For Giants' fans, there are two ways to look at Bill Sheridan.
On the one hand, there's lots to be excited about: Sheridan, a football lifer, a guy who's been in coaching for over 25 years, is finally getting his chance to coordinate a defense. Plus, he was apparently an easy choice for Coach Tom Coughlin, who named him as Steve Spagnuolo's successor just two days after Spags left to coach the St. Louis Rams.
Sheridan has stated that he's going to stick with Spagnuolo's system, and he's going to be running it with premium parts: a defense that ranked 5th overall last season is getting Pro Bowl DE Osi Umenyiora back, plus two more monstrous linemen (Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard), a fleet, nasty weakside linebacker (Michael Boley), and players like Terrell Thomas and Kenny Phillips seem ready to improve on their solid rookie seasons. The team's defensive leaders, from Justin Tuck on down, offered support for Sheridan, and LB Danny Clark went so far as to call him "one of the most intelligent football minds I've ever been around."
But anecdotes aside, Sheridan has never been a defensive coordinator at any level. In fact, his job as linebackers coach for the Giants was his first in the NFL. For all the talk about what a diamond in the rough Steve Spagnuolo was, he had previous experience as a coordinator at Connecticut. He had served in many different capacities on several NFL teams before GM Jerry Reese and Coughlin gave him his chance.
There are plenty of reasons to think that Bill Sheridan may become a successful defensive coordinator in the NFL some day, but that process can take time. First-time coaches, no matter how talented, sometimes struggle with the challenge of leading an entire unit (Bill Belichick, anybody?). And saying you're going to institute an aggressive, attacking defense isn't the same as actually running one (Tim Lewis, anybody?).
In an interview he gave in late April, Bill Sheridan wisely emphasized how little he wanted change.
Aside from talking about "streamlining" the schemes and pledging to drop his linemen into coverage less, he stressed that his primary concern was not screwing anything up.
"The most important thing for a coordinator is competence," he said.
For this first-time leader of the Giants' most important unit, that might be the best fans can hope for. In addition to a dangerously improved Eagles team and the already potent Cowboys, the Giants' 2009 schedule features a daunting range of formidable opponents.
Sheridan's charges will face the aerial assault that is the New Orleans Saints on the road, Carolina's running game in Week 16, plus the speed demon Oakland Raiders, and the Adrian Peterson Express in Minnesota.
But if Sheridan can maintain his composure from up high (he plans to coach from the coaches' box, rather than from the sidelines), the Giants' biggest offseason gamble should pay off.
They have enough talent, enough experience, and have a proven, effective system in place. Thankfully, it sounds like Sheridan will keep that in mind.
"If you give them a plan each week to go into the game where they feel they are going to have a chance," Sheridan said, "they will be motivated and they will respond to you."