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Worst coaching decisions ever made by the New York Giants

The good, the bad and the ugly are all hallmarks of the franchise

So, there is this story about a man who was waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store. A woman behind him tells him that she is in a hurry because of a sick child and displays only two items. The man is kind and a gentleman, so he tells her to go ahead and that all he was going to do is buy some scratch off lottery tickets. Her items get rung up and then she tells the clerk that the lottery tickets sound good and give her three scratch offs from whatever the ones the man had mentioned. She pays and leaves. The man is next and as he is paying for his tickets the woman comes running back in the store screaming. It seems that one of those scratch offs just netted her $1 million.

What were her chances of receiving the winning scratch off ticket? Much better than the man whose place she took obviously.

This same scenario plays out time-and-time again in professional sports. The person upper management believes to be the best choice for head coach ultimately fails; whereas another coach that was interviewed, or was decided not to interview, becomes successful on another team.

Or just as frustrating is that young buck assistant coach who everyone saw potential (except the persons who make the decisions) and has a fascinating career winning multiple championships – just with another team.

Tis the reason to look back at some horrid choices the Giants have made with their own head and assistant coaches. Or to look back at some horrid choices they didn’t make along the way.

From worst to first, here are the New York Football Giants Management’s Worst Coaching Decisions:

15. Romeo Crennel (1981 - 1992)


Crennel was arguably on one the greatest coaching staffs in the history of the Giants with Bill Parcells as head coach, Bill Belichick the defensive coordinator (DC), Ron Erhardt offensive coordinator (OC), plus Charlie Weis, Al Groh and Tom Coughlin. Crennel himself would go on to have success in the NFL, maybe not so much as a head coach but has established himself a very competent and respected DC. With the club, he was the special teams coach then slid into the defensive line coach for three seasons.

With a little patience, he might have slid right into the Giants DC job and held it for years to come but was never offered the position. Instead, he followed Parcells to New England and then the Jets. He spent six seasons as head coach of the Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs and has another 11 years as a DC, currently with the Houston Texans. In 2015 the Texans’ defense ranked third in the league and in 2016 was number one overall.

14. George Henshaw (1993 - 1996)

Hired as the OC and quarterback coach, the defense shined with the 1993 team that went 11-5-0 during the regular season. That defense allowed a league-low 12.8 points a contest with seven wins that kept opponents in single digits. This kept the Giants in most games as the offense completely struggled. This roster would eventually lose 44-3 in the divisional playoffs to the San Francisco 49ers who capitalized on the offense’s ineptness. The following years the Giants offense would rank 22nd (of 28 teams), 24th (of 30 teams) and 28th. Henshaw’s final year the offense scored the third-fewest total points and was last in yards-per-game and yards-gained-per-play.

13. Ray Perkins (1979 - 1982)

Perkins was a highly sought-after assistant coach after stints in New England and San Diego. Hired as the Giants head coach after the franchise spent years of futility throughout all of the 1970s, he drafted QB Phil Simms and hired Belichick as his special teams coach. Later, he would hire Parcells as his linebackers coach. After going 0-5 in the first season, the club went on a 6-2 tear before ending the year 6-10-0. In nine games the offense barely cracked two touchdowns. Subsequent seasons ended with 4-12-0, 9-7-0 and 4-5-0 records. Perkins would conclude his Giants career with a paltry .404 win percentage, but would also draft RB Joe Morris, LB Lawrence Taylor, OG Billy Ard, CB Mark Haynes, QB Scott Brunner, LB Byron Hunt, WR Earnest Gray and DE Phil Tabor.

12. Marty Schottenheimer (1975 - 1978)

Schottenheimer was first hired as the linebackers coach before his one season as the DC in 1978. He is credited with the development of linebackers Brad Van Pelt, Brian Kelley and Harry Carson. Schottenheimer was a great defensive mind and was fired with most of the John McVay coaching staff after the conclusion of the 1978 season. He would go on to become head coach of the Cleveland Browns where he took them to three AFC Championship games in four years, then on to Kansas City where the Chiefs made the playoffs seven of 10 seasons. After five seasons in San Diego (two playoff years) he coached the Virginia Destroyers to a United Football League championship in 2011.

Schottenheimer was named NFL Coach of the Year in 2004 and the UFL Coach of the Year in 2011. With his .603 winning percentage, one can only imagine if he had stepped into the head coaching spot straight from his DC position in 1979 what those future Giants’ teams would have become.

11. Perry Fewell (2010 - 2014)

Hired as the DC after serving in the same capacity with the Buffalo Bills as well as a seven-game stint as their interim head coach, Fewell was well-received upon his arrival with the Giants. He had been Coughlin’s defensive backs coach at Jacksonville where the pass defense was ranked third in the league. In Buffalo, his defenses were ranked in the Top-5 consistently. Things started well for Fewell’s defense with the sixth fewest yards allowed per game in 2010. All seemed like roses when the Giants won Super Bowl XLVI the following year, but the defense was ranked 31st and allowed the sixth highest yards per game. Again the bottom fell out in 2013 and 2014 as the Giants’ defense was ranked 29th overall just two years eclipsed by a championship team.

10. Sean Payton (1999 - 2002)

Payton was added to the coaching staff as the quarterbacks coach after two successful years at the same position with the Philadelphia Eagles. After only one season, Payton was elevated to the OC slot. Payton’s first season as OC the Giants went 12-4-0. The team beat the Eagles 20-10 in the divisional playoffs then walloped the 49ers 41-0 in the NFC Championship, only to lose Super Bowl XXXV 34-7. In 2001 the club slipped to 7-9-0 and scored the sixth fewest points. The following season the team struggled to a 3-3 start and only averaged 14.6 points a game. After a 17-3 loss to the Eagles, head coach Jim Fassel took over the play calling duties even though Payton was still OC. The Giants then went on a 7-2 tear and made the playoffs as a Wild Card team.

He was hired away by Parcells and the Dallas Cowboys the following year where he became the assistant head coach for three seasons. He then was hired as head coach of the New Orleans Saints in 2006 with a new quarterback by a fella named Drew Brees. Traditionally a doormat franchise, Payton’s new club went 10-6-0 only to lose in the NFC Championship game. For his efforts, he was named AP Coach of the Year. In a three-year stretch from 2009-2013, the Saints went 48-16 with two division crowns, four playoff appearances plus a Super Bowl ring. Perhaps his time with Parcells in Dallas improved his abilities as a future head coach, but he has shown that he is one of the league’s now elite coaches. This year the Saints are once again one of the NFL’s best clubs.

9. Alex Webster (1969 – 1973, as Giants’ player 1955 - 1964)

Rarely does a great athlete become a great coach. After a fine playing career, Webster latched onto Giants’ head coach Allie Sherman’s staff as the offensive backfield coach. When Sherman was dismissed just weeks before the 1969 season the Giants hired internally (as is their habit). The problem with this team was just about every established veteran had either retired or was traded. Webster’s teams were young and inexperienced. The first year was promising as the Giants defeated the Minnesota Vikings (who would become that season’s NFL champion) and began 3-1-0 only to finish 6-8-0. For the next few seasons, there were too many bad draft picks and trades that did nothing to improve the squad. Webster’s teams would win only 14 his final three years for a total of 29-40-1 plus a dismal .420 win percentage.

8. Jim Lee Howell (1954 - 1960)

L to R - Landry, Howell, Lombardi

Jim Lee never had a losing season as head coach of the New York Football Giants. His squads captured three Eastern Division crowns, played in three NFL Championship Games and won the 1956 NFL title. He has a great winning percentage (.630) going 53-27-4 in seven seasons. In 2010, he was added to the Giants “Ring of Honor.” He also played for the NFL Champion Giants in 1938.

So why is Jim Lee on this list?

After the 1958 NFL Championship Game, a 23-17 loss to the Baltimore Colts, the Maras asked Jim Lee how much longer he thought he would coach. He had three years remaining on his contract and the Maras were certainly very happy with him as their head coach. The pickle for management was that they employed two assistant coaches, Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi, and wished to retain one for Jim Lee’s successor.

The answer from Jim Lee on how long he would remain head coach was that he did not know. After the following season, again the Maras asked and again was given the same answer. In the meanwhile, Lombardi would take the helm of the Green Bay Packers in 1959 and then Landry took the upstart Cowboys head coaching position in 1960. After the 1960 season, and with a year left on his contract, Jim Lee told the Maras he was ready to step down. But for the Giants, the Maras, and the loyal fan base, what would become two of the five greatest coaches in NFL history were gone forever.

7. Rod Rust (1992)

The defense simply never jelled with Rust as the DC who had just gotten a pink slip as head coach of the New England Patriots and a callous 1-15-0 record. During his abbreviated stay, his unit was ranked 26th (out of 28) and allowed the third most points a game. Rust’s philosophy was a “read-and-react” type system which required the defender to read the play first, then react to what was played out. This entails a bend rather than break attitude for a defense. In this type of defense, it requires players to look for certain keys that the offensive players show once the play begins and unfolds. This was just too much homework on the field instead of the normal aggressive reaction of a defense to play gaps/zones used to create big plays and interrupt the offense. For most of 1992 the havoc that most defenses impale just never occurred. Often players would stand around and look lost while looking to see what they were supposed to do next. Prevalent at Giants’ tailgating were signs that said, “Rod Must Go.” It was an experiment that failed badly in New York.

6. John McVay (1976 - 1978)

McVay was a highly-decorated coach in the short-lived World Football League where his Memphis Southmen had gone 24-7 over one-and-one-half seasons. In 1976 he was added to the Giants staff but became head coach when the team went 0-7-0 and head coach Bill Arnsparger was fired prematurely. Under McVay, the club finished the year with a 3-4 record. One of the issues was that the team had three young quarterbacks without much pro experience. Randy Dean, Jerry Golsteyn, and Joe Picarsik all had minimal game experience to go along with an already young core on both sides of the ball.

The following year, the Giants were 3-3 with Picarsik entrenched at QB. However, they lost six of their last eight games to finish 5-9-0. In seven of those final games, the offense scored 14 or fewer points. In 1978, the Giants began the season with a hopeful 3-1 record, then only won two of their next seven games. McVay’s fate in all likelihood was sealed In front of 70,318 home fans in game 12. The club held a 17-12 lead as time wound down against the Philadelphia Eagles, who were devoid of any timeouts late in the game. A mishandled fumble allowed the Eagles to score and take another hard-fought victory away from Big Blue. The team never recovered from the “Miracle at the Meadowlands” and finished that season 6-10-0.

After another horrible showing, the front office had seen enough and his contract was not renewed. During his tenure, McVay went 14-23-0 with a horrid .378 win percentage and zero playoff appearances. From there McVay ended up in the 49ers front office and found his niche’ as he helped build their dynasty of five Super Bowls. In 1989 he was named NFL Executive of the Year.

5. Bill Arnsparger (1974 - 1976)

Arnsparger was at the top of the list of coaching candidates in 1973, and then again in 1974. The Giants were the lucky destination and were proud to land his defensive talents. His previous team was the Miami Dolphins, home to the “No-Name Defense” and a sterling 17-0-0 season just two years prior. He was a talented defensive mind, well-tanned and battle tested. The Dolphins had just won their second Super Bowl over the Minnesota Vikings when he took the Giants head job. Horrible draft picks plagued the roster. In the three years Arnsparger was coaching the club’s first-round picks were OG’s John Hicks and Al Simpson and DT Troy Archer (who later died in an auto accident) – not exactly household names and in fact some of the club’s all-time biggest busts.

His defenses ranked 26th (of 26 teams), 21st and 16th while he went 7-28-0 for a staggering awful .200 win percentage. Each offensive unit ranked in the bottom seven all three years as well with zero playoff appearances. After a 0-7-0 start to start the 1976 season, he was fired. Arnsparger’s teams would be smack of the middle of the “Wilderness Years.” He would return to the Dolphins where he developed the “Killer B’s” defense and another Super Bowl appearance. He then was the head coach at LSU where his teams would become SEC Champions in 1986.

4. Tom Landry (1954 – 1959, as Giants’ player 1950 - 1955)

While the Green Bay Packers became legends under Vince Lombardi, the Dallas Cowboys became legendary under the tutelage of Landry.

The Cowboys have the second most victories on Monday Night Football (41) and hold NFL records for the most consecutive winning seasons (20, from 1966 to 1985) and most seasons with at least ten wins (28). The team has tied the Giants with the most post-season appearances at 32 despite the fact that the Giants’ franchise began 35 years earlier than Dallas, a league record of 61 post-season games (winning 34 of them), the most division titles with 21, the greatest number of appearances in the NFC Championship Game (14), and the most NFL Championship Game/Super Bowl appearances with nine.

And all of this began with hiring Landry away from the Giants when Dallas was awarded an NFL expansion club for the 1960 season. During Coach Landry’s 29-year tenure, the Cowboys finished first in their division an amazing 13 times, placed second seven years, went to the playoffs 18 different seasons, and visited the NFL Championship or the Super Bowl seven times, winning twice. The 20 consecutive winning seasons still rank fourth-longest of any sports franchise behind the New York Yankees, Montreal Canadiens, and Boston Bruins.

Landry would make a career out of beating the daylights out of the Giants over his almost 30-year tenure. Between 1964-1981, the Cowboys went 29-8-1 against his former team. The Giants never really considered the brilliant defensive strategist as their next head coach because Jim Lee Howell was still under contract with several years remaining. When the American Football League began, the Houston Oilers offered Landry the job as their first-ever head coach. Landry’s wife Alicia wanted to move back to their home state of Texas, and the Oilers offered $65,000 a year, up substantially from his $12,000 assistant coach pay. Then, the Dallas franchise became official and named the Rangers. The owner called Landry and offered him $34,500 a year. Landry was an NFL man at heart and wanted to stay in the established league. The rest of the story became the beginning of the nightmares that would lay ahead for the Giants and the rest of the NFC Eastern Division for decades.

Would Landry’s success with the Cowboys ultimately had become the Giants’ success?

3. Ray Handley (1991 - 1992)

In 1984 Handley was added to an already talented coaching staff headed by Parcells as the offensive backfield coach. His title changed in 1990 to running backs coach. During these years he was credited with developing talent from Dave Meggett, O.J. Anderson, Rodney Hampton, Maurice Carthon, Lewis Tillman, Joe Morris and Rob Carpenter. When Parcells retired after capturing Super Bowl 25, Belichick was the assumed hire to continue with winning ways but accepted the head coaching gig with the Browns. With the Giants, a defensively-minded franchise, the hiring of Handley was the surprise hire to replace Parcells.

The Giants front office has always been faithful to their coaching staff, but other coaches were passed over for Handley. In two rotten seasons, Handley compiled a 14-18-0 record bad enough for a .438 win percentage and zero playoff appearances. The Giants departed from a 13-3-0 record one year to 8-8-0 in Handley’s first season in what was described as “From the Super Bowl to the Toilet Bowl.” In the three prior years of Handley’s promotion to head coach, the Giants went 13-3-0, 12-4-0, 10-6-0, captured two division titles and one Super Bowl ring.

Other coaches on this list have worse win percentages, but the fact remains that the Giants were a championship club with a loaded roster on both sides of the ball yet went from being a contender every year to a stormy ending.

2. Vince Lombardi (1954 - 1958)

Under Lombardi, the Green Bay Packers became legends. The Giants agreed to allow their prized offensive coordinator take the head coaching job with the Packers only with the stipulation that when then-head Coach Jim Lee would retire the Giants could get Lombardi back. That never happened. When Howell stepped down with a year remaining on his contract, the call to Green Bay to get back Lombardi was a stern “no.” Known as Vinnie to his friends, he never had a losing season as a head coach and only lost one championship game. He had a knack for turning players into superstars such as Frank Gifford from a defensive back into a star halfback.

There is a reason the Super Bowl trophy is named after him, and the Giants originally had him in their fold. With the Packers, that franchise would capture five NFL Championships, plus win the first two Super Bowls. Lombardi’s teams never had a losing record and in six championship games, his clubs only lost one. He holds a .900 playoff win percentage and an amazing .738 career regular season record as head coach.

Many consider Lombardi as the greatest NFL coach ever. He is certainly one of the greatest NFL coaches to be passed over by the Giants.

1. Bill Belichick (1979 - 1990)

While watching another New England Patriots Super Bowl victory, one can only wonder if that should have been the Giants’ dynasty instead. Belichick is a defensive genius; any Giants fan can attest to that as evidence to his part of two Super Bowl victories. When Parcells was the head coach and rumblings began that he might retire, many assumed that “the hoodie” would simply slide into the head coaching role. Giants’ management considered Belichick to be a media nightmare but an exceptional coaching talent. Although he was a strategic genius, they saw him as a person without any communication skills to which the New York media stronghold would bury him.

Another rationale was that he had horrible abilities to connect with his players. Of course, some of this is certainly true and none of it has any bearing on whether a coach can guide a club consistently into the Promised Land. Plus, GM George Young did not get along with Belichick and in all likelihood did not relish the fact that the two would be in daily communication about everything for the coming years ahead and Young hated that scenario.

Giants GM George Young

When Belichick failed miserably in Cleveland as the head coach many pointed their fingers and did the “I told you so” as he treated the media as gnats while the fans hated him for his standoffish portrayal and minimal personality traits. In reality, he makes it clear he does not care what anyone thinks and that they become irrelevant in his universe. Instead of taking a chance on Belichick and grasp his coaching skills for what they were on the field, the Giants simply let him walk away.

Meanwhile, since he took over the Patriots in 2000 that franchise has captured five Super Bowls, seven AFC Championships, 14 division crowns (including the past eight in a row), and a staggering 201 regular season wins plus an additional 26-10 record in the post-season. Belichick has been named NFL Coach of the Year three times and was named the coach of the NFL’s “2000 All-Decades Team.” He is also the only coach to win three Super Bowls in four seasons.

Ironically, Belichick’s actual defensive game plan for the Giants’ Super Bowl 25 victory against the Bills is on display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame as another piece of evidence that his defensive creativity should have stayed; and the shortcomings of the front office who failed to retain one of the greatest NFL coaches ever.

Barry Shuck is a pro football historical writer and a member of the Professional Football Researcher’s Association