Of all the vacant head-coaching jobs in this year’s hiring cycle, there is one that stands head and shoulders above the rest. It’s the one Tom Coughlin left behind after 12 mostly memorable seasons, and the best one any prospective coach could ever want.
Coughlin doesn’t leave behind a perfect team, but there are so many factors that bode well for whoever takes the position.
There is a championship-caliber quarterback in Eli Manning, who still has a few good years left after turning 35 on Sunday.
There is one of the best ownership groups in professional sports in the John Mara-Steve Tisch alliance, a partnership that carries the name of the founding family of the team dating to 1925.
And there is a young receiver whose star shines brighter than almost any other playmaker in the entire league. Odell Beckham Jr. can go down as one of the all-time greats if he stays healthy, stays grounded and stays at the stratospheric level he has achieved in his two seasons.
Who wouldn’t want to coach here?
There is work to be done to replenish the defense. That’s no small task for general manager Jerry Reese, who has been rightfully criticized for not making this the kind of representative defense for which the Giants always have been known.
But the bigger issue is who presides on the field, and Coughlin leaves a large set of shoes to fill. His steady leadership and two Super Bowl trophies are a daunting legacy.
Though the list of prospective coaches is intriguing, it is inherently flawed, with no surefire replacement capable of approaching Coughlin’s legacy.
There are two in-house candidates in offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo; both have pluses but also have their minuses, too.
McAdoo has done fine work with Manning, who has adapted well to the West Coast offense, but at 38, it’s uncertain whether he can make the quantum leap to head coach, especially in the pressure-filled New York market. Spagnuolo has head-coaching experience, but he bombed in St. Louis during a three-year run from 2009-11.
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels might have interest in the job, but he burned way too many bridges in Denver as a head coach and was fired in 2010 after less than two seasons.
Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase, 37, is a hot candidate after doing fine work with Tim Tebow, Peyton Manning and now Jay Cutler, but he doesn’t have head-coaching experience.
Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden? Neither championship coach appears ready to leave television.
Stanford coach David Shaw has a splendid resume, but the history of college coaches succeeding in the NFL is spotty. The same concerns hold true for Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly.
The Giants considered Nick Saban in 1997, but the Alabama coach, who failed with the Dolphins when given full personnel control, might bristle under the coach/general manager organization structure.
Sean Payton has been mentioned, and the Saints’ current coach worked under Giants coach Jim Fassel. But the Giants would have to surrender a draft pick to “trade” for Payton. And Payton has been known to bully those around him, which doesn’t fit in the Giants’ organization.
Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has done fine work with Andy Dalton, but he was one-and-done as Oakland’s coach in 2011.
There are lots of candidates with varying degrees of promise — and plenty of drawbacks, too.
The time may have been right for Coughlin to step down, but with no baggage-free successor out there, this will be one very tricky decision for the Mara-Tisch alliance.
Twelve years after Coughlin was the no-brainer hire who transformed the team into two-time champions, there is no obvious heir apparent this time.
Five potential candidates to replace Tom Coughlin:
The Patriots’ offensive coordinator is expected to be one of the top names on the list for all openings. He’s certainly had success in New England, and the Giants may actually like his failure as a head coach (with the Broncos from 2009-10) as something that would drive him. Bill Belichick loved working for the Maras, so if he’s in McDaniels’ ear he could nudge him to the Giants.
The Giants see him as a future head coach, but it may be too soon for the 38-year-old with only two seasons of experience as an offensive coordinator. The plus side would be allowing Eli Manning, Odell Beckham Jr. and the offense to stay within the same system. Gambling on his ability to take over a franchise is risky.
He has a history with the Giants as their offensive coordinator. And there are reports he is intrigued by a possible return. But he’s still under contract with the Saints and they’d likely require a draft pick as compensation. For the talent-starved Giants, giving up a pick for a coach would not seem to make sense.
The Notre Dame coach has long been connected to speculation about the Giants job, but last week he downplayed his desire to move to the NFL without having complete control over a franchise. That won’t happen with this team, which strongly believes in a separation of personnel and coaching. He can always change his mind, of course.
Another successful coordinator — currently offensive with the Bengals — who flamed out in his first head coaching gig (with the Raiders in 2011). Jackson is an energetic coach who connects with players, something the Giants will want to maintain after seeing what happened in Philadelphia with Chip Kelly.
Other possibilities: Nick Saban, David Shaw, Steve Spagnuolo, Adam Gase.— TOM ROCK