The Giants went to Foxborough on Friday to interview two candidates for their head-coaching vacancy.
There may have been a third option in the vicinity.
While Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia are on just about everyone’s lists to become NFL head coaches in the next few weeks, their current boss, Bill Belichick, suddenly might become available, too. And what better option would he have than to return home and bring the Giants back to the type of prominence he helped give them in the 1980s?
Belichick era: Other 31 teams have had 147 coaches and countingThe Raiders lead the way, with 10 coaches — including their second hiring of Jon Gruden — since Belichick left the Jets for New England.
According to one of his former players, it would be the ideal situation for both the coach and the team.
“Put it this way: I know like anyone else who has been a part of the Giants’ organization that he bleeds blue,” Carl Banks, who played for Belichick with the Giants and Browns, told Newsday on Friday. “I don’t have any information that tells me he’s even available . . . But I think he has an affinity for the Giants, absolutely. I think if he had to have another dream job outside of the one he has, I think in the depths of his heart, the Giants are still there.”
What seemed like a ludicrous pipe dream as recently as earlier this week now has a shred of possibility to it after ESPN published a report Friday detailing a power struggle and rift between Belichick, Patriots owner Robert Kraft and quarterback Tom Brady.
With his two top lieutenants likely heading for head-coaching jobs elsewhere, and having become disenchanted with his 40-year-old quarterback and frustrated by ownership’s decision-making regarding the trade of backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, Belichick could decide it’s time to leave. And the timing of the Giants’ current vacancy could be a big factor in his decision-making. Given that he’s 66, this likely would be his final chance to return.
There always has been a sense among observers that there is only one NFL job for which Belichick would even consider leaving the Patriots — and that job is open.
Consider Belichick’s roots. From 1979-90, he was an assistant with the Giants, serving as special teams coach, linebackers coach and eventually defensive coordinator for two Super Bowl-winning teams. He has remained an admirer of the Mara family and the Giants and suffered his only two Super Bowl losses as a head coach to them.
A 2008 New York Times profile revealed that more than once, Belichick had called former general manager Ernie Accorsi and confessed: “There is still a lot of Giants in me.” And anyone who saw him get misty-eyed in the NFL Films documentary of him when he walked through Giants Stadium for the final time in 2009 knows that the Giants hold a special place in his heart. “This is a great organization,” he said in that interview. “It’s hard not to get choked up about it . . . I loved it here.”
Everyone — even grumpy, mumbling, 66-year-old future Hall of Famers — has a desire to go home again. “There’s no place like the Meadowlands,” Banks said. “I would say that he’s no different than most people who have had success within the Giants’ organization. It’s a great place to be. It’s home.”
There are complicating factors. Belichick is under contract with the Patriots. The Giants likely would need to trade a draft pick to pry him loose. For another, the Giants just hired a new general manager last week in Dave Gettleman. Think Belichick would go to a team where he did not have complete control of the roster?
Well, he might.
“He plays well with others,” Banks said. “He’s had general managers before. I’m sure they [Belichick and Gettleman] see football the same way.”
The move could help the Giants restore their sagging image among fans. There is no franchise in the NFL that so clings to its glory days and has so much trouble living up to them. With a dwindling number of fans whose personal recollections go back to the 1950s and the days of Gifford and Huff, most Giants fans see the 1980s as the birth — not the rebirth — of the team’s success. To bring back one of the architects of the first two Super Bowl teams would invigorate the base and the building.
So will it happen?
Probably not. There are a lot of moving pieces, and likely a lot of demands that would need ironing out from both sides. The timing might not be great, especially if the Patriots and all of their reported dysfunction wind up playing for another Super Bowl title in early February. The Giants already might have a new head coach by the time New England is done playing.
But maybe, just maybe, 19 years after abruptly resigning as “HC of the NYJ,” Belichick will come back to where it all began, both for him and for many Giants fans.
His legacy in New England will be all of the Lombardi Trophies he won. But the epitaph on his career there could wind up being “I’m on to New York.”
The idea of discontent in New England may be overblown. The Patriots released a joint statement from Kraft, Belichick and Brady on Friday morning denying the ESPN report and other implications of unrest. “The three of us share a common goal,” it read. “We look forward to the enormous challenge of competing in the postseason and the opportunity to work together in the future, just as we have for the past 18 years.”
If there is a chance that the Giants can pry Belichick away, though, the next question is: Should they?
Banks guffawed at that one.
“I think,” he said after catching his breath, “he would classify as the best coach available.”