EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — One year ago this week, the Giants did something they once thought was unthinkable. They cleaned out, firing their coach and general manager in the middle of the season.
The decision was born of desperation. The franchise had no direction. The players were lost. And the whole operation had become the butt of jokes across the NFL nation. The Giants were 2-10 at the time.
One year and two days later, they are 4-8, which is hardly much of an improvement. But to the players, executives and team personnel who endured last season’s mess, the improvement has been dramatic.
The Giants are now in a much better place.
“Yeah, definitely,” said quarterback Eli Manning, whose benching was the catalyst that prompted the Giants to fire head coach Ben McAdoo and GM Jerry Reese. “I feel good about this team and where we are. Obviously, it took a little while to get going. I feel like we’ve played better football this year than last year, for sure. The record is just a little better right now. Had a couple heart breakers, but we’re on the right track and doing some good stuff.”
“Yeah, we’re headed in the right direction,” added cornerback Janoris Jenkins. “Everyone is playing to win. Knowing what our record is, everyone is still flying to the ball, coaching at a high level, trying to win.
“It makes you want to be here.”
That’s a big difference from last year, when so many couldn’t wait for the season to be over. It’s clear the entire Giants organization is better off under new GM Dave Gettleman and coach Pat Shurmur.
Here’s a look at why:
The new regime is not afraid to admit mistakes
Obviously it would be preferable if they didn’t make mistakes, but since that’s not going to happen, this is the next best thing. For too many years under Reese, the Giants stubbornly stuck by failed draft picks or players who didn’t seem to be a fit. Reese maintained a belief in the players he chose and wanted to give them time to work out.
Gettleman, however, had no problem cutting guard Patrick Omameh eight months after signing him to a three-year, $15 million deal as part of his offensive line overhaul. He had no loyalty to players like Jason Pierre-Paul, Ereck Flowers, Eli Apple and Damon Harrison who were released or traded. If a player isn’t working or doesn’t fit, he seems to have no problem moving on to someone else.
Sometimes that’s a mistake. The Giants sure could use JPP’s pass-rush ability, after all. But more often than not, the ability to recognize a failure is a good thing. It allows them to reset and move on.
The head coach is not overwhelmed
When the Giants hired Shurmur, Gettleman pointedly hailed him as “an adult” — a not-so-veiled reference to how unprepared McAdoo seemed at time for the head job. That has been very clear in Shurmur’s steady and stern approach to this team, even in the wake of a 1-7 start. Players did not sense any panic or change in his approach. They appreciated that he remained the same.
“He always coaches the same, whether we win or lose,” Jenkins said. “He’s just a great guy.”
Nowhere has Shurmur’s steady approach been more evident than in how he’s handled Odell Beckham Jr., a volatile player with a penchant for doing his own thing and making unwanted headlines. Remember, it was Shurmur’s offseason outreach to Beckham as much as anything that drew the star receiver to the offseason program and prevented a contract holdout. And Shurmur was crystal clear about what he expected from Beckham — and when that hasn’t happened, the coach has been stern behind the scenes.
Players took notice. They also took notice about how Shurmur didn’t call Beckham out publicly. They appreciate that he keeps any issues in-house. “We know he has our back,” one player said. That didn’t happen last year, especially as McAdoo changed his approach to discipline midseason and frantically tried to dig his crumbling team out of a hole.
Shurmur may not be having a great first season with the Giants record-wise, but he’s certainly handled everything like an adult — and a coach.
The players aren’t revolting
Last year, two cornerbacks were suspended midseason (Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie); another was suspended at the end of the season (Apple); a teammate (Landon Collins) then called him a “cancer”; one offensive lineman got cut in the final week (Bobby Hart); and another got benched (Flowers).
All that wasn’t just a sign of frustration; it was an open revolt against McAdoo. This year, with almost as much losing, absolutely nothing like that has happened under Shurmur. He has commanded the players’ respect. And as one team official said, “These guys are busting their a–es for him.” There’s a feeling of team inside the room that absolutely wasn’t there a year ago, when it sure looked like a lot of players had quit.
The offensive line is finally being rebuilt
One former Giants offensive assistant coach insisted that he spent years screaming at Reese in the team’s war room on draft day to “get us some f—ing linemen,” and usually he left the room frustrated and disappointed. In fairness to Reese, he did draft more linemen high in the draft than people generally remember. They just didn’t often work out very well.
Gettleman made it clear on Day 1 that the O-line was his priority, and Shurmur is absolutely on board with the idea that it still is. And as bad as the line was early in the year, it sure has looked better lately. Left tackle Nate Solder is finally playing up to his $62 million contract. Rookie left guard Will Hernandez is improving. And they plucked a keeper off the waiver wire in right guard Jamon Brown.
This offseason, they might replace center Spencer Pulley (although they do like him as well as injured center Jon Halapio) and right tackle Chad Wheeler. But both have played well lately and could be a part of the future as important reserves. The bottom line is, for the first time in years, the Giants look like they have an NFL-quality line. Best of all, they’re not done building it yet.
There is optimism in the building
This is why the recent streak of three wins in four games matters. The Giants haven’t had much optimism around the building in recent years. The last few years of the Tom Coughlin era, everyone was tense, sensing an inevitable ending. McAdoo had 2015, but in 2016 everyone from team officials to the players seemed angry and lost as everything collapsed.
Finally, they have a sense that they’re building something, headed back in the right direction. And that matters more than where the Giants land in the draft order — especially to the players who still have a future with the team.
“We took over a 3-13 operation,” Shurmur said. “We need to learn how to win again. Moving forward next year, a lot of these same guys are going to be with us — hopefully, most of them. There’s a lot to be learned about battling through adversity at the end of the season and fighting to win games. I think you create a memory bank of stuff that helps you moving forward.”
It also helps if everyone believes in the program. For the first time in a while, it certainly seems like they do.