Evolution, not revolution.
These words have been repeated often by Ben McAdoo since he took over for Tom Coughlin as head coach of the New York Giants in January. McAdoo isn’t Coughlin and he won’t try to be, but he’s made it clear in interview after interview that continuity is key. All three coordinators are familiar faces. McAdoo’s beloved offense will probably return eight or nine starters. Hell, the clocks are still set to Coughlin Time — five minutes fast. Even so, there’s no denying times have changed. Big Blue had the oldest coach in the league last year, and now they have the second youngest.
McAdoo, who just turned 39 at the beginning of this month, has already taken steps to freshen things up. The rigid, strenuous, almost militaristic practices of Coughlin have been tweaked. McAdoo lets the team listen to music while they practice and the meetings are more frequent but shorter, but to many, including Rashad Jennings, Jonathan Hankins, and Victor Cruz, it feels more like a new spin on things than a total upheaval.
In other ways, the new boss has changed things entirely. McAdoo is 30+ years younger than Coughlin, so it should come as no surprise that his way of engaging and interacting with his players is a bit more in tune with the younger crowd. He’s constantly texting back and forth with his players, since “a lot of them really don’t do email anymore.” He hits them up as a friend as well, discussing personal matters and shooting the shit about the NBA. This seems like a coach who should have no issue communicating with his team, and from the outside looking in, it seems like he has a crystal clear vision of how he wants the Giants to go about their work.
Using @billyjoel as the soundtrack to Giants camp? I think I’m going to like this Ben McAdoo guy pic.twitter.com/gGdvJY4KVY
— Ralph Vacchiano (@RVacchianoNYDN) July 29, 2016
The work itself is what I’m concerned about. I do buy that the New York Giants already have a pretty strong identity, especially considering McAdoo is a rookie. However, that means nothing if his team can’t do better than 2015’s squad. The blueprint for this team to succeed has already been written for the most part, and that’s why the “evolution not revolution” mindset fits so well. Spagnuolo’s defense was miserable last year — the worst in the league by many measures — but it is known that he can work magic if he has a talented defensive line, and Jerry Reese went out and got him exactly that this offseason. McAdoo’s successor as offensive coordinator is Mike Sullivan, Eli Manning’s former quarterback coach, so there’s no need to worry about continuity with the unity whose only key loss was Reuben Randle, and the model in place is an effective one.
It almost goes without saying, but most of the weight is on the guys wearing the shoulder pads, even if Spagnuolo, McAdoo, and Reese end up being the scapegoats. Eli has set the bar fairly high for himself in the past two years under McAdoo, the front office spent 200 million dollars in free agency to help fix the defense, and there are plenty of young players who supposedly have a lot of potential. On paper, the 2016 Giants are already a great improvement on the team Tom Coughlin had to coach last year, and when you throw in the possibility of Victor Cruz returning, it’t not even close.
Evolution is the best course of action here. Even though he’s adopting a team that just went through one long heartbreak of a season, it feels like McAdoo is handling the transition with grace. There are some soft spots on the roster, most notably at linebacker and on the right side of offensive line. That, paired with the fact that this is a 6-10 team who hired a new coach and overpaid a couple free agents adds up to modest expectations for many. Whether or not this team is capable of winning it all is debatable (maybe not so much for OBJ), but I see this to be very much a win now situation.
I’m not saying McAdoo is in danger of going one and done (but I’m not not saying it either), because I don’t think that’s in line with the way John Mara and Steve Tisch do business, but he has a checklist that needs to be filled up if he plans on sticking around a while. Of course he said that his goal for the season is to put a fifth trophy in the case, but really, as long as he hits the ground running he’s in good shape.
The first thing this team has to improve upon is game management, from playing with a lead to keeping an eye on the clock. Too many games were lost last season for those reasons, and a repeat of that would be devastating for the psyches of everyone involved (including fans like myself). Another year of bad defense and missing the playoffs might mean Spags gets the boot, and Reese was on thin ice even before he went out and spent a ton of money this offseason.
It’s not too hard to picture a sad ending for McAdoo and the Giants we know today. Eli is 35, and the team has only made the playoffs five times since drafting him in 2004. The defense either stinks or is unproven depending how you look at it, and if the critics are right about all these free agents being overpaid, it’s going to put the organization back a few years. I’m sure a universe exists where we’re watching the beginning of an soul-wrenching collapse here for the New York Football Giants, followed by an uncomfortably long rebuilding process made worse by having to accept that Eli Manning isn’t walking through that door anymore. This could very well be this universe, as much as I hate to admit it. McAdoo and his dudes have no choice but to evolve, failure to do so means the death of the Eli Manning era and presumably cleaning house.
This team inspires hope and doubt. If they can’t change and grow, and the end result resembles 2015’s, heads will roll and the future gets a lot murkier. If the Giants will compete at the highest level this year, the team we will see on the highlights will look a hell of a lot different than the team we see today, even if it’s made of mostly the same stuff.
As a Giants fan, I’m choosing to believe that McAdoo will right the ship now that he’s been given the wheel, and half of my reason is because the alternative is terrifying. The other half is genuine belief. I like how he is able to engage the players in ways Coughlin could not, and how he speaks their language. Holding shorter, more frequent meetings and allowing music to be played may give some the impression that he’s softer than Coughlin, and that opens the door for players to walk all over him. I don’t think this will be the case.
His approach is similar to that of progressive academia: catering to individual needs and tweaking a conventionally structured and ultimately unfulfilling model. He has started off by making a point of keeping a lot of things the same, but change is unavoidable. He knows it, and if he embraces that truth and runs with it, the McAdoo era could be prosperous, and what starts as an evolution may become a revolution after all.
– Jim Bearor (@JimBearor)