Former Giants head coach Bill Arnsparger has passed away at the age of 88 (Giants.com). He coached Big Blue during their "nomad" period (1974-76), a painful era that saw the Giants lose 75% of their games and play in three different stadiums over three seasons.
Arnsparger was one of the NFL's most highly-regarded assistant coaches, leading the Miami Dolphins' "no-name" defense to an undefeated season in 1972 and then another Super Bowl championship in 1973.
The innovative defensive mastermind left Miami to become head coach of the Giants in 1974, a mess of a team that had just gone 2-11-1 under Alex Webster the previous year. Arnsparger was charged with the unenviable task of turning the Giants into a winner.
That would prove to be nearly impossible to achieve, as the Giants were a club devoid of talent, especially on offense. Under Arnsparger, the defense was competitive with veteran stars such as CB Carl "Spider" Lockhart and DE Jack Gregory as well as young studs such as LBs Brad Van Pelt, Harry Carson, Brian Kelley and DL George Martin.
But it was the offense that held the club back from turning a corner during Arnsparger's tenure. Many fans would leave their seats when the offense took the field to get refreshments and use the facilities. When the defense was on the field, the fans stayed and cheered.
Six weeks into Arnsparger's first season with the Giants, the club rolled the dice and traded their 1975 first round draft choice and 1976 second-rounder to Dallas for QB Craig Morton. The trade turned out to be one the franchise would regret for years to come.
Morton became the poster boy for the Giants' frustration. The offense went nowhere with him and he was basically run out of town by the fans and the media. In Morton's defense, he was a pocket passer and the Giants' offensive line was awful. He was battered on what seemed like a weekly basis, had few weapons and, as a result, had little success.
It was a signature of how disconnected the front office had become. Arnsparger was the wrong coach at the wrong time. The Giants needed offense and he, nor any of the players or coaches who served under him, could provide answers.
To add insult to injury, the Cowboys used the picks the Giants sent them in exchange for Morton to select Maryland DT/LB Randy White (yes, that Randy White) with the second overall pick in 1975 and special teams ace Jim Jensen in the second round in 1976.
Not only did the Giants miss out on White, who had a Hall of Fame career, but they missed out on a chance to draft Walter Payton as well. Morton was traded to Denver in 1977, where he revived his career, leading the Broncos to the Super Bowl and having some of his best statistical seasons.
As for Arnsparger, he was relieved of his duties after the Giants opened he 1976 season with seven consecutive losses. He finished 7-28 as Giants' head coach, and his tenure is widely regarded as the darkest in Giants' history. Of course the darkest moment would come two years later, under his successor, John McVay. That would be the infamous "fumble" game agains the Eagles in November of 1978.
Looking back, it's hard not feel for Arnsparger. He left a legacy of winning football everywhere he went. Except here. That's how bad things were back then. It's sad that we have to remember this man with such regret. Bill Arnsparger was a top football man and giant in his field.