John Mara stood at the lectern on the stage of the Giants’ auditorium, announced the firing of coach Pat Shurmur after two seasons and promptly fell on his sword.
The Giants’ president and co-owner has overseen a prolonged and dismal run, with his team failing to make the playoffs in seven of the last eight years and producing a losing record in six of the last seven.
Looking for someone to blame? Blame Mara.
“It all starts at the top,” he said Monday. “You can criticize me all you want, and it would be warranted, because it all starts at the top. The success, the failures in the last eight years have been miserable, so I’ll accept my share of the blame for that.”
For years, the Giants have been a gold standard in pro sports, an organization whose stature was burnished with five Super Bowl runs and four Vince Lombardi Trophies. Those silver chalices are on display in the spacious, well-appointed foyer of the team’s training facility, reminders of the greatness the Giants once stood for but also of how far the franchise has fallen. In the last three seasons, they have gone 12-36.
“Quite frankly,” Mara said in a statement released by the team, “we have lost some standing as an organization.”
It is a humbling confession for the 65-year-old owner, whose father, Wellington, and grandfather, Tim, are members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame for their decades of contributions to the team and to the NFL. John carries their legacy with him at all times, profoundly aware of being the family’s standard-bearer and deeply wounded at presiding over this extended run of failure.
Shurmur is his second straight coach to have lasted two years or less, and their ousters follow Mara pushing two-time Super Bowl winner Tom Coughlin to the exit after the 2015 season. Shurmur won only nine games in his two seasons, and though he did produce positive results with first-round quarterback Daniel Jones and had three years left on his contract, it wasn’t enough to justify bringing him back for a third season.
“With Pat, it ends up being as much a gut instinct as much as anything,” Mara said. “I just felt like we weren’t winning enough games, we weren’t winning the games we should have won, and we just needed to go in a different direction.”
It is on to yet another coach search, a decision the Giants cannot afford to botch, lest they continue this run of futility well into the future. Mara and co-owner Steve Tisch, who has vowed to be more involved in the team’s day-to-day operations, must hire a coach who can transform a young team with some promising pieces — most notably Jones and Saquon Barkley — into a playoff contender ASAP.
There are quality coaches out there, so there is no reason they can’t get this right. Among the most qualified candidates: former Panthers coach Ron Rivera, Baylor coach Matt Rhule (who worked under Coughlin for a year with the Giants and impressed everyone around him), Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels (as long as he doesn’t back out of his next job the way he did in Indianapolis), Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who did terrific work with Lamar Jackson, and Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, the latest protege of Andy Reid.
“We’ve got a terrific young quarterback, we’ve got a young roster, we’re in the best [salary] cap-space shape we’ve been in many years — there’s a lot to this organization that I think would attract a lot of different candidates,” Mara said.
His decision to cut ties with Shurmur is understandable, especially after listening to fans of far too many opponents — most recently the Eagles in Sunday’s 34-17 loss — cheer on their teams in the Giants’ own building. But his move to retain general manager Dave Gettleman is potentially risky.
Gettleman’s choice of Jones may have tipped the scales in his favor, but his other personnel misses leave him open to legitimate second-guessing. The fact that Mara has decided not to engage in a total housecleaning that includes Gettleman puts him on the hook for further scrutiny.
If this team doesn’t significantly upgrade the roster with the fourth overall pick and a ton of spending money in free agency, Mara might have to face the possibility of hiring another GM.
“That’s certainly something that we’re aware of, but I happen to believe in Dave, and I happen to believe in the changes that he’s making,” Mara said. “I think those are going to pay off.”
“Personnel-wise, we’ve had some hits, we’ve had some misses and we have a lot of young players who have shown some promise, but it remains to be seen whether they’re going to develop into quality NFL players or not,” Mara said. “There have definitely been some misses, there’s no doubt about that. [Gettleman] does know that the batting average has got to increase going forward . . . All that being said, we need to win more games. Dave knows that.”
So does Mara.
His reputation depends on it.
So does his good name, the name that has carried the franchise through nearly a century of Giants history.