New York Giants co-owner John Mara has spent his entire life around the NFL, observing his father, Wellington, celebrate and agonize over the team that Mara now celebrates and agonizes over, too. There is little Mara has not seen before, at the Giants or throughout the league, and almost nothing he has not wondered about how he would address. But on Monday, when Mara sought to explain why head coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese are out of jobs with a month still to go in the 2017 season, Mara admitted he never saw this disastrous campaign coming.
He, like most outsiders, thought the Giants had improved their roster by adding receivers and tight ends. He thought the defense, which had propelled the team to 11 victories and the playoffs last year, would pick up where it left off. And then nothing was the same. Mara was as blindsided by this collapse as Eli Manning was by his benching last week.
"We're 2-10. We've kind of been spiraling out of control here," Mara said. "I just felt we needed a complete overhaul."
The last time they fired a head coach during the season was 1976. The last time they hired a general manager from the outside was 1979, when they brought in George Young. They like consistency and steadiness, and that has served them well -- the Giants have won four Super Bowls since Young became the GM. The last person Young hired before he retired? Reese, as a scout, who oversaw the team that won New York's two most recent Super Bowls. It is the general manger who came between Young and Reese -- Ernie Accorsi, who swung the draft-day trade for Manning, who put so many of the pieces in place to form the powerful pass rush that overwhelmed Tom Brady -- who will serve as a consultant for the Giants to find their next general manager. He was a strong advocate for Reese to succeed him when he retired in 2007, and that decision served the Giants extremely well until today. Accorsi's presence, and his familiarity with the Giants' mindset, will be a comforting bit of continuity for those who yearn for the old-school Giants.
But even Mara seems ready for a fresh start. If the 2-10 record did not tell the entire story, Mara made clear that the botched benching of Manning last week -- Mara said people should blame him, because he opted not to overrule McAdoo's proposed plan that Manning rejected -- was not the final straw but merely was of a piece with a season that had blown completely apart. For a team like the Giants, a team that so values stability, to fire a head coach and general manager who won 11 games last year speaks volumes about what Mara believes are intractable problems that McAdoo and Reese could simply not be allowed to fix.
In hindsight, there were signs that Mara was concerned about the leadership of the team. He said Monday he thought the team needed more leaders in the locker room, and that will especially be the case if Manning is elsewhere next season. Mara might want a firmer hand, perhaps more like the one that former Giants coach Tom Coughlin had, guiding his team. Early in the season, when Odell Beckham Jr. pantomimed being a dog urinating on a fire hydrant to celebrate a touchdown, Mara was forced to tell reporters he was unhappy with the gesture when McAdoo declined to criticize the star receiver.
Mara kept using the word embarrassed on Monday, and that is no surprise to anybody who has spoken to him this season. Mara does not interfere with coaching decisions, but he is deeply tied to the day-to-day movements of his team, and even in casual conversations during the season, his weariness and frustration were obvious.
In his Monday press conference, Mara mentioned that he had never before in his life had a team go through so many injuries that he had to check the flip card during games to see who was playing. But then he noted that the team got off to a terrible start -- the Giants were 0-5 -- even before the injury wave fully engulfed it. The offense was not better. The defense was not as good. There were players who were not playing as well as they should have. Things came apart both on and off the field. Mara called it a perfect storm.
"Everything that could have gone wrong has gone wrong so far this season, and it's just one of those things you have to live through and suck it up and make whatever changes you have to make and go on," Mara said.
Mara and Tisch, of course, will get some of the blame for how their team fell apart. Two years ago, they thought McAdoo was the right man for the job, after they thought it was the right thing to part ways with Tom Coughlin. Whether or not the Giants really thought Coughlin was too old to relate to today's players, that was the narrative that emerged. It turned out that McAdoo had even more trouble communicating with players, a fact that even Mara noted when deconstructing the Manning mess.
Let's not overstate the halcyon days before McAdoo, though, because that would be shortsighted and place too much of the blame in McAdoo's lap. The Giants won the Super Bowl at the end of the 2007 and 2011 seasons. But excluding those two stirring runs, they made the playoffs just two other times since 2007, and they did not win another playoff game. When this season ends, they will have missed the playoffs in five of the last six seasons. That is an indictment of everything: roster construction, coaching, playing.
With the most high-profile part of the bloodletting over, the remaining pieces in New York make a quick turnaround entirely possible, provided the right hires are made -- witness the Rams, who went from 4-12 in 2016 to 9-3 this year with rookie head coach Sean McVay. The Giants have two of the most coveted jobs in the NFL. Whoever gets them will acquire patient ownership, unquestioned resources, a veteran quarterback, a very high draft pick in a rich quarterback class and a superstar receiver. Mara prefers the traditional structure, in which the general manager has personnel control, and he intends to hire a general manager first. But he said if the right person were interested, he would at least consider a different structure. In a year that will surely see many more openings, there is unlikely to be one more attractive than this.