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New York Giants' Problems Begin at the Top, Keeping Dave Gettleman Is a Mistake

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterDecember 30, 2019

New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman watches warm ups before an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Seth Wenig/Associated Press

Before they select a new head coach, and before they can move forward toward becoming a winning football team again, the Giants must figure out what they really want.

The Giants want to win Super Bowls, of course. But the failures of the last seven years are the result of the Giants' insistence on trying to win Super Bowls their old-fashioned way. 

As an organization, the Giants value continuity, stability and loyalty. Those are wonderful things for an organization in any industry to stand for, and they can be a means to winning a championship. But the Giants value them to a fault: Stability and traditionalism have almost become ends in themselves, and it is crippling the team's ability to compete.

The Giants fired head coach Pat Shurmur on Monday but announced that they will retain general manager Dave Gettleman. Shurmur was an interchangeable coaching retread with a 9-23 record for the Giants and a dismal 19-46 record overall. He was expendable. Gettleman worked in the front office through the 2007 to '11 Super Bowl glory years before leaving the nest to run the Panthers for a few years. He's Giants family, so he stays.

Seth Wenig/Associated Press

That's how the Giants operate. The perfect Giants employee is someone who has either always been a Giants employee or used to be a Giants employee. The best ideas are the ones that worked in 2007 or 1986. If you want co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch to listen to you, tell them things they either already know or choose to believe.

This is the organization that held on to Tom Coughlin at least two years too long and then held on to Eli Manning at least two years too long after that. Gettleman is their latest security blanket, the guy who will do things the old-fashioned way whether they work or not. 

Most of the discussion during Gettleman's tenure has surrounded a handful of controversial-but-justifiable decisions: drafting Saquon Barkley with the second overall pick in 2018 (a great player, but poor value in that draft slot), drafting Daniel Jones this year (a much-maligned prospect who showed some promise), trading Odell Beckham Jr. (you know the drill here) and trading for defensive tackle Leonard Williams (another case of fine player, terrible value/fit).

But look past the splashy moves and you will find that the Giants have one of the NFL's weakest top-to-bottom rosters after two years on Gettleman's watch. The offensive line and the entire defense need complete overhauls. Lower-round draft picks and veteran acquisitions have been hit-or-miss, with far too many misses. The Giants are further from contention now than they were on the day Coughlin left.

The Giants' vision moving forward appears to be for Gettleman to keep trying to build a Giants team that looks backward: a running-and-defense, tough-in-the-trenches team that Coughlin or Bill Parcells would be proud of. Hog Mollies are welcome, OBJ-type melodrama generators are not. They even found the closest thing to an Eli Manning clone they could in Jones. The Giants want to keep doing the same things until they produce different results. 

An old-school approach can have its merits, but Gettleman spends the team's money and draft resources in all the wrong ways: too much investment at running back, not enough at receiver, too much up the middle of the defense, not enough at edge-rusher or cornerback; too much emphasis on spit-polish-and-firm-handshake types, not enough willingness to take risks.

Gettleman succeeded Jerry Reese, a 23-year Giants company man who spent his final seasons going to extraordinary means to extend the shelf life of the Coughlin-Manning era. Coughlin himself started out as a Parcells assistant before going from reviled task master to lovable tough-guy champion to doddering old boomer in 12 eventful years as head coach, with both Reese and Gettleman in his front office for most of that time. The reason the Giants cannot escape their past is because they are not even trying. 

The organization now embarks on its third head coaching search in five years. Their last two choices, Ben McAdoo and Shurmur, were nondescript personalities who began their tenures saddled with the Eli problem. Both were selected to operate within the status quo, not shake things up.

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 03: New York Giants head coach Ben McAdoo leaves the field after the Warm up before their game against the Oakland Raiders at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on December 3, 2017 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/G
Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

McAdoo was a Coughlin coordinator who was promoted from within (did we mention that the Giants hate change?) and then fired for having the temerity for thinking he could bench Manning without the express written consent of all living members of the Mara family. Shurmur wasted one year watching creaky Manning run the offense, then had to handle the Manning-Jones transition like he was disarming a nuclear missile and then had to figure out how to win games with a fumble-prone rookie quarterback, few weapons and no defense. Shurmur did a poor job with what little he was given, and McAdoo was an awful communicator who lost the locker room at the first sign of trouble, but neither coach was put in a position to succeed.

There are currently two top coaching candidates on the rumor mill with Giants roots. Matt Rhule spent one season on Coughlin's staff but is better known for the offensive innovation and forward-thinking culture he brought to the Temple University and Baylor programs. Jason Garrett remained the Cowboys head coach at press time but could be available by the time you read this. Garrett played a few seasons for the Giants, and his father was a Giants assistant coach from 1970 to '73, which is the sort of detail that matters to a franchise that has been owned by one family for 95 years. (Ron Rivera, who coached under Gettleman for the Panthers, appears to be headed to Washington).

It would be easy to say that Rhule is the ideal choice to be the next Giants coach and that hiring Garrett would be a tragicomic nightmare. It would also be reductive. The Giants' choice of coach is less important than their expectations for that coach. Do they expect a yes man? Are they open to new ideas? Does the new coach have the authority to challenge someone who sat across the table from Coughlin or Parcells, or (shudder) question someone whose last name is Mara or Tisch?

In short, do the Giants want to be a 21st-century football franchise or an old family polishing tarnished trophies in a dilapidated mansion? 

If they want to be the latter, there's Garrett or whichever career coordinator rolls off the assembly line, with Gettleman making all the decisions. 

But if they want the former, they need more than just someone like Rhule. The Giants also need to look outside their insular world, be non-traditional and embrace change.

Those are three things they are terrible at. And based on their decision to retain Gettleman, they are off to a miserable start.