SANTA CLARA, Calif.
Given the fact that his team was humiliated in a 51-17 loss at home last Sunday, there were at least some potentially promising developments for embattled coach Ben McAdoo. Whether anything will come of them, or whether the second-year coach actually can turn them into a reprieve, remains to be seen.
After anonymous quotes surfaced Wednesday from two players who suggested that McAdoo had lost the team and is out only for himself, many of the Giants’ most important leaders backed the coach and excoriated the players who hid behind a veil of secrecy and wouldn’t put their names on the complaints.
Yes, Thursday indeed was a good day for McAdoo. Players such as safety Landon Collins, defensive tackle Damon Harrison, linebacker Jonathan Casillas and offensive lineman Justin Pugh — all highly respected veterans in the Giants’ locker room — defended the coach and ripped the leakers.
But that goodwill can go only so far in the overall evaluation of McAdoo, whose 1-7 team has plummeted so swiftly and so shamefully. Though he enjoyed a reprieve from the relentless criticism coming from the outside — and now from somewhere inside the locker room — McAdoo must begin to show results on the field to convince the Giants that he is worthy of returning for a third season.
The Giants’ horrid showing doesn’t bode well for McAdoo, whose roster is beset with not only poor play but injuries. It was a historically bad loss to the Rams, the kind of no-show performance that harked back to the dark days of the Giants in the 1960s and ’70s.
That the loss would be followed by whispers from two disgruntled players about McAdoo’s inability to handle his team was not a surprise.
In fact, this is garden variety stuff for a losing locker room: Underachieving team with talented players loses a bunch of games, players initially take the blame and eventually direct their ire toward the coach. Happens all the time.
But the blowback to the anonymous quotes was noteworthy, and at least a sign that McAdoo has built enough goodwill among his players the last two years as head coach — and the two years before that as offensive coordinator — to prompt a solid show of support. It likely ensures that other players who might want to air their grievances surreptitiously will at least think twice before expressing their opinions.
What it doesn’t guarantee is what McAdoo needs most: wins.
Complaints in a losing NFL locker room are common, but what happens on the field ultimately will determine whether the Giants stick with McAdoo longer term or end his tenure prematurely the way they did a generation ago, when Ray Handley lasted only two years after being named as Bill Parcells’ replacement.
Parcells abruptly quit the Giants months after winning the Super Bowl for a second time, leaving the Giants to promote longtime running backs coach Handley, who previously had been named offensive coordinator. The job was simply too big for him, and after going 8-8 in 1991, the Giants were mostly awful in a 6-10 season in 1992. General manager George Young fired him before turning to Dan Reeves, who led the Giants back to the playoffs in 1993.
Handley was overwhelmed by the enormity of the job, and though McAdoo has displayed somewhat of a similar temperament, he seems to have a much more stable personality than Handley, who never worked another day in the NFL after being fired.
McAdoo is much more of an NFL lifer, and even if he doesn’t survive into next year as the Giants’ coach, he’ll almost certainly work for another team as an offensive coordinator or position coach.
For now, though, he needs to find a way to win games and have his team look respectable after putting forth some of the worst football this team has displayed in years. He has to hope that rock bottom was last Sunday at MetLife, where the Giants’ ineptitude so infuriated team president John Mara that he stormed out of the owners’ box in the fourth quarter and out of the stadium a few minutes after the game.
Mara will be the one whose opinion matters most about McAdoo — and embattled general manager Jerry Reese, who also could be caught up in the maelstrom. And if he sees additional horrendous results, he may have no other choice but to blow up the operation and start over.
That’s why there’s still plenty of significance in the weeks ahead, even if the Giants are only mathematically — not realistically — alive for the playoffs. At 1-7, there is almost zero chance that this team can go on “the run” that McAdoo spoke of this past week. At this point, just getting a win Sunday at Levi’s Stadium would be a step in the right direction.
If a team that was picked by plenty of experts to contend for the Super Bowl can’t even beat a rebuilding 49ers team with an 0-9 record, a first-year head coach, a first-year GM and a rookie quarterback, then no amount of goodwill the Giants’ players showed their coach during the week will help.
All it means is that McAdoo’s team will simply go quietly into the night, finishing out a season of great expectation with a whimper and making Mara’s decision all the more obvious.