By Jason Keidel
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So as the bloodletting from Black Monday leaves many NFL head coaching vacancies, the Giants begin their turn of spin the bottle to find their next sideline guru. And while sport sites around America are pining for a dozen coaches, let’s ponder the men we know Big Blue is talking to.
Eric Studesville, former assistant head coach and running backs coach for the Denver Broncos: Studesville, 50, whose Thursday interview has been postponed due to the blizzard, has a thin connection with the franchise, serving as its running backs coach from 2001-03. Assuming the club’s interest is sincere, you wonder why it would be so keen on someone who’s at the same place on the coaching ladder 15 years later — and just got fired from it.
Pat Shurmur, Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator: Any coach of the 13-3 Vikings should be a strong candidate this year, especially Shurmur, 52, who made the Vikings a behemoth despite relying on third-string quarterback Case Keenum. With Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford injured, the Vikings weren’t on anyone’s summer radar as Super Bowl contenders. Yet Shurmur’s offense, led by a career backup, still posted 24 points per game, with only four NFC clubs scoring more. Shurmur had a pit stop as head coach of the Cleveland Browns from 2011-12, going 9-23 — a dynasty by Browns standards.
Steve Wilks, Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator: Like Shurmur, Wilks, 48, has picked a good time to coach up a robust unit on a playoff club. While quarterback Cam Newton may be the mercurial face of the Panthers franchise, the defense is the anchor. Wilks’ D was ranked seventh overall this season and was the third stingiest against the run, allowing just 88.1 yards per game on the ground.
Jim Schwartz, Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator: Schwartz, 51, may have the most head coaching experience of the known candidates, but like Shurmur in Cleveland, Schwartz lorded over a gridiron black hole in Detroit, from 2009 through 2013. He finished with 29-51 record, for a .363 winning percentage. Following a trend among candidates, Schwartz is in charge of a dominant unit (defense) on a 13-3 ballclub. The Eagles have the league’s fourth-ranked defense, allowing 306.5 yards per game. That includes the top-ranked rush defense, which yielded an obscene 79.2 yards per game.
Steve Spagnuolo, Giants defensive coordinator/interim head coach: Spagnuolo, 58, could be the safest, most familiar and most comfy choice to coach the Giants in 2018. No one knows the halls, walls and quirks at MetLife better than Spags. The argument against the affable Spagnuolo is his 11-41 coaching record, largely with the St Louis Rams. He interviewed for the job Wednesday.
Matt Patricia, Patriots defensive coordinator: The man who looks equal parts Pats coach and Ice Road Trucker, the bearded Patricia is often seen on the sideline in violent, spastic gestures, imploring his defense to give that last ounce of effort, if not blood. While New England is perched in its familiar place as the top seed in the AFC playoffs, its defense has been anywhere from good to decent to downright awful. Is it talent, execution or coaching? That’s what newly minted Giants GM Dave Gettleman must decide.
But it says here the best pick is Josh McDaniels, who speaks to the Giants on Friday.
Remember, not all firings are equal. Like McDaniels, who was canned by the Broncos despite not even getting two full seasons under the headset, finishing with an 11-17 record. Also consider he was only 33 when he got the gig and was booted for failing to win with Tim Tebow at QB. Now, at 41, with a few more years at the altar of Bill Belichick and the sweet gridiron proximity to Tom Brady, McDaniels, the Patriots’ offensive coordinator, can only be smarter, wiser and better.
Also, consider that back in the 1980s, the average head coaching tenure was 8.5 years. Fast forward to 2018, and the average HC gig is barely three years. So while a man was given the latitude to find his coaching legs with his first franchise, he now must have his coaching epiphany with his second team.
And there’s ample proof that getting fired during your first time as an NFL head coach is hardly a precursor to your second. Consider this list of NFL lifers who were booted from their first head coaching gigs then went on to win a Super Bowl with the next team to take a chance on them: Tom Coughlin, Jon Gruden, Tony Dungy, Dick Vermeil, Don Shula, Pete Carroll and, of course, McDaniels’ boss and mentor, Belichick.
And while the Giants suffered an entire team implosion, there’s still much talent on defense. McDaniels can pick a right-hand man to coach them up while he retools the offense, which should have a healthy Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall and a skyrocketing talent in Evan Engram. And whether the Giants keep their franchise quarterback, Eli Manning, draft their next one or do both, no one speaks QB better than McDaniels.
In 2006, the Jets took a Pats defensive coordinator with no head coaching experience, Eric Mangini, who wasn’t quite ready for the white heat of Broadway. Let Big Blue learn from Gang Green and take an offensive guy who has survived the molars of media as a head coach and is still a very young man by coaching standards. No joshing. Go with McDaniels.
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