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Giants’ Patrick Graham: Once-reluctant coach nearing top of the mountain

Graham is generating head-coaching buzz for his work with New York’s defense

Patrick Graham

“Passionate.”

New York Giants backup quarterback Colt McCoy has gotten a closeup look at defensive coordinator Patrick Graham all season, and that’s the word McCoy used this week to describe him.

“He’s just passionate. He works so hard to put his guys in a position to be successful and to make plays,” McCoy said. “He’s a great coach, guys listen to him, respect him. One thing about Coach Graham is you’re going to get his best, whether you’re at a walkthrough during training camp or in a game in Seattle. He’s a true pro and I know the guys love playing for him.”

Giants defensive back Logan Ryan also marvels at Graham’s work.

“I think that he’s outworking everybody. He’s staying up late, he’s drawing up more defenses,” Ryan said. “I just think his willingness to keep working, not to say, ‘Ah, I’ve got it. I’m the best coordinator. I’m up for a head coaching job. I’m going to just run what I ran last week, it was a masterpiece.’ No, he’s going to go back to the lab, come out with 25 new defenses.”

The most interesting part of the description of Graham as a passionate coach, as one who puts in long hours and is always tinkering with new ways to make his defense better? Graham was not that way as a player.

Duane Brooks was defensive line coach at Yale when the school recruited Graham, then a tight end, to play there. Midway through Graham’s junior season, Brooks talked him into converting to the defensive line. It wasn’t easy.

“He wasn’t totally convinced that he wanted to be a d-lineman, and he wasn’t totally convinced that he really wanted to play football,” Brooks said via phone this week. “If he would have worked at it he would have probably been at least decent.”

Playing wasn’t his passion, though. When Graham dislocated his shoulder in a game against Fordham as a senior, his career as a player was finished.

“After he was done playing he did like everybody else at Yale,” Brooks said. “He got a job.”

That job was apparently in PR in Cincinnati and it didn’t suit Graham, who had graduated from Yale with a bachelor’s degree in sociology with a concentration in economics and African-American studies.

“He would call me every other week that he hated his job,” Brooks said.

“One day I was like, why don’t you become a coach? He says I see what you do. I don’t want to do that s---. That’s horrible. I don’t want to do that.”

Graham eventually agreed to become a graduate assistant coach at Wagner College while he pursued an MBA with a concentration in finance.

He coached the junior-varsity team to an undefeated season and also served as strength and conditioning coach and academic coordinator.

“He fell in love with it,” Brooks said. “I was shocked myself. Look at him now.”

Now Graham, 41, is coaching a defense that is outperforming expectations and helping the resurgent Giants fight for an NFC East title. He is also generating buzz as a potential head coach.

Former NFL GM Jeff Diamond told me that Graham’s candidacy “Depends partially on how the Giants finish up, but he’s the right age at 41 that today’s owners seem to be seeking, so yes I think he’ll get some interviews.”

Brooks isn’t surprised. He saw that coming when Graham took that GA job at Wagner.

“He is a genius. When he started coaching I said that guy is gonna be the man,” Brooks said. “I told him, you’re going to be a head coach, you’ve gotta get ready for it.

“There’s people that are destined just to be a coordinator or a position coach and there are guys who are destined to be a head coach. I think Patrick is one of those guys who is going to be a head coach. I told him that when we got him that job at Wagner.”

Graham is not a smooth talker, and he especially does not like to talk about himself. Typically, he deflected on Thursday when he was asked if he was ready for that step.

“I’m not smart enough to think ahead of today,” Graham said. “I’m trying to get better today. I need to get ready for third down versus Arizona on Sunday ... I can’t think about that stuff, to be honest with you.”

Graham, though, almost outsmarted himself out of an NFL coaching career. In 2009, Graham actually hung up on Bill Belichick when the New England Patriots coach wanted to offer him a post as quality control coach. Graham thought he was being pranked.

“He calls me and he goes coach I think I just hung up on Bill Belichick,” Brooks said. “I was like you need to hang up and call him back. That’s the place you want to be. You want to be at the highest level, so here you go. You need to go.”

Graham, of course, did. His work with the Giants is pushing him closer to the precipice of where Brooks told him years ago that he would end up — running his own team.

“I told him for a guy who didn’t want to coach you sure are doing a good job of it,” Brooks said.

The Giants are thankful he is doing it for them. For however long that lasts.