization has always craved. A super Bowl-winning coach in his own right, he has the pedigree to succeed Coughlin. Problem is, he has to explain why things fell apart in New Orleans the past few seasons. Things haven't been much different for New Orleans recently. The Saints are 5-9 and headed to a second straight losing season. Before you hire him, you have to figure out what went wrong there.
Toss out whatever pie-in-the-sky college coaching candidates you like. Everyone has their favorites, and maybe the Giants will flirt with guys like Brian Kelly of Notre Dame or David Shaw of Stanford. In the end, though, if here is a new coach and it's not someone like Payton I believe there is a high degree of probability that the job goes to McAdoo or Spagnuolo.
When the Giants hired him two years ago, some saw McAdoo as a head coach in waiting. I don't think that has ever been true. I do think, however, that the Giants have little interest in losing McAdoo and forcing a 35-year-old Eli Manning to start from scratch with another new offensive system. Biggest question about McAdoo? Does he have the personality for the job? He has many Coughlin-esque qualities. Does, however, have the ability to get a 53-man team to follow him, to play hard for him? I hate to bring this up, but does he have the personality to handle the New York media? Sorry, but it is part of the job and McAdoo is about as bland as dry cereal and about as accommodating as a bouncer at a bar. The New York media will swallow him alive if he doesn't win, and win quickly.
Spagnuolo is a guy who is beloved by the organization, has head-coaching experience (albeit failed) and has the open, friendly personality to keep the media at bay. I would go so far as to say he is a media favorite at this point because he treats you like a person and gives you real answers to your questions, or as real as he can.
His media savvy, though, doesn't make him the right choice. I have believed since the Giants hired him to return as defensive coordinator that they would like for him to be the next head coach. That, though, is a tough sell considering that Spags runs the worst defense in the league. Not to mention, that his last defensive coordinator job (with New Orleans in 2012) was an unmitigated disaster.
Part of me believes that if the Giants have to replace Coughlin they don't necessarily want to replace his coordinators. I think they would like to keep both, and to actually give Spagnuolo a chance to run a defense that actually had some talent.
We'll see. It is all speculation right now. That, however, is what we are left with as another largely wasted season nears its inglorious end.