After clinching their first playoff berth in seven years on Sunday, the Giants threw sports drink all over the man who deserves to win the NFL Coach of the Year award. No one has done more with less than Brian Daboll in 2022. No recruit in these last few rounds has toiled up the priceless rungs of the coaching ladder for so long before establishing himself as a guru or a genius worthy of serious consideration.
But this hire took a monumental effort that we don’t often consider when it comes to recognizing successful football coaches. It required the Giants to bet against themselves, look beyond a formula that had made them one of the most successful modern franchises, and defuse a business that thrived comfortably in a family atmosphere. We’ve written about this before, but on a day like Sunday, it takes on even more significance. The Giants hadn’t brought real, fresh, unknown blood into their organization since the late 1970s, when they hired legendary general manager George Young. From there, each subsequent hire was inspired in some way by the right choices before it. Bill Parcells eventually gave way to Dan Reeves, the 1993 Coach of the Year. who gave way to Jim Fassel, the ’97 Coach of the Year, who reached Super Bowl XXXV. who gave way to Tom Coughlin, who won Super Bowls XLII and XLVI. All of these hires were made either by Young or one of his associates.
No one would blame the Giants if they continued to operate as the thriving family business they were, even as Ben McAdoo gave way to Pat Shurmur, who gave way to Joe Judge.
Somewhere along the way, though, the idea came not to take a coach and teach him the Giant Way, but to allow a new Giant Way to emerge naturally. In came Daboll and GM Joe Schoen from Buffalo, offensive coordinator Mike Kafka from Kansas City and defensive coordinator Don Martindale from Baltimore. From all of these places, the Giants got a sense of what they’ve been missing — how other successful teams operate and how to succeed in ways you might not have thought of. This wasn’t Ford Motor Company’s all-electric, but it wasn’t insignificant either.
Now, let’s take a look at the opposing line from Sunday’s 38–10 demolition of the Colts.
After losing its fifth straight game, after starting its third different quarterback, after being shut out again in the fourth quarter, Indianapolis had to return home on a plane paid for by a man who apparently still thinks this experiment is a good idea. Just a week ago, Jim Irsay told ESPN in an interview that he considered interim Jeff Saturday a strong candidate for the full-time job. NFL Network reported through sources briefed on the situation that Irsay still felt that way as of late Sunday morning.
This recruitment also took a monumental effort. Irsay had to call a friend and ESPN analyst and say “please?” It took wiping out a staff with a suspect lineup and messing with the end of two outstanding quarterback careers in Matt Ryan and Nick Foles. Almost on the exact opposite instinct that brought Daboll to the Giants, the Colts tripled on their most unreliable gut instincts and are now circling the pipeline. They’re not bad enough to take the quarterback who could fix all that at the top of the draft (the Texans seem determined to keep that distinction), and they’re not good enough to keep us from pointing and laughing.
Let this be a lesson to all of us about our personal comfort zones and what can truly make us better. Chances are many of us made a New Year’s resolution around destroying one of those same mental processes. One could argue that the Colts have had a better roster this season than their counterparts on Sunday. They had more stable and measurable resources. They had higher hopes. But they—Irsay, really—decided that what was right for the franchise was his personal idea of what a coach could be. Sure, that’s gotten him Jim Caldwell and Tony Dungy in the past. It also helped him reach Frank Reich, who, we’ll likely see, is a legitimate coaching prospect for other teams in 2023.
But it also brought them here, to this place, where they were brushing elbows with a man soaked and overjoyed. With a team that was on its way to the playoffs, with an owner who, I bet, is enjoying every minute of that drive, recognizing how much he overcomes the slight discomfort he endured to go against his instincts in the first place.