The moves came a day after the Giants lost Sunday in Oakland to drop their record to 2-10. Geno Smith was team’s quarterback for that game after the franchise drew the scorn of fans, former Giants players and others around the NFL for the decision to sit down Manning.
The Giants elevated defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to interim head coach and assistant GM Kevin Abrams to interim general manager. According to one person with knowledge of the Giants’ deliberations, there is a “strong chance” that Manning could be back in the lineup and start Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys at MetLife Stadium. Mara said that no decision had been made about Sunday’s starter.
“I don’t think there was any one final straw,” Mara said. “I just think that where we are as a franchise right now — we’re 2-10. We’ve kind of been spiraling out of control here. I just felt like we needed a complete overhaul. I don’t think there was any one event or one final act that precipitated that.”
Manning had started 210 consecutive regular season games before his benching. He declined McAdoo’s proposal that he would remain in place as the starter but give way at halftime to Smith or rookie quarterback Davis Webb. Manning said he was not interested in being a token starter merely for the sake of keeping his streak intact.
Mara said he initially had signed off on McAdoo’s plan to have Manning play only a half but had hoped to tweak the arrangement to allow Manning to remain in the game in the event that he was playing well and the Giants had a chance to win.
“My hope had been to talk to him to try to have a little more flexibility with it and not have a hard and fast time when he was going to come out of the game,” Mara said. “But by then, Eli rightfully had rejected the notion of only starting and playing a half and coming out and we had issued the statement. And it was just too late at that point.”
Mara said he’d been reluctant to interfere with a coaching decision. But he accepts any blame for the episode, he said, because he had the authority to overrule McAdoo’s decision and chose not to do so.
Last week’s outcry was considerable. Former Giants players expressed their support publicly for Manning, who led the team to two Super Bowl victories in memorable upsets over the New England Patriots, and criticized the Giants’ handling of the matter. A group of former players reportedly was making plans to show up for Sunday’s game wearing Manning jerseys. But McAdoo stuck to his decision and said he didn’t regret how the matter was handled.
“I think a lot of Hall of Fame quarterbacks who have done a lot for a lot of teams haven’t been able to choose the way that they get to move on,” McAdoo said last week. “And I’m not saying that we’re moving on. But at some point in time, you have to make hard, tough decisions for the best for the franchise. That’s what I have to do here.”
McAdoo was elevated from offensive coordinator to head coach prior to last season to replace Tom Coughlin, the Giants’ two-time Super Bowl-winning coach. McAdoo took the team to the NFC playoffs as a wild card last season as a rookie coach. But things unraveled this season.
Manning struggled while playing behind a suspect offensive line and with an injury-depleted receiving corps that lost wideouts Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall to injuries. McAdoo suspended two players for violating team rules, leading to questions about whether he’d lost the locker room. The effort level of Giants players in some games was questioned by observers in the media.
Mara had said at one point that the Giants would wait until after the season to evaluate McAdoo’s status. Mara and Tisch are known for their patience and the Giants had not made an in-season head coaching change since 1976. But as the Giants dealt with the fallout last week of the Manning decision, Mara backed off that guarantee that McAdoo would remain in place all season. He and Tisch spoke Sunday and then again Monday morning.
“We changed our minds, given all of the events that have occurred, where we are as a franchise right now,” Mara said Monday. “To be honest with you, it became more and more apparent that we were going to have to do something at the end of the season. So we talked after the game and again this morning about, ‘Why prolong it any longer? Why not just get it done now?’
“I’m very conscious of the fact that three of our last four games are at home. I was conscious of, having lived through it before, what the reaction was going to be. It also gives us somewhat of a tactical advantage in allowing us to start looking at general managers right now rather than waiting until the end of the season.”
Mara called his meeting Monday with Reese particularly difficult. Reese joined the organization in 1994 as a part-time scout and was elevated to general manager in 2007, when he succeeded Ernie Accorsi. Now Accorsi will help to choose Reese’s successor. He agreed to serve as a consultant to the team’s GM search, Mara said.
“Of course I’m embarrassed; 2-10, there’s no defense for that, particularly when expectations were so high,” Mara said. “And I understand that, listen, we’ve had a ridiculous amount of injuries. It’s the first time in my life that I think I sat at a game having to constantly look through the flip card to try to constantly determine who we were playing. But that being said, we still started out 0-5 with a relatively healthy roster until that fifth game. … Yeah, I’m embarrassed about that. And that’s one of the reasons I’m standing here.”
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