It is one of the most complicated evaluations in sports, the outcome of which can go a long way toward determining the future — both short-term and long-term — of your team.
Make the right call, and you can be rewarded with the kind of success you envisioned from the start.
Make the wrong decision, and you might live with the negative consequences for years.
Welcome to the situation now facing John Mara and Steve Tisch.
The Giants' co-owners must decide whether general manager Dave Gettleman and coach Pat Shurmur deserve the right to continue or whether it’s time to pull the plug on one, or both, in hopes of changing the course of the franchise.
It is a conundrum many owners in all sports have faced over the years. With the Giants winning two straight and playing better football after a mind-numbing nine-game losing streak — tied for the worst in franchise history — Mara and Tisch need to figure this out: Is the improvement a sign of things to come? Or should there be significant changes after the Giants’ sixth losing season in the last seven years?
Is it time for patience?
Or it is time for a clean slate?
The answer will go a long way toward determining whether there is hope for this team turning into a playoff contender or whether it is doomed to fail. But that answer is not obvious.
If this were a slam-dunk decision, it would be easy. Sweep aside the coach and the general manager after two forgettable seasons and move on to try something else.
In the eyes of many Giants fans frustrated by what Gettleman and Shurmur have teamed to produce, it is a slam dunk. Critics of the GM point to several questionable roster moves. Shurmur’s detractors suggest his record speaks for itself.
But it is more complicated than that, because there have been redeeming factors for both men:
Gettleman’s decision to draft Daniel Jones may have delivered a big-time quarterback, the most urgent need for any NFL team. While it’s too soon to pronounce Jones a star, his improvement this season has been undeniable, as evidenced by his 23 touchdown passes (and only 11 interceptions) and his ability to move the football against just about any defense he has faced.
Shurmur’s work with Jones probably is his best argument for deserving a chance to coach the Giants for at least another season (he has three years remaining on his contract).
If Jones truly is the answer at quarterback, then Gettleman’s decision to eschew a passer for running back Saquon Barkley in 2018 looks like a much better choice than it did a year ago, when it was clear that Eli Manning’s best days were behind him.
The Odell Beckham Jr. trade is another move that perhaps looks better now than it might have when the Giants dealt him and Olivier Vernon to Cleveland for Jabrill Peppers and Kevin Zeitler as well as first- and third-round picks. While Beckham has languished in Cleveland, Peppers fit in nicely before suffering a back injury, and Gettleman’s selection of receiver Darius Slayton in the fifth round of the draft has helped replenish at least some of the talent at Beckham’s old position. Still, you wonder what a Jones-to-Beckham connection might have meant to the offense, both this year and into the future.
There have been some head-scratching moves from Gettleman, most notably his decision to trade third- and fifth-round picks for underachieving Jets defensive lineman Leonard Williams, who will become a free agent in the offseason and might turn into an expensive eight-game rental by a team that could have lost with or without him. And Gettleman still doesn’t have a big-time young pass rusher, something that’s a must in the years ahead.
Gettleman still has much work to do to improve the offensive line, and the jury remains out on the young secondary he has constructed with the drafting of DeAndre Baker, Sam Beal, Corey Ballentine and Julian Love.
Shurmur’s work with Jones has been solid, but there also is much left to be desired on his part. His clock management skills have come under scrutiny, especially during the nine-game losing streak, and he must shoulder some of the blame for defensive coordinator James Bettcher’s shortcomings.
But credit Shurmur for keeping his team playing hard throughout the season, even in the face of losing. You can tell when a team quits on the coach, and that simply hasn’t happened this year.
Now the question for Mara and Tisch is: Can they do better than Gettleman and Shurmur?
There are potential alternatives. The Giants were impressed with former NFL scout and personnel director and current ESPN analyst Louis Riddick before hiring Gettleman. Assistant GM Kevin Abrams is widely respected in the building. And New England’s Nick Caserio may be ready to leave Bill Belichick’s side and branch out on his own.
If Gettleman stays, perhaps a reunion with Ron Rivera, who was ousted as the Panthers’ coach, makes sense. Giants offensive coordinator Mike Shula, who doesn’t call the plays, theoretically could provide continuity for Jones, although Shurmur is the biggest reason for Jones’ development. Baylor’s Matt Rhule, who spent a year coaching the Giants’ offensive line, could be an attractive head-coaching candidate. And Baltimore offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who has done wonders with Lamar Jackson, will be a hot candidate.
Other teams faced with coaching questions already have decided that patience is the best route. The Lions will bring back Matt Patricia, who was hired in 2018, the same year as Shurmur. The Falcons have decided to keep Dan Quinn beyond this season.
Another team that may have had misgivings about its coach after two years has been rewarded by sticking with the plan. Kyle Shanahan was a combined 10-22 in 2017-18, but the 49ers head into their regular-season finale against the Seahawks at 12-3 and are considered legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
And Jets CEO Christopher Johnson gave coach Adam Gase a vote of confidence midway through this season, assuring him that he’ll return next season.
Mara and Tisch seem legitimately torn about which way to go, but their final decision will be profoundly important.
They must decide whether the improvement of recent weeks is a sign of things to come or whether it is fool’s gold.
The feeling here: Gettleman may have done enough to warrant a return in 2020, especially given that he staked his reputation on Jones and the rookie quarterback has looked like the real deal. Shurmur's situation is less certain, but if the Giants beat the Eagles for their third straight win or look respectable in a narrow defeat, I think there is a chance that he will return. His fate appeared sealed after the nine-game losing streak, but the fact that the team did not quit on him, combined with Jones' development, could work in his favor.
On the other hand, if the Giants suffer a blowout loss on Sunday at home, they might find themselves looking for a new coach.