This week’s Big Blue View mailbag was a massive one. Yet, there is still one question I didn’t get to that I would really like to discuss. Mike Koopersmith e-mailed to ask for my thoughts on the following comment from former NFL executive Michael Lombardi in his regular ‘GM’s Eye’ column in The Athletic:
Lombardi was writing about the firing of Ron Rivera by new Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper, and Tepper’s very specific ideas on what he wants in a new head coach when he wrote this about the Giants:
“Most owners are not deep thinkers like Tepper; they don’t know what they want or, more importantly, what their organization needs. Wanting and needing are two different things. Take the New York Giants as an example: They want a coach to fill their organizational structure … but they need to revamp their organization. Regardless of whom they fire or hire, they won’t win unless they fix their fundamental problems first.”
Now, let me be honest. I am not a Lombardi fan. I think he’s an opinionated guy who failed in his one opportunity as a GM with the Cleveland Browns, and I know that for many years now he has been critical of the Giants organization. In this particular case, he tossed out the idea that the Giants have “fundamental problems.”
Well, making that claim is the easy part. To use a cliche, it’s kind of like shooting fish in a barrel. Obviously, something has gone wrong when a team has been going backwards for most of the last decade.
But, do they really have “fundamental problems?” If so, what are they?
What the Giants have is a unique structure.
There is no other team in the NFL with the dual ownership situation the Giants have. Fans always want to say “John Mara this, John Mara that” when they talk about Giants’ ownership. Frankly, that’s not correct. The Mara family owns 50 percent. The Tisch family owns 50 percent. They are absolute equal partners in terms of both finances and decision-making.
That comes with its own set of problems. Simply put, two people don’t always agree. Especially two rich, powerful people.
That means there may not always be one vision. Certainly over the years you would have to think neither man has always gotten what he wanted when it comes to coaches, GMs, draft picks, trades, whatever.
Is there potential there to leave the franchise direction-less, or bouncing between the visions of two strong-willed men? Sure. I am not saying that is where the Giants are, but the structure opens the door for that.
How do the owners resolve their differences if, let’s say, John Mara is adamant that he wants Matt Rhule of Baylor as the next coach and Steve Tisch his his heart set on, oh, let’s just toss out the name Kevin Stefanski? Or, if one owner were to support keeping Gettleman in charge and the other can’t wait for him to start that Cape Cod retirement he has talked about?
The other charge you always hear with the Giants is that they are stuck in the past.
Are they? Maybe.
If you know your Giants history, you know that Wellington Mara’s biggest flaw was probably that he was loyal to a fault to those who played and worked for him.
What finally got the Giants out of the Wilderness Years of the 1960s and 1970s was turning to George Young, an outsider, getting out of his way and letting him do what he thought was right.
Young’s imprint is still felt on these modern-day Giants. He trained Ernie Accorsi. Jerry Reese scouted under Young for several years. Accorsi has had a huge influence on Dave Gettleman. So, the lineage is obvious. The Giants don’t want to become the Knicks, changing direction every couple of years.
Gettleman is the GM instead of Louis Riddick or someone because ownership has always felt more comfortable staying with what it knows, with people who have helped the organization succeed in the past. It has to be part of why Eli Manning was still the quarterback at the start of the 2019 season. It’s why the quarterback they chose to succeed Manning is so much like Manning himself.
Can it work? Sure. We know Gettleman is as old-school as they come, that he wants to build through the draft and that “run the ball, stop the run, rush the passer” are still the fundamental truths he believes in.
I do believe Gettleman has improved the roster since taking over. I have said before and will continue to say that I think this team has too much talent to be 2-10. It is, though, a slow process.
Yet, are there better ways? Could this rebuild, and yes it’s a rebuild despite Gettleman’s reluctance to embrace that word, be farther along? Probably. I do think you can argue that while Gettleman has added good players, perhaps he hasn’t always maximized the value of some of the opportunities he has had. We’ve seen other teams — like the San Francisco 49ers — make a fast jump. We’ve seen the Baltimore Ravens become perhaps the best team in football by embracing some new thinking and being bold in implementing a new, modern vision.
I do wonder sometimes if Giants’ ownership has a clear vision of what it wants — Mara and Tisch are vastly different people with different life experiences.
As I think back on Lombardi’s “fundamental problems” remark what I really think is that the Giants, because of their structure and because they can lean on the idea that their traditional way has netted them four Super Bowl titles, face what I would call “unique challenges.”
I think that when Mara and Tisch have their “very honest” conversation at the end of the season part of that has to include a discussion of whether they believe the way they have traditionally done things can still work, or whether they have to embrace a completely new, bold course.