With the 2021 NFL season winding to a conclusion, New York Giants fans are looking to the future.
After all, the Giants are limping to a losing record, the fifth in a row and the second-straight losing season under head coach Joe Judge. With a bevy of draft capital at their disposal, there is potential for a turnaround, but changes do seem to be in the air. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett was fired midseason, and days seem to be numbered for general manager David Gettleman, with rumors swirling about a potential retirement.
Then, of course, there is the quarterback situation. The Giants face a decision about the fifth-year option on current signal caller Daniel Jones, and with an uncertain draft class the organization might choose to exercise that option, or roll the dice and be forced to franchise him should Jones finally take the leap forward Giants fans have been waiting for.
Which leads one to ask, who should the next offensive coordinator be in New York?
Let’s work through some candidates, building to the person I would be calling first.
The first option is the man currently serving in that capacity, Freddie Kitchens.
Kitchens was brought onto the Giants staff shortly after Judge was hired, as the two have a history dating back to their days at Mississippi State. Kitchens served as the tight ends coach for the 2020 season, and was moved to senior offensive assistant for the 2021 campaign, a move that some pointed to as signs that Garrett was already on the hot seat.
When Garrett was indeed let go, it was Kitchens who took over.
Now, Kitchens was thrust into a difficult situation, as Jones suffered a neck injury which cut short his season and the new OC was forced to play backups Mike Glennon and Jake Fromm. So evaluating Kitchens’ performance needs that context. It also needs the context of a struggling offensive line, one that has many believing the organization should use both of their first-round selections to patch that group together. So that, coupled with his relationship with Judge, might work in his favor to keep the position on a more permanent basis.
However, if the idea is to develop a quarterback — whether Jones or an incoming rookie as some are asking for — Kitchens does not have the best resume when viewed through that lens. Sure, when he took over as the interim offensive coordinator back in Cleveland for the Browns, he helped Baker Mayfield during his rookie campaign. But there are options out there with a more proven record of QB development.
Still, relationships matter, as does continuity between quarterback and offensive coordinator. Kitchens’ relationship with Judge, and his experience in working with Jones, might make him the safe selection.
As we start to expand the candidate pool, one option would be current New Orleans Saints quarterback coach, and former NFL quarterback/receiver, Ronald Curry.
After his playing days ended, Curry moved to the coaching ranks, starting out as the athletic direction and head football coach for Mooresville Christian Academy in North Carolina. He soon moved to the NFL, first with the San Francisco 49ers as an offensive assistant and then with the Saints, working his way up from offensive assistant to wide receivers coach.
He is now the quarterbacks coach, after Joe Lombardi departed to become the offensive coordinator with the Los Angeles Rams. This season, in the wake of Drew Brees’ retirement, Curry has worked with four very different quarterbacks: Jameis Winston, Taysom Hill, Ian Book and Trevor Siemian.
Given his experience with Sean Payton, his offense would be rooted in more of the West Coast philosophy, but as the Giants look to overhaul their offensive line and try and find a winning formula, there is an argument to be made that that kind of system gives them a chance to be effective next season.
The player that most Giants fans looked to for inspiration this last season was Josh Allen. After witnessing the leap that the Buffalo Bills passer took in his third season, Giants fans hoped that Jones would enjoy a similar progression in 2021.
With that failing to materialize, hiring one of Allen’s coaches could be a move.
There are many reasons for Allen’s growth as an NFL quarterback, including the time and effort he has put in during the off-season with private quarterback coach Jordan Palmer. But the continuity around Allen is a huge reason for his development. Since coming into the league he has worked with one head coach (Sean McDermott), one offensive coordinator (Brian Daboll) and two quarterbacks coaches. First there was David Culley, now the head coach in Houston, and that was just for his rookie season.
In 2019 the team hired Ken Dorsey, the former quarterback, as their QB coach. Since that time, Daboll and Dorsey have been the two primary voices in Allen’s ear.
Now, Daboll is expected to have a head coaching opportunity this hiring cycle, given his work with Allen. That would put Dorsey in line to take over as the offensive coordinator in Buffalo, after already seeing some opportunities last hiring cycle. You would anticipate Buffalo to try and retain Dorsey if/when Daboll moves on, but given what the organization has done with Allen, making a move for Dorsey seems to be a smart idea if developing a quarterback is a large part of the goal on offense.
Duce Staley, the former running back turned coach, is an interesting option. When his playing days ended he joined the Philadelphia Eagles under Andy Reid as an intern, slowly working his way up within the organization under three different head coaches. When he was passed over this last hiring cycle for the Eagles’ head coaching position, he asked out of his contract and made the move to Detroit, serving as an assistant head coach and running backs coach for the Lions this season under Dan Campbell.
But if the Giants are looking to rebuild the running game. Staley is an intriguing choice. However, there are some in Detroit who are hopeful that the Lions will make a chance at offensive coordinator, which could put Staley in line for a promotion with the Lions.
Another name mentioned as an offensive coordinator hire this cycle is Mike Kafta, the current quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator with the Kansas City Chiefs. Kafta joined the Chiefs as an offensive quality control coach in 2017, shortly after his own days of playing the position ended. He was promoted to the team’s quarterbacks coach in 2018, the year Patrick Mahomes took over as the team’s starting quarterback.
So, you could make the case that he has a history of quarterback development under his belt.
You could also make the case that developing Mahomes is a bit...easier than developing the average rookie passer.
Still, Kafka has been rumored to be in line for an OC job given his track record. Of course, if Eric Bieniemy, their current offensive coordinator, gets a head coaching job, you would expect the Chiefs to promote Kafka to OC. Still, Kafka’s experience under Andy Reid and Bieniemy, as well as his part in helping Mahomes, will carry weight with organizations.
I said at the outset that we would build to the coach who would be my first call.
And here he is.
Pep Hamilton has enjoyed a long coaching career, one that started at Howard University back in 1997 as their quarterbacks coach. He has made stops throughout the NFL and college ranks, including previous OC stints at Stanford and Indianapolis, and even spent time in the XFL as the head coach and general manager of the D.C. Defenders.
Along the way, here are some of the quarterbacks he has helped develop: Andrew Luck, Justin Herbert and even Davis Mills this season. Hamilton is currently serving as quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator for the Houston Texans.
Yes, there is a similar point to be made about Andrew Luck that we discussed regarding Kafta/Mahomes. But no one expected Herbert to be this good, especially as a rookie, and few saw Davis Mills making a case to be the future of the Houston Texans, which the rookie quarterback has done this year. Hamilton was in the room for both of those quarterbacks.
If the idea is to develop a quarterback — whether one currently on the roster or one to be drafted in the years ahead — then Hamilton is who I am calling first.