EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — During his first season leading the New York Giants in 1983, Bill Parcells said he was trying too hard to be a head coach.
He believes it almost cost him his job. In 1984 he decided to be himself. The new easygoing head coach was gone. The gruff taskmaster with that trademark mean streak that everybody came to know and ultimately appreciate took over. That suited him and the results followed. The Giants won nine games in his second season after winning three in his first, and hoisted a Super Bowl trophy two seasons later.
Even for the great ones (Parcells was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013), there is a learning curve. The same applies to the general manager position, and the Giants hired first-time GM Joe Schoen on Friday.
That makes their upcoming coaching hire more intriguing, especially after what has transpired in New York for the better part of the past decade and particularly the past few years. Do the Giants really want to have a first-time GM and coach learning on the job? Or does one of the most conservative franchises in the NFL prefer a known quantity amidst the overhaul?
The Giants just watched up close and personal as first-time head coaches Ben McAdoo and Joe Judge had it fall apart in Year 2 after promising debut seasons. Co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch didn’t have the patience for them to learn from their mistakes. And that was with veteran general managers Jerry Reese and Dave Gettleman, respectively.
“For me, I’m going young. I’m going ascending on the GM front. But I’m getting some experience [at head coach], because I think in this market your best chance for success is to bring in somebody who has had success and has experience,” former NFL general manager and current ESPN analyst Mike Tannenbaum said recently on ESPN New York. “If I owned the Giants, given what has happened over the past six years, I’m getting a guy that has done it. Done it at a high level. I don’t need any guesswork or projections.”
The known coaching candidates for the Giants are Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, Bills assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores, Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo and Patrick Graham, who ran the Giants’ defense the past two seasons.
Frazier, Flores and Quinn have been NFL head coaches — Frazier with the Minnesota Vikings (2011-13), Flores for the past three seasons with the Dolphins and Quinn with the Atlanta Falcons (2015-20). Daboll, Graham and Anarumo have not.
Daboll, Frazier and Anarumo all had a first interview via videoconference with the Giants over the weekend. Quinn was interviewed Monday, Daboll gets a second interview Tuesday, and Flores and Graham are expected to interview this week.
While hiring a candidate with previous experience as a head coach has some obvious advantages, Schoen comes from Buffalo, where they hired a first-time head coach (Sean McDermott) and general manager (Brandon Beane) in 2017. They built the Bills rather quickly and effectively into a Super Bowl contender.
“Joe has seen how Sean and I work here,” Beane said. “And neither Sean nor I walk through the building [saying] that we got all the answers or that it’s my way or Sean’s way. It’s collaborative. We listen to our coaches, we listen to our doctors, our trainers, our scouts. Whatever the decision needs to be made, we listen and then try to make an informed decision.
“Joe will ultimately have to make some decisions, whether it’s a draft pick or that final decision of paying a player on that team or a free agent somewhere else, but he’s going to value everyone’s input.”
That will have to include the coach. It’s imperative they’re on the same page, which is why sources say Daboll is considered the favorite for the Giants. He and Schoen have worked together previously in Miami (2011) and for the past four seasons in Buffalo.
And if everything the Giants are saying is true, Schoen is driving this coaching search. Not ownership, as it had in the past.
The Bills aren’t the only recent example of a first-time coach/GM combination working. The San Francisco 49ers have also experienced success with Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch. They will be playing in the NFC Championship Game for the second time in three years on Sunday.
“It’s all people-dependent,” a veteran NFL general manager said about whether it can work with a first-time coach and GM. The belief is it can — as long as it’s the right individuals with a shared vision and philosophy.
It’s what Schoen needs to find with his new coach, whether it be a first-timer or someone with experience.
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