If Ben McAdoo survives this unexpectedly horrific season and returns as head coach of the New York Giants in 2018, the disastrous turn this season has taken might be a blessing in disguise for the young head coach.
I remember McAdoo saying before his first season as head coach began that it “took too long” for him to become an NFL head coach. But, it didn’t take too long. It actually may have happened too quickly.
McAdoo is only 40 years old. Not as young as 31-year-old Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay, but young for the leader of an NFL team. McAdoo had only two seasons as an offensive coordinator before becoming Giants head coach, and had spent most of his time in the NFL before joining the Giants working for Mike McCarthy in Green Bay. The McCarthy system is what he knows.
He’s the boss, but McAdoo is still learning the job.
A lot of good things happened for the Giants in McAdoo’s first year as coach. He made a lot of positive changes to the program. The Giants spent a lot of money to fix their defense. They made it to the playoffs.
One year of success, though, didn’t mean McAdoo and the Giants had everything figured out. It didn’t mean 11 wins or a playoff berth were guaranteed every year. GM Jerry Reese was absolutely right about one thing he said during his bye week press conference. That was:
“You have to start over every time and you have to earn wins and you have to do it the right way. You have to put in the preparation and you can’t walk out there and think people are going to just lay down for you because people are saying good things about you. You have to earn wins in this league.”
What the Giants have earned is a 1-6 record and the right to be lumped in with the dregs of the NFL, the bottom-dwellers. Because, right now, that’s what they are. One of the league’s worst teams.
As I indicated in my “takeaways” from Reese’s press conference, a fair share of the blame for this season’s shortcomings lands at McAdoo’s desk. The Giants have an imperfect roster — and Reese gets the blame for the things he failed to address.
The Giants, though, should not be 1-6. Realistically, there is little reason they shouldn’t have three or four wins at this point and at least have a chance in the muddled NFC.
McAdoo was too stubborn about the offense. He never should have “anointed” Paul Perkins as the starting running back, and he should have moved away from Perkins quicker than he did. He was too slow to adapt the style of the offense — that, honestly, should have been done last season. He was too slow to recognize that he had to give up the play-calling, at least for now, to be able to properly coach the entire team. He might have been too slow to get D.J. Fluker into the lineup. His training camp, in my view, was far too soft. Yes, Odell Beckham Jr. was hurt, but that’s not the only reason the Giants struggled on offense and lost their first two games. They weren’t ready when the season opened, and that is on McAdoo.
Thing is, McAdoo could learn from his mistakes. If he gets another chance.
The Giants have a precedent for keeping a coach who had a disastrous season near the beginning of his tenure. Bill Parcells went 3-12-1 in his first season as head coach in 1983, and nearly got booted. He stayed, though, and that worked out pretty well.
There are other coaches who struggled at the beginnings of their careers. Chuck Noll coached Pittsburgh Steelers teams that went 1-13, 5-9 and 6-8 his first three seasons. Andy Reid went 5-11 his first season with the Philadelphia Eagles, then had five straight winning seasons. Bill Belichick had five losing seasons in his first six years as an NFL head coach. There are many other examples, but the point is this. Good coaches don’t always win, and a poor season doesn’t always mean a team has the wrong coach.
By no means am I saying that McAdoo should keep his job. I think the jury is out on that, and the final nine games will be telling. Wins and losses will be part of the equation. So will McAdoo’s demeanor. Can he get players to give good effort despite the losing? Will he have more locker room or sideline issues like he had with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie? Will he be able to find some answers to the problems that cropped up in the first seven games? Will apathy from the fan base make it impossible for ownership not to make changes?
During his recent press conference, Reese told an assembled group of 30-40 media members that McAdoo was “smarter than all of us in this room.”
I’ve wondered at times is McAdoo’s own smugness — I have used the word hubris in the past — has been part of the problem. After a rapid rise through the coaching ranks and getting the Giants into the playoffs for the first time in five years as a rookie head coach, could he have been guilty of thinking he had the job figured out?
We all have an ego, and I think McAdoo’s is part of what made him seem slow to accept or make changes that obviously appeared to be needed.
I think we know giving up the play-calling wasn’t McAdoo’s first choice. The coach likes to say, though, that he wants players to be comfortable being uncomfortable. That should apply to him, as well.
If McAdoo is as smart as Reese believes he is — and while I don’t think he is as smart as dozens of people combined I do believe he is a very bright man — he has to be able to be honest with himself about his role in the things that have gone wrong this season. And willing to do whatever is needed in an effort to correct them.
If he can, perhaps the experience of this season will benefit both him and the Giants in the long run.
Of course, he has to manage to keep the job first.