The New York Giants knew who they wanted to replace Tom Coughlin after they fired him last January. Even though they interviewed a slew of candidates as required by the league, their plan all along was to promote offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo to have him steer the ship toward the future.
What happened next wasn't exactly what they expected.
McAdoo, who had saved QB Eli Manning from himself in two seasons as offensive coordinator and turned the offense back into a league force, was an up-and-coming young mind who was going to take the Giants back to the top of the NFC standings.
He has done that -- not as the offensive genius they hoped, but the coach of a defensive-centric club that is reaping the benefits of an offseason spending spree that brought in a much-needed infusion of talent.
New York's defense rose from last in the league last year to 15th this year, however its offense has gone from being the eighth-ranked one to being ranked 27th. The Giants are scoring fewer than 20 points per game (19.4) after averaging 26.2 last season. But defensively, they are allowing only 18.2 points per game this year after giving up 27.6 per in 2015. Only Seattle and New England are allowing fewer this year.
The Giants retained McAdoo for his relationship with Manning, one that still appears strong, but Manning's progression has statistically taken a nosedive. He has thrown too many dubious passes this season and his interceptions have cost the Giants dearly. As for the rest of the offense, the running game is sluggish and the passing game, despite returning Odell Beckham Jr., bringing back a healthy Victor Cruz and drafting rookie Sterling Shepard, has not been the vertical juggernaut it could have been.
Since throwing for 403 yards and three touchdowns in the Giants' Week 6 win over the Baltimore Ravens, Manning has averaged just 212 yards over next eight contests. The Giants lost only once over that period. Last Thursday, Manning threw three picks in a 24-19 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
While GM Jerry Reese deserves credit for bringing in the likes of Janoris Jenkins, Olivier Vernon and Damon Harrison, McAdoo deserves his share, too, for managing this team and keeping Steve Spagnuolo as defensive coordinator. Spagnuolo had come off a string of failures since leading the Giants' defense to a championship in Super Bowl XLII, and was also in contention for the head coaching job. He was likely headed for the door when McAdoo decided he wanted him to stay.
"I'll go back to 2007, the way the defense improved in 2007," McAdoo said about keeping Spagnuolo. "We played them early in the season when I was in Green Bay and seeing them at the end of the year was a tremendous coaching job. They improved tremendously and our defense is taking steps this year; not only from year one to year two under Spags, but this year. They keep improving."
While Spagnuolo has been "a great resource," McAdoo said, he has helped turn the club around with his attitude and professionalism. The players and coaches have respected him, and the on-field results back that up.
McAdoo is under no illusions when it comes to how he's gotten to a 10-5 record and is on the verge of becoming the best rookie coach in team history. The Giants have drafted well the past several seasons, but the free-agent splashes accelerated the Giants' turnaround.
"I think we've been fortunate," he said. "When you look at it, when you go out through free agency, you're really not sure what you're getting character-wise until they're in the building. You have coaches and players that you lean on and talk to throughout the league who have worked with guys, but until you get them in a room, you're not sure what you get. We've got New York Giant character types and that's the biggest key to everything."
McAdoo's Giants are not like Coughlin's. They more resemble that of Bill Parcells, minus the smashmouth running game. That's not a knock on McAdoo, though. It may be a bit boring and tedious, but winning never tires.