It was refreshing earlier this week to hear New York Giants co-owner John Mara admit that his sometimes bullheaded franchise needs to make changes, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
"I think our offense is broken right now," said Mara, according to the The Star-Ledger, "and we need to fix that."
This is a franchise that avoids making waves and usually sticks to company lines and/or cliches, so that was an indication that Mara and Co. meant business when it came to turning this team around.
In addition, by parting ways with offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride in the wake of a season in which their offense ranked 28th, the G-Men are off to a quality start to the 2014 offseason. While Gilbride technically "retired" on Thursday, the writing was on the wall for him after a season in which franchise quarterback Eli Manning set new career highs in interceptions and sacks while trying merely to survive in a one-dimensional antique of an offense.
|Giants offense under Kevin Gilbride|
|Pro Football Reference|
Now, the Giants have to stay on the edge as they attempt to find Gilbride's replacement. This is a franchise handcuffed, rightly or wrongly, by its commitment to Manning and head coach Tom Coughlin, but we know the offense is the problem and big changes are necessary.
That's why it would be a shame if the Giants once again adhered to the status quo and took the easiest, most familiar route by hiring Mike Sullivan, who Newsday's Tom Rock reports "is believed to be the front-runner for the job opening."
Sullivan was an offensive assistant on the Giants staff for the first eight years of Manning's career and Coughlin's tenure. The 46-year-old was the offensive coordinator in Tampa Bay the last two years, but Greg Schiano's regime is out and Sullivan is thus available.
The fear here should be that Sullivan's roots are tied too closely to Coughlin's, and thus Gilbride's as well. If the Giants are thinking outside the box and serious about change, why hire a Coughlin/Gilbride disciple?
In fact, the gripes about Sullivan's offense in Tampa eerily resembled those made about Gilbride in New York the last few years. Critics claimed that Sullivan's offensive approach was old-fashioned and stubborn, and he was slow to adjust after defenses adapted. In fact, the Bucs averaged a solid 12.8 first-half points per game in 2013, but only 5.2 points in the second half of games—the lowest total in the NFL.
Sullivan ran the ball more than you'd expect of a man who has Giants roots, but he also over-complicated the passing game. Sound familiar?
I just don't think going from Gilbride to Sullivan shows much of a willingness to change. It certainly would help keep Manning comfortable, but is that really the goal? If anything, this entire offense needs to get out of its comfort zone going forward.
Sullivan is a symbol of the same old Giants. This organization needs a fresh offensive coordinator—someone who hasn't been tainted by Gilbride's archaic philosophy.
Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News presented the same thoughts regarding Sullivan:
And this idea that Mike Sullivan, the Giants’ former quarterbacks coach, could do better? He’s a terrific coach, but he was running a lot of Gilbride’s offense in Tampa. And, by the way, the 4-12 Bucs had the worst offense in the league. And for those who think quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan should take the fall for Manning’s 27-interception season, consider this: In 2010, many blamed Manning’s 25-interception season on his then-rookie quarterback coach—Mike Sullivan.
If the Giants continue to operate as though only minor tweaks are necessary in order to return to glory, they'll only continue to dig a deeper hole for themselves. This is an offense that needs to be completely revamped. Like it or not, Coughlin has to allow the Giants' offensive approach to become more contemporary, meaning that Manning has to depart from his element and acclimate himself to something utterly new at the age of 33.
None of that will be easy, but it sure beats the stagnant position this offense is currently mired in.
Maybe Lane Kiffin is the answer. Maybe Coughlin is the exact mentor Kiffin needs. Maybe it's Gary Kubiak, who is up on the times, and at least runs a semi-similar offense to the one we've seen from the Giants the last decade. Maybe they gamble on Joe Lombardi, another young up-and-comer who has been Drew Brees' position coach for half a decade.
Whatever they do, they should swing for the fences rather than just hoping to draw a walk. The fact is that this franchise has done too much walking of late.