Brian Daboll got a bit of a pep talk — and a seemingly key endorsement — on Friday night.
The Giants’ coach was honored for his work with the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund at the annual Champions for Children Gala, and the namesake of the organization, nearly a decade removed from the sideline and locker room over which Daboll now presides, gave his stamp of approval despite some very lean results of late.
Coughlin, who at first cringed at offering any comment, eventually said Daboll should do “just what he’s doing.”
“Stick your nose to the grindstone, work as hard as you can, keep your people together, keep them focused,” Coughlin said. “Tough times don’t last, tough people do. He’ll get it done.”
Of course, Coughlin gave similar advice and kudos to each of the previous three men who tried in vain to accomplish what he did during his tenure with the Giants: Not just win two Super Bowls but last more than two years.
In 2016, Coughlin, just removed from his position with the Giants, vouched for Ben McAdoo, the offensive coordinator he’d hired and the man who eventually replaced him.
“I take great pride in bringing him there,” Coughlin said. “He’s a young coach. Very smart. He’ll do an outstanding job.”
Two years later, McAdoo was out and Pat Shurmur was the coach who had Coughlin’s backing.
“I believe he’s an outstanding coach; I know he’s a great man and a great guy,” Coughlin said of Shurmur when he was at the 2018 Jay Fund Gala, “and I believe he’ll get it done.”
He did not.
At least Coughlin was a bit more tepid in his praise for Joe Judge. He said only that they had a “respectful” relationship, one no doubt hindered by the restrictions of the pandemic. But even at the 2021 Gala, he was able to muster some advice for what was a fairly low team at that point.
“They have to keep believing in themselves,” Coughlin said, noting how he’d steered the 2011 team — which was honored that year on its anniversary — through some similar doldrums and to a championship. “They have to face reality, but they have to keep believing in themselves.”
None of them stuck. Not the coaches. Not Coughlin’s confidence in them, as forced as it seemed at times.
So as Coughlin briefly huddled with Daboll for a few moments before Friday night’s event — the two men talking and listening and nodding knowingly to each other, perhaps sharing some deeper wisdom than the one-dimensional advice Coughlin gave in his public remarks — it was fair to start to wonder which path Daboll is actually on.
Is he following Coughlin Drive, that long avenue that leads to (or at least toward) a title? Or is he on another of the Giants’ dead ends, destined to be cul-de-sacked at the completion of his second year?
Despite the Giants’ 1-4 record and what feels like a trip to Buffalo that will end in certain doom on Sunday, Daboll has enough going for him now that he should be able to avoid that fate and reach what has become the rather low benchmark for success from his office of a third year on the job.
Just in case this season starts to spin away from him, though, he’d be wise to look at some of the through lines of the Giants’ coaches since Coughlin left and learn the pitfalls he should avoid in order to stick around. Among them:
• Don’t embarrass the franchise. This is key. The Giants have a long history of winning, but for most of their second half-century, they also have a long history of losing. While those mounting Ls often frustrate ownership, nothing turns a Mara’s stomach like tarnishing the N and the Y on those helmets. For the love of Gifford, don’t run quarterback sneaks from deep in your own territory. Losing with dignity is better than losing as a laughingstock.
• Don’t diss the popular players. Coach them hard. Coach them fairly. But if the owner’s grandson trots around the practice fields wearing a miniature number 13 jersey, try to build a strong relationship with the actual number 13. If the two-time Super Bowl MVP is an icon of the franchise, don’t embarrass him with a harebrained plan to pull him from a game at halftime, reduce him to tears at his locker and replace him with a castoff from the Jets. And if a player is the face of the organization and was brought in to be the cornerstone of its culture, keep him happy and build around him . . . even if he is a running back and teams don’t pay running backs any longer.
• Don’t start flailing. Continuity and commitment are two words that carry a lot of weight at 1925 Giants Drive, even if they haven’t been practiced much in recent years. Firing assistant coaches and scrambling play-calling duties on the fly may seem like a legitimate way to search for answers at the time, but it projects panic. And when you are asked to point to the progress you have made, try to keep your answer to under 11 minutes.
Daboll has some attributes that none of the other post-Coughlin coaches could claim, although they are far from job-securing. He’s the reigning NFL Coach of the Year . . . for whatever that’s worth. He won a playoff game in his first season . . . but McAdoo got them to the postseason and was gone 10 months later anyway. Daboll seems to have a functional working relationship and a close personal one with the general manager who hired him. That’s a new one around here, actually, and is one of the factors that benefits him the most.
He’s also come along at a time when ownership is likely tired of churning through the hiring-and-firing process — not to mention paying people to not coach the team any longer — and might be willing to demonstrate a bit more patience than it has in the past, assuming Daboll does not torpedo his own ship the way previous captains have.
Most of all, Daboll, like the Giants themselves, has a history of both winning and losing. He’s claimed championships with the Patriots and at Alabama and helped bring the Bills and Josh Allen to the precipice of one, but he’s also been part of some terrible teams and staffs that disintegrated around him in Miami and Kansas City.
McAdoo and Judge knew nothing but winning in their pro careers, so when they couldn’t do that here, they had no frame of reference on how to proceed. Shurmur was the opposite. He was a good offensive coordinator but a failed coach in Cleveland, and that continued to be the case with the Giants.
“Everything’s a learning experience,” Daboll said this past week. “Doing it for 23 years, there’s not much I haven’t seen. You’re always learning as a coach. I learned from some really good people, been in a variety of different situations. In 23 years, you’re going to pretty much be in every situation.”
The lesson he’s taken from those experiences?
“Be consistent,” he said. “Go out there, work hard, do everything you can do to put yourself in a good position.”
Sounds like the advice Coughlin himself gave on Friday night.
Heed it, all of it, or Coughlin may be sharing similar thoughts with the next guy a year from now.