When I asked Big Blue View Facebook users for mailbag questions last week, one came in that I felt deserved more than a simple mailbag response. To fully answer the question, a post of it’s own was necessary.
Here’s the question, from Asa Parker-Bernstein:
Looking back at it, do you think it was a good call to replace Tom Coughlin with Ben Mcadoo?
I will give you my view at the end of this post. Chris suggested we do this as a round table, giving multiple voices a chance to express their thoughts. So, here we go.
Empirically, and using the "Parcells" criteria, the answer is simple: Yes. Tom Coughlin's last two seasons were 6-10 and 6-10, Ben McAdoo's first season was 11-5 (and very nearly 12-4, but for a couple bad decisions in the first game against Washington).
But the truth is probably more nuanced than that. McAdoo unquestionably has growing to do as a head coach, but I do think it was the right decision. For me it comes down to two changes since McAdoo moved into the big office: The systematic revamping of the strength and conditioning program and a greater willingness to play the hand he was dealt.
The change to the strength and conditioning program has probably been the biggest change to the franchise since promoting Ben McAdoo. While Coughlin did institute changes to how practices and camp were run, and new technologies like GPS tracking, the basis and basic philosophy of the program didn't seem to change much. McAdoo has his masters degree in Kinesiology, or the study of the mechanics of movement, and I think that gives him a deeper understanding of how to keep athletes healthy. Aaron Wellman (McAdoo's hire for S&C coordinator) immediately renovated the Giants' weight room, focusing on things like "the velocity of movement" as opposed to pure strength. We have also seen a sleeker, leaner team, with many players dropping weight compared to the Coughlin years when they were often asked to gain weight. There also seems to be a greater emphasis on nutrition among players on social media, which could be the result of a greater emphasis on teaching and getting the players to buy in to paying attention to what is put in their bodies.
The second change is more obvious. Coughlin would play young players and adapt to changing circumstances, but it always seemed grudging. The nature of the league, and the players colleges are producing, is changing. McAdoo stated this offseason that he believes in playing young players a lot and early, saying “Absolutely. I believe in playing young players, giving them an opportunity to grow, especially early in the season, so that you have the most competitive team early in the year.” This year we saw Andrew Adams and Eli Apple emerge as starters, unseating veteran players despite their rookie stats and the accompanying growing pains. Under Coughlin players had to force their way on to the field (which there isn't anything wrong with, in and of itself), or get lucky with an injury in front of them. Once there, it seemed like a single "oopsie" would outweigh a thousand "atta boy’s,” and young players were always on a short leash. Under the current CBA, teams need their young players to play and play quickly, and McAdoo's willingness to live with growing pains seems to be an advantage, at least in the early returns.
Truthfully, I think like with rookie players, you should wait for multiple seasons of work before evaluating the development of a rookie head coach. But so far the Giants have won more, are healthier, and the players seem to love him (not to say they didn't love Coughlin) -- what we have to go on now says they didn't make a mistake.
It was probably time for Coughlin to go -- for all that he brought to the table, his failure to adjust to modern strategies inside the red zone, on fourth downs, and late in games cost the Giants wins over his past few seasons. At the time, my hesitation on the move to Ben McAdoo was that everything else besides the head coach was going to stay the same. But since that time those pieces, namely Jerry Reese and Steve Spagnuolo, have stepped up. Both contributions last season led to one of the league’s best defenses and put the Giants in the playoffs.
McAdoo was a fine head coach in Year 1, though there was certainly some ups and downs. His side of the ball took a step back and the personnel usage -- the almost exclusive use of 11 personnel and the defensive line rotations -- might be an overall concern. The Giants outperformed their point differential -- they played more like an 8.8-win team -- so maybe some of that could be attributed to the head coach, but he could also be blamed for some natural regression if it comes in 2017.
I wouldn’t call moving on from Coughlin a mistake, but Year 2 with more weapons on the offense might be the better indicator of whether or not McAdoo was the right successor.
If you have been reading Big Blue View for any length of time, you know where I stand on Coughlin. So, I will simply acknowledge it. I have a deep respect for Coughlin as a coach, not only for what he did with the Giants but for the career he’s had. The Giants don’t win those last two Super Bowl titles without him. I also have great respect for Coughlin the man. If you believe that biases my opinion, so be it.
Now, on to the question at hand. I will always hate the fact that the Giants scapegoated Coughlin for those four playoff-less seasons in a row. Ousting him, and they did oust him, was the only change made at the top of the pyramid.
Was Coughlin partially at fault? Certainly. I’m not sure he ever adjusted to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement and its limitations on practice time. He tried, but I’m also not sure he ever really understood what made some of his young players tick. I also believe, though, is that there is blame to be shared by everyone involved — Coughlin, GM Jerry Reese, Marc Ross and the scouting department, perhaps even ownership.
Let’s not re-litigate all of it. Something clearly had to be done. It never has been nor ever will be acknowledged by anyone involved, but it is my belief that for several years there was an undercurrent of disagreement between Coughlin and Reese regarding the type of team the Giants would be, and the type of players that would be on the roster. To me, that led to some of the odd-looking personnel decisions, to draft choices being kept on the roster for years when they weren’t going to be used, and to teams that were dysfunctional.
If the decision were mine I would have swept out Reese. The personnel choices that left the Giants short on talent were his. Or, at the very least, cleared out Vice President of Player Personnel Marc Ross, revamped the scouting department and given the GM the directive that he was to give the head coach the players he wanted for the type of team he wanted.
The Giants chose another path. They chose the GM over the coach. They chose a young, first-time coach in McAdoo whose views are perhaps more in line with where Reese wants to go with the future of the team.
I will readily admit that I wish things had ended differently for Coughlin with the Giants. The move worked in 2016, though, and I think McAdoo shows signs of developing into an outstanding NFL head coach.
In the end, the Giants are pointed toward the future instead of hanging on to or trying to re-create the past. That’s a good thing.