Tom Coughlin fired two of his defensive coaches on Wednesday, but he made sure to point out that he does not blame them for what happened in 2014.
In announcing the dismissal of defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and cornerbacks coach Peter Giunta, Coughlin also absolved them of their role in a second straight losing season and praised them as coaches and people.
"No one person is responsible for what happened in this year," Coughlin said. "That has to be loud and clear. If there is any one person responsible, it is me. It is not Perry Fewell. It is not Peter Giunta. Both of them are outstanding football coaches in their own way. The simple fact of the matter is in the circumstance that we find ourselves, change is necessary.
"There are no hard feelings on my part about anything that anybody has done," Coughlin added. "The hard feelings are the six wins."
Fewell helped the Giants win Super Bowl XLVI, but the defense finished the 2014 season ranked 29th in yardage and 22nd in points allowed. Coughlin seemed to support Fewell last week when he spoke about the defense being ranked highly in several categories including third-down conversions, sacks and takeaways.
Fewell was hired as defensive coordinator in 2010 to replace Bill Sheridan after one season and he helped the team win the Super Bowl the following year. Giunta joined the Giants' staff in 2007 and was part of two Super Bowl-winning teams. He also was the defensive coordinator for the Rams' Super Bowl-winning team in 1999.
Both coaches were handcuffed by an inordinate number of injuries. Giunta had just one game in which his full allotment of healthy cornerbacks was available. Prince Amukamara, Walter Thurmond III and Trumaine McBride all went on injured reserve and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie spent most of the season battling injuries.
"We all understand in this league when a defense is unsuccessful," safety Antrel Rolle said on SiriusXM's NFL Radio shortly after the Fewell decision was reported, "but I figured that he would be back given that we had so many people on IR, to give him a chance to make the wrong right."
Giants president and chief executive John Mara said last week that he was concerned about the defense and would voice his opinion on the coaching staff, but that all final decisions would be Coughlin's. As of Monday, many in the organization believed Coughlin would stick with Fewell.
"It is with great deliberation over a lengthy period of time throughout a thorough investigation and evaluation of what went on that I came to the conclusion that change was necessary," Coughlin said.
That conclusion is only part of the process. Now the Giants must find a new defensive coordinator. Last year, Coughlin had to hire a new offensive coordinator, and while those circumstances were different because Kevin Gilbride retired, Coughlin said he is hoping for similar results on the defensive side.
"The decision here gives us the ability to revive our defensive people, to introduce, if you will, a new, different system," Coughlin said. "I just think it is an opportunity for us, to a certain extent, to stimulate our defensive team due to the fact that you will end up with a new coordinator. Those people will bring a new system, a new focus and a new area of concentration."
One candidate said to be near the top of the Giants' wish list is Steve Spagnuolo, the former Giants defensive coordinator who is now a secondary coach and associate head coach with the Ravens. Spagnuolo still has close ties with Coughlin and the Giants' front office, although almost all of the players he coached during his 2007-08 tenure are gone. Other possible candidates include Vic Fangio of the 49ers and Jim Schwartz of the Bills, as well as Dennis Allen and Mike Smith who were most recently head coaches of the Raiders and Falcons, respectively.
Hiring a defensive coordinator could be a tough sell. The Giants' defense could be going through a personnel transition if Jason Pierre-Paul and Antrel Rolle leave in free agency. Mara also hinted that he would consider allowing Coughlin to coach in the final year of his contract, something the Giants rarely do. Potential coordinators might be scared away by the lack of stability that a lame duck coach would create. Then again, they also could see it as an opportunity to have a foot in the door if a head coaching change is made after the 2015 season.
The changes made now may have been necessary, but Coughlin faced them with a heavy heart. And he gave the two coaching casualties a virtual letter of recommendation for their new job searches.
"These are two outstanding men and outstanding football coaches," Coughlin said. "It is very hard in this business to find people that are not only good football coaches but outstanding human beings who are trustworthy, loyal and honest. Perry and Peter are all that."