When decisiveness mattered most in 2016, the man at the controls of the New York Giants took the half-step that mangled this franchise. The talent base was aging and crumbling. Critical pieces of draft classes had cratered. And in the locker room, the coaching message went stale.
So John Mara made the kind of decision that has come to define him in recent years: The half-owner took a half-measure and solved half a problem.
Nearly two years ago, he pushed out head coach Tom Coughlin but retained failing roster architect and general manger Jerry Reese – frittering away the remaining prime of a Hall of Fame quarterback and simultaneously casting the future of a franchise into disarray.
Make no mistake, if the Giants’ futility ultimately rests on one guy, it’s Mara. Not fired coach Ben McAdoo, who shouldn’t be blamed for taking a job promotion that was over his head. And it can’t all rest on the now-fired Reese, either – despite draft failings and a stunning free-agent splurge that have put the future of the roster in a precarious place. No, the balance of this whole fiasco has to land on the custom-tailored shoulders of the man whose reactionary missteps have become the defining trait of the Giants.
This is on John Mara: The half-owner who solves problems halfway – dropping one oar into the water and rowing his franchise in circles.
The guy who couldn’t make the right decision on disgraceful woman-batterer Josh Brown until the league office effectively made it for him. The guy who pushed out Coughlin, but nonsensically asked his ousted coach to stick around in a toothless and awkward executive role. The guy whose retooling in 2016 never went far enough, leaving Reese in place to harangue the team with more failed draft picks and significant free-agent purchases that limit future options and directions.
And finally, the guy who approved the most laughably terrible NFL half-measure in recent memory: Benching Eli Manning for half a game at a time. A poor solution that achieved maximum outrage because the half-cocked idea couldn’t even go far enough in its own design – committing to middling quarterback Geno Smith rather than rookie Davis Webb.
At some point, Mara is going to have to step forward, explain himself to his roiled fan base and take all the blame. Something that hasn’t been his strong suit in recent years. At the very least, Mara should be willing to accept and admit that he should have known better than to be so reticent in his decisions. Or at least have the foresight to know a bad idea when he sees one.
Frankly, it’s striking that a guy with so much respect inside his billionaire fraternity of owners could have squandered so much faith gifted by his fan base. Particularly when you consider that this franchise has won two Super Bowls in the last decade. But nothing erodes confidence faster than someone who makes horrible, head-scratching decisions without explaining them (see: Josh Brown) and then goes about fixing franchise problems in a piecemeal fashion.
That’s what Mara did when he kept Reese aboard in 2016 and then ultimately made McAdoo the choice over former Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith. He took a failing situation and solved only half of it, then made the futility whole again by hiring the wrong coach. And given the recent history of the NFL, that’s an unforgivable mistake for owners. Particularly for Mara because he has had a ringside seat for this kind of quagmire inside his own division and conference.
He needed to look no further than the San Francisco 49ers, whose owner Jed York pushed out Jim Harbaugh but retained floundering general manager Trent Baalke. The same York who then approved the addition of a severely miscast Jim Tomsula as head coach, compounding an already decaying situation. That imploded for York in an ugly and public fashion, leaving him to shift the franchise into a total top-to-bottom gutting, with Baalke, Tomsula and desperate one-year coaching mistake Chip Kelly all getting paid to leave.
Really, Mara could have just traced his finger over Kelly’s entire NFL tenure to learn some ownership lessons about half-solutions. After all, it was Kelly’s hire with the Philadelphia Eagles that presented one of the most awkward half-fixes in recent history. And it was terribly engineered by one of Mara’s closest NFL allies no less: Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie. The same Lurie who brought in Kelly under general manager Howie Roseman, then tried to resolve a roster-building struggle between the two men by essentially demoting Roseman upward into a money-managing role. Ultimately, it was a half-baked idea that never worked, ending in ugly fashion with Kelly and portions of his hand-selected personnel men fired – all so Roseman could be reinstated in his role as Eagles football czar.
Ultimately, Lurie learned what Mara surely should have through all of this latest mess: A 50 percent solution in the NFL is a 100 percent failure. More often than not, it leads to chaos, finger-pointing and bad decisions compounded by more bad decisions. It leads to exactly what the Giants have become over the past several seasons.
In January of 2016, Mara tried to push the balance of that responsibility off when he fired Coughlin. He met with reporters and backed Reese’s hold on the general manager job, but suggested that the roster was in disrepair and that Reese knew what was at stake going forward.
“Jerry knows this is on him,” Mara said that day.
Two years later, Reese is gone, McAdoo is a footnote and the team looks worse than ever. All that remains is the half-measure owner – and the reality that 100 percent of this wreck is now on him.
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