By Steve Silverman
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With the end of the season just days away, John Mara has to deal with the mess his New York Giants franchise has become.
Mess means different things to different people. Some observers can look at the Giants and say that things are absolutely pristine compared to the problems of teams like the New York Jets and the Chicago Bears, for example.
If the Giants can beat St. Louis and Philadelphia in the last two weeks of the season, they will be a robust 7-9. They will miss the playoffs for the fifth time in the last six seasons.
For a team that has won two Super Bowls in the last seven years, that should be a clear signal that things need to change. But Mara is not going to be influenced by fans, talk shows or any kind of public pressure. He and partner Steve Tisch will run the franchise as they see fit.
It seems quite clear that the Giants have reached the end of the line with head coach Tom Coughlin. He has been a brilliant leader for the franchise and brought them as many Super Bowls as Bill Parcells did.
But here’s the issue: They have been going in the wrong direction for the last three years. After winning the Super Bowl following a brilliant 4-0 postseason run in 2011, they went 9-7 with a team that appeared to be stronger than the one that won the Super Bowl the year before. Last year’s 7-9 record was disappointing, and this year’s 5-9 record is even worse. The Giants were 3-2 after five weeks and in a position to make a statement.
They made that statement by losing seven straight games as they faced the iron of the schedule.
By the start of next season, Coughlin will be 69 years old. He is sharp, driven and has one of the best track records of any coach in the business. He’s clearly a top-15 coach in the history of the game, and he has done it with maximum effort and preparation. He has been worth every dollar he has been paid.
Coughlin is not going to lose his ability as a coach merely because he is approaching 70. However, that’s where Mara and Tisch have to do their work and make a tough decision. Coughlin can coach an existing contender despite his age.
But the Giants don’t fit that description. While there are some working parts like Eli Manning, Odell Beckham Jr., Andre Williams and Victor Cruz, there are a lot of problems that need addressing. Start off with offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo and defensive coordinator Perry Fewell.
Neither one is doing his job adequately at this point. If Coughlin was going to address these issues by rebuilding his coaching staff, you have to wonder the quality of assistants he could get at this point.
Are the best assistants going to join a 69-year-old man who has never been known for his flexibility? There’s no room for patience, and the assistants would have to provide immediate results.
While that’s a fair demand for the fans, how could any self-respecting assistant feel good about his chances for success?
Especially the assistant that eventually takes over for Fewell. The Giants’ defense (25th in yards allowed and 29th against the pass) has been in bad shape for the last two seasons and needs to be rebuilt. They don’t have the pass-rush that allowed them to beat Tom Brady and the Patriots in two Super Bowls, and without that kind of talented personnel, things aren’t going to get much better.
Is general manager Jerry Reese going to hit home runs in the draft and free agency and bring in defensive talent that is cohesive and ready to stop the fast-paced Eagles offense or the power running game of DeMarco Murray and the Cowboys? That’s a big assumption that would be foolish to believe.
Sometimes, the painful move has to be made. Nobody likes the idea of firing a brilliant, earnest coach who has been such an asset for the franchise. But the future does not look bright, and keeping Coughlin around would mean the Giants are basically stuck in mediocrity for as long as he remains on the sidelines.
It has to fall on ownership to make this change. Perhaps a reasonable man like Mara can help Coughlin see the truth for this team. Perhaps Coughlin can become a consultant.
He may not deserve to be fired, but he has to leave the sidelines one way or another for the long-term success of the team.
It’s a painful move that has to be made.
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