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Ben McAdoo: Can Giants’ Coach Make Gains In Second Season?

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Giants made playoffs in his first season — what can he do for an encore?

Washington Redskins v New York Giants Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Damon Harrison

Make Gains — 1%.

New York Giants players were spotted during the spring wearing t-shirts with that awkward-sounding phrase printed on them. That’s because “Make Gains — 1%” is this year’s motto from head coach Ben McAdoo. It is a reminder to players to use each day to try and get a little bit better at their craft.

Let’s hope that McAdoo also makes gains in his second season at the helm.

Whatever quibbles anyone has with him, McAdoo’s head-coaching career got off to a good start in 2016. The Giants went 11-5 and made the playoffs. McAdoo showed comfort in replacing Tom Coughlin, being unafraid to make changes to the schedule, the way practice ran, the strength and conditioning program, and more. He stamped the Giants as his team. Players respond to, and respect, him. Some have talked about how he is willing to go beyond football in his dealings with them.

Giants’ ownership believes McAdoo was the right choice to replace Tom Coughlin.

“I felt good about him right from training camp,” co-owner John Mara said recently. “I liked the fact that we had a couple of rough spots during the season and then rebounded quite nicely, and that’s always one of the things that you look for, is can a guy pull your team out of a slump, keep them from free falling? He has just the right temperament, I think, to lead this team.”

Still, entering his second season and remaining one of the league’s youngest head coaches, you have to believe there is room for McAdoo, 40, to grow as a coach. Second-year players are expected to make a big leap in production. Shouldn’t second-year head coaches also be expected to be better at their jobs?

“You live and you learn from ’16. We didn’t get it done in ’16, so the goal is to get it done now,” McAdoo said. “That’s what we’re working for every day.”

McAdoo likes to say that he is comfortable in his own skin. He certainly proved that again this week, telling his players a story about a sex-crazed lion. He was comfortable enough to get a slick new hairdo for which he has taken grief.

Changes Will Keep Coming

There are more changes in store this season, including the use of virtual reality as a teaching tool aimed at reaching millennial players.

McAdoo, we are learning, is a meticulous planner who likes to plot everything down to the minute. In fact, with the Giants facing an unusual schedule this season with two holiday games and some odd travel, he has already laid out the schedule for the entire season. It’s a nuanced schedule, and listening to him talk about it you can tell how much more than the Xs and Os of football went into it.

“We took a big picture look at the calendar and the schedule. Really, it’s a schedule that we’ve all dreamed of; it’s a great opportunity for us. I think we have maybe five weeks that run like a normal week, so we’ll be all over the map. We have a lot of challenges and opportunities ahead and we’re excited for it. We took into consideration a lot of things when looking at the calendar year – the whole year. We put a plan together with a fine-tooth comb for these guys and it’s going to give us an advantage to play our best football and our best football is needed when the weather turns,” McAdoo said. “We have more days off than we’ve had in the past, which is necessary. We have REM days, we have hydration and nutritional improvements, strength and conditioning, and practice loads. We’re all going to be looking at — mental conditioning will be a big part of it. We’re excited for the calendar year ahead.”

Got all that? Here’s even more.

“(With our) in-season schedule, we have our typical schedule that we like to follow if everything is normal and you’re playing at home at one o’clock on every Sunday, and then you make adjustments there,” McAdoo said. “Whether you’re playing on a short week, whether you’re playing on a long week. As you’re going through the season, when is it most crucial to get sleep and rest and more REMS on a Wednesday and on a Thursday – the two most critical days of the week in preparation – and rely a lot on our medical team and our strength and conditioning staff, and our experienced coaching staff and data.”

All of the changes McAdoo has made to the Giants’ program show, in one sense, a tremendous flexibility. A willingness to incorporate new ideas, opinions and technologies in an effort to improve the team’s coaching methods and give players a chance to be at their physical best.

Yet, watching McAdoo last season I kept coming back to the idea that his biggest flaw was his stubborn streak. When he believes strongly in something, like ‘11’ personnel or calling his own plays, he seemed unwilling or unable to bend last season. Even when there was mounting evidence that something different needed to be tried.

As I said earlier, McAdoo’s head-coaching career is off to a good start. He appears headed for a long run on the Giants’ sideline. I would be shocked if he isn’t the play-caller again this season. Let’s hope that a year of balancing play-calling with the head-coaching duties makes him more adept at balancing the two. Let’s hope that the personnel changes on offense, and an off-season to study what went wrong, makes McAdoo more willing to move those chess pieces around the board in less-predictable ways.

The goal for the Giants is always to put the fifth Super Bowl trophy in the case. McAdoo acknowledged that on his first day as head coach. If he can show the same growth he is asking his players for, the Giants might just have a shot at that.