I have been attending New York Giants practices and games for Big Blue View since training camp of 2008, the middle of the Tom Coughlin era. Through all that time, through the eras of Coughlin, Ben McAdoo, Pat Shurmur and Joe Judge I never had personal encounters with a head coach such as the ones I have already had with Brian Daboll.
During rookie minicamp Giants PR had moved reporters, stationed on the sideline, behind the action — which is standard. Daboll came by and said we could move up ahead to see better if we wanted to, and yours truly responded with the information that PR had stationed us there. Daboll overruled.
The next day the coach came by to ask if it was OK with me that reporters move up front to see team drills.
On the first day of mandatory minicamp, Daboll was messing with me again. I asked if there would be any changes in the group of players who had been in red non-contact jerseys. His response was, and I’m paraphrasing, that, no, they would be continuing to wear red jerseys just like I was (since I had on a red shirt).
The next day, wearing a green shirt, I told Daboll I was out of the red jersey and ready to practice if the team needed me. Sadly, he told me the Giants had enough guys.
I don’t tell those stories out of a desire to say “hey, look at me, I get to interact with the head coach.” Nobody should care. I’m doing my job, and trying to be decent with people while doing it.
I tell those stories because they illustrate that things are different with Daboll and new GM Joe Schoen in charge.
Pat Shurmur would very occasionally stop by to say hello and chat with groups of reporters. Joe Judge would place summertime calls to each of a dozen or so media members, including yours truly, for on-the-record conversations. That was it.
With Daboll — and Schoen — these types of informal, personal interactions are normal.
“We hear that stuff a lot,” Schoen told me recently during an exclusive conversation with Big Blue View. “To us it’s kinda like … it’s just how you treat people. You treat people well, you’re not above anybody. Maybe it’s just how both of us were raised, but that’s how we approach it on a daily basis. Everybody’s in there working hard and doing their best for the New York Giants … it’s not that hard to treat people the right way, that’s just the way we approach it.
“I have been in buildings where it’s not, but after seeing it I think that’s something we both vouched we would never do that if we were in those particular situations.”
Schoen worked with Daboll in both Miami and Buffalo. Daboll’s people skills are a big part of why Schoen wanted to bring him from the Buffalo Bills to become head coach after Schoen got the Giants GM job. As his first spring as a head coach concluded this past week with the end of mandatory minicamp, I asked Schoen about the rookie head coach’s style.
“I think he’s been as I expected,” Schoen said. “Just to see him, his growth not only as a coach but as an individual and a leader it’s been really cool to see over the last 10, 11 years since I’ve known him. He’s really comfortable in his skin and who he is as a leader and I think he’s done a really good job connecting with players, that’s always been a strength of his, and uniting not just the coaching staff and personnel staff, but the building.
“He’s got an infectious personality and that’s really come out. I think the best thing is he’s really just stayed true to who he is. He’s not trying to be somebody he’s not. He’s very authentic.”
Giants center Jon Feliciano, who spent three seasons in Buffalo with Daboll, said the coach is “100 percent” still the same guy he was as the Bills offensive coordinator.
“Coaches, when they get their first head coaching job, sometimes change and try to be someone else and someone they’re not,” Feliciano said. “Dabes, that hasn’t happened. I think he kind of doubled down on being Dabes.
“I mean, I think he’s just authentic. He’s going to shoot it to you straight and he’s gonna be out here and have juice and have fun. He’s okay with people making mistakes as long as you’re making them full speed and as long as they don’t become a habit, you know what I’m saying? So that freedom as a player and his juice, it just all combines to being a happy player.”
A head coach is the central figure in an organization. He impacts everyone — players, coaches, equipment guys, secretaries, kitchen staff. The feel of an entire organization can be impacted by the way a head coach carries himself and relates to those around him.
Schoen knows that Daboll’s ability to connect in some way with everyone is a plus.
“That’s who Brian is. He’s gonna know … from the first day we were there he often eats breakfast with people on the grounds crew. He knows everybody’s name in the lunch room. It’s just who he is, he’s not above anybody,” Schoen said.
“We’ve all been around leaders that sometimes they’re too good to talk to some people in the building, and that’s not Brian and that’s not myself. Everybody’s part of the team, everybody’s got their part in the success when it comes. We’ve always said it’s about the right people in the right seats and treating people the right way. I think Brian definitely exudes that on a daily basis.”
Of course, being nice to people doesn’t guarantee that you can win football games. You have to be able to surround yourself with good players, coaches and support staff. Then, you have to be able to put players in position to succeed.
So far, Daboll has guided his first Giants team through a voluntary minicamp, voluntary OTAs and a mandatory minicamp.
“I don’t put much thought into it,” Daboll said when asked about his approach. “Come in here and try to do the best job I can do for the guys, be myself, tell ‘em like it is, be honest, be demanding that they do things right.”
Daboll has also shown a willingness to take care of players. He admitted last week that more player were in red non-contact jerseys than there would be during training camp or the regular season.
“June 8th. So guys that we’ve got to take a little bit off them on June 8th so they’re ready to go fully on July 26th, I think that’s being smart,” Daboll said.
“You push guys through in training camp, maybe it’s the same exact thing and they don’t have a red jersey on. It’s week two in training camp, everybody is sore, we know we’re sore, but we’ve got to get ready to go, then there’s a time to push through things.”
As mandatory minicamp ended, Daboll ran a helmet-less practice period on Wednesday and cancelled Thursday’s altogether in favor of an organizational picnic.
“We’ve been at it for a long time with the extra camp. We’ve had two. Guys have had great attendance,” Daboll said. “Feel very good about where we are at in terms of the spring and what we’ve got accomplished.”
When there was a fight in practice a year ago, then-coach Joe Judge made players run sprints for several minutes all while listening to an epithet-filled verbal barrage from the coach.
When there was a dustup between Quincy Roche and Korey Cunningham during an OTA, Daboll said it “really wasn’t much” and moved on.
Daboll has had players do a bit of conditioning work, but in general appears to believe in conditioning through practicing and playing the right way.
“Hopefully you get conditioned throughout practice, the way you run to the ball on the defensive side, the way you finish, the way the offensive line runs down the field,” Daboll said.
“But I think there is certainly a time and a place for that ... fatigue makes a coward of us all. Somebody said that, I don’t know if it was Bear Bryant or somebody, but he’s right.”
Back in February, Jerry Smith, Daboll’s football coach at St. Francis High School in Athol Springs, N.Y., told me that Daboll “is a nice guy, but don’t take niceness for meekness.”
Schoen agreed that Daboll can be tough when it’s called for.
“You’ll see it. He’s got a very good sense of when to put his thumb on guys and press ‘em and be stern, and he’s got a good feel for when he can let his foot off the gas,” Schoen said. “I think you saw that the other day.”
The general manager again referred to Daboll’s communication skills.
“I think his ability to communicate, you saw it in Buffalo, I saw it in Miami, not just with the offensive side of the ball, with the quarterback as a coordinator but Dabes always was able to cross the line and communicate with the defensive players or the personnel staff and it’s a way to connect with people,” Schoen said.
“Don’t think that he doesn’t have a stern side to him and a firmness about him in terms of his leadership style where he can flip the switch and when he needs to get on people he can. That’s more of a last resort than who he is on a daily basis.”
The Giants, mired in a miserable decade of football that has included five straight double-digit loss seasons, have tried a number of different methods to get things pointed back in a winning direction.
Daboll’s softer, friendlier touch made the spring better for everyone. We will begin to find out in the fall if the approach Daboll and Schoen have put in place can begin to improve the product on the field.