The Giants aren’t just losing games. They are losing their cool.
The comments from a frustrated Evan Neal which were published on Wednesday are just the latest indication that this entire organization is struggling with the shock of their current reality as a dysfunctional 1-3 team that is nowhere close to the playoff contender it thought it would be coming into this season.
They are having a crisis of composure, one that is starting to creep toward becoming the most identifiable element of their culture.
It has nothing to do with a 23-year-old second-year offensive lineman making some regrettable remarks about the fans who have been booing him and his team. Nor does it stem from other players who are starting to occasionally and uncomfortably question the direction of the organization and their roles on the field.
For these Giants, it starts at the top.
Sure, it was fun to see Brian Daboll going berserk on referees and fighting for his team when they were winning. He was even lauded for getting in Daniel Jones’ face in last year’s opener and having it spark a comeback victory. Now that the Giants are failing, though, his outbursts feel more like flailing.
Remember: Not long before Neal’s burger- and-hot dog-flipping soliloquy came Daboll’s much more concerning tablet-flipping fiasco.
After Jones had thrown a pick-six that essentially gave Seattle the win on Monday night, Jones walked right past Daboll on the sideline as the coach was yelling at him. Then, after trying to show Jones the play on one of the ubiquitous electronic devices, again without much input from the stoic quarterback who seemed to be tuning him out, Daboll tossed it to the ground.
Daboll later insisted he was not throwing the tablet at Jones directly or trying to show up his player.
“I just tossed it to the side because obviously it was a little bit of frustration,” he said. “No, I wouldn’t throw a tablet at him.”
That doesn’t really matter, though. His intentions are almost irrelevant. It’s his actions that count most.
Just as they do for Neal, who at least said he was sorry. Daboll is unapologetic for his actions and behaviors, both on Monday night and in the past when cameras have caught him degrading coaches and players.
“I’m just coaching,” Daboll said earlier this week. “I'm coaching Daniel when he comes off the field. The tablet thing, I'd have to go back and see it. But I remember exactly what it is. We were talking about a particular play, and I just tossed it off to the side.”
This is a new spot for Daboll. He’s been on staffs that have had varying degrees of success and failure throughout his career; he’s won Super Bowls and national titles and he’s been canned after miserable seasons. But he’s never been the head coach of a team that is going through such a wayward start to a season that was so filled with promise.
Add to that the weight of his Coach of the Year trophy from last season and the words from the team owner this offseason that seemed to presage this exact scenario — “Right now he's Bono walking around New York City,” John Mara said in a springtime radio interview of his rock star status, “but I've said: 'In this business, it doesn't take long to go from Bono to Bozo” — and it’s easy to see why Daboll often looks as if he is self-combusting. The team appears as if it is melting under his fervor.
They shouldn’t be happy with their current lot, but they can all use a little more chill in handling it.
As for Neal, Daboll said he speaks to the players about controlling their messages from the start of OTAs onward. But the players also see all of those antics and seeming lack of self-control he demonstrates too. It trickles down. Eventually it echoes in the ill-advised rantings of Neal.
The veterans tend to understand Daboll’s outbursts better.
“This game, man, especially when things aren’t going right, there are just a lot of emotions flying from everyone: Players, coaches, staff, fans,” wide receiver Parris Campbell told Newsday. “Everybody wants the same thing. Everybody wants a great team… When everybody is so invested, it’s just natural for emotions to flow.”
Added fellow receiver Darius Slayton: “It’s football. It’s a high-emotion sport. You might see a clip here or there that looks like a bad or violent reaction to something, but ultimately on every team on every Sunday if you were to keep the camera there long enough you would see a violent reaction out of somebody. I don’t think our team is any more explosive than any other team.”
Rookies and second-year players, though, might have a hard time distinguishing between doing as he says and not as he does.
Daboll denied the idea that the team is spinning out of control and pointed to the football as the key to eliminating all of the distractions.
“We have to do a better job and improve,” he said. “When you are down early in games and we are not playing the way we need to play, and I take full responsibility for that, we have to do a better job and improve in certain areas.”
Daboll's overall coaching is still a net positive and confidence in him being able to eventually turn the Giants into consistent contenders remains high. But one of those areas of improvement should be how he reacts when things start to go sideways.
A Giants coach who never seems to get too riled up, surprisingly enough given his aggressive football philosophy, is defensive coordinator Wink Martindale. He’s said several times in the past that he owes the players his composure on the sideline during games.
Does the team have a problem mimicking that approach?
“I don’t think we do defensively, and that’s all I concern myself with,” he told Newsday. “I don’t know about the other side or special teams. I really don’t.”
Martindale did seem understanding of Neal’s misstep.
“When you have experience, you have been in these situations before,” he said. “What you have to rely on is that you are still coaching in this league so be confident in what you do and how you are coaching. It’s the same thing for players. You can’t just snap back. You have to think about everything you say and have the confidence you are going to continue to work and get better.”
He said that as the unsolicited advice he would give to Neal, the relative youngster.
His boss would be wise to heed those words, too.