Ben McAdoo said he had to strip emotion out of the equation when he made the decision to replace Eli Manning as the Giants’ starting quarterback. He wanted to deal only with the cold facts, the concrete issues, and the responsibilities he sees as his job.
McAdoo has known Manning for four years, two as his offensive coordinator and two as his head coach. They have a lot of shared experiences that had to be pushed aside for McAdoo to come to the conclusion he did. But McAdoo is missing one important bond with Manning.
They’ve never won together.
That changes everything. At least it seems to have done so for the three Giants coaches who spoke Thursday — offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, and special teams coordinator Tom Quinn — and showed nothing but emotion about a decision none of them publicly endorsed.
John Mara said Wednesday not to “write the obituary” on Manning’s career with the Giants just yet. On Thursday, it seemed as if his coaches were eulogizing him. Spagnuolo went so far as to tap his chest over his heart when talking about Manning. “Just right here,” he said. “All I have is love for him.”
Sullivan, it seemed, was the most upset. He was the wide receivers coach when Manning came to the Giants in 2004, worked with him closely as quarterbacks coach in 2010-11 and again in 2015, and has been his offensive coordinator since 2016.
“Tuesday obviously was a very difficult day,” Sullivan said of the day the decision was made. “Eleven years I worked closely with Eli. There are so many experiences that we shared together. The highest of highs, a couple of Super Bowl trophies. The lowest of lows, and I think you could certainly say this season has had its fair share of those. And everything in between.”
Sullivan chose his words carefully when asked about the mechanics of the transition, saying McAdoo and John Mara had addressed the process that ended with Geno Smith as the starter Sunday against the Raiders. He also danced around questions regarding the practice routine of rookie quarterback Davis Webb.
Clearly he did not want to say the wrong thing, or express the wrong sentiment, to contradict his head coach.
“At this point it’s more a matter of what are my responsibilities,” Sullivan said. “My responsibility being that there is a group of players, there is a quarterback, that needs direction. We’ve had so many struggles this season, it’s been very, very difficult, so I think it’s really trying to zero in on trying to find a way to head in the right direction. That’s where the focus is.”
Spagnuolo, the defensive coordinator on the Super Bowl XLII team, has spent the week sharpening his defense against Manning the scout team quarterback.
“I love Eli Manning, and this is tough,” Spagnuolo said. “Eli has always impressed me. I haven’t had a chance to really see Eli since that particular announcement. We’ve been together through a lot of good things and I respect him a great deal. I really do.”
Quinn hasn’t had much direct dealing with Manning as special teams coach, but he does have two rings largely because of Manning’s play.
“It’s weird, it’s tough,” Quinn said of seeing Manning as the backup. “You kind of feel like we haven’t done enough to give him the field position. You kind of feel responsible. It’s hard. He’s a great leader and he’s done everything since I’ve been here, so he’s really helped me out. It’s tough.”
That seemed to be something shared by all of the coaches who won with Manning: a deep, heartfelt respect.
“Through it all he has been the ultimate professional,” Sullivan said. “He personifies class and humility, toughness, competitiveness. I just have great respect for Eli Manning as both a player and as a man. Over a long period of time we developed quite a bond, a strong bond, and there is nothing that can take that away or break that bond.”
Not even a decision by a head coach who doesn’t share that connection with any of them.