It’s time to move past the whole “he said-he said” drama of Brian Daboll vs. Wink Martindale. The latter is no longer New York Giants defensive coordinator, the former is the head coach. Those are the facts. What matters for the Giants is what happens now.
First, Daboll and the Giants have got to get the hire of a new defensive coordinator right.
It is a complicated decision with a number of layers to it.
First is the matter of scheme.
The Giants were a blitzing, aggressive multiple defense based on 3-4 principles under Martindale. They sent extra rushers 45.4% of the time, second-most in the NFL. They were in man coverage a heavy percentage of the time. Per Pro Football Focus, Adoree’ Jackson played man coverage 43.9% of the time, more than any other cornerback. Tae Banks was in man coverage 39.1% of the time, eighth-most. Xavier McKinney was in man coverage 40.9% of the time, second-most among safeties, and Jason Pinnock, 40% of the time, eighth-most.
So, the Giants are built with personnel for a blitz-heavy, man coverage, 3-4 defense. It can be argued that they have defensive backs who are comfortable in zone, but their front seven is probably a different story.
How much change do they want? Blitz-heavy scheme or not, it might be smart to stay in the 3-4 base and limit necessary personnel changes. Besides, their best player is Dexter Lawrence and he has become an All-Pro when asked to play 3-4 nose tackle the last two seasons. Do you want to make him go back to playing a lot of 3-tech?
That is an argument against someone like Leslie Frazier. The veteran DC is well-known to Daboll and GM Joe Schoen, but runs a 4-3. That would be a big change for the Giants that would require a learning curve in a year when Daboll will be under pressure to win.
That brings us to another layer of the argument. Can the Giants, in a year where Daboll and Schoen will be expected to show progress, turn over the defense to someone who has never been a coordinator before? That might be an argument in favor of Frazier or another experienced coordinator.
The Giants have been connected to two candidates thus far — Dennard Wilson of the Baltimore Ravens and Shane Bowen of the Tennessee Titans. Wilson is part of a similar scheme in Baltimore, but has never run a defense. Bowen has been defensive coordinator in Tennessee since 2021.
Daboll’s background, and his clear strength, are on offense. Can he put most or all of his attention into the offense if he hires a first-time defensive play caller?
Whatever he decides, Daboll needs to get it right. Whatever the statistical rankings were, the Giants’ defense played well the second half of the season and the vast majority of players — with the likely exception of Xavier McKinney — loved playing for him.
If things don’t go well for the Giants’ defense in 2024, there will be players who — rightly or wrongly — fault the head coach for that.
There is another thing for Daboll and the Giants to be concerned about. The reports regarding Daboll’s volatility and its impact on his coaching staff are concerning.
I don’t know that there are assistants who “despise” Daboll, as had been reported during the season. When it comes to the Daboll-Martindale breakup, there is probably fault on both sides — though I tend to put the majority of that on an insubordinate coach and underlings who apparently acted as though Daboll and his directives didn’t matter.
What I do know is where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
In Dan Duggan’s reporting about the Daboll-Martindale divorce, a Giants team source refers to Daboll as a “madman” on game days whose screaming makes it difficult for assistant coaches to do their jobs.
We know Daboll isn’t a picture of calm during games. We have seen plenty of sideline outbursts directed at players, coaches and officials to know that he isn’t always in control of his emotions.
We have seen enough reports about Daboll screaming at coaches behind the scenes to understand that there is most likely something to the idea that working and playing for Daboll can require thick skin.
All Giants’ fans remember the introspection that caused Tom Coughlin to change his hard-edged, distant approach with players before the 2007 season. That helped Coughlin become a two-time Super Bowl-winning head coach.
The situations are not identical, but they do offer some parallels.
Ultimately, Daboll’s job is to give his players the best chance to succeed. Part of that is helping his assistant coaches put players in position to do that.
When he was hired by the Giants, Daboll talked about how he had been a “son of a gun” and had to learn to tone down the intensity in dealing with players.
In the wake of everything that has gone on, and with Daboll facing a third year that could be his last as Giants head coach if things implode, perhaps the coach needs to consider whether a similar adjustment is necessary in dealing with his coaching staff.