EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Nineteen seasons working in the NFL and major college football has taught Thomas McGaughey that lineup consistency is a rare luxury for a special teams coach.
"Any time you can create continuity, that's what you want," McGaughey said today. "Sometimes you have to make do with what you have. For me as a coach, that's my job. As special teams coordinator, that's my job. That's the essence of my job, to make the gumbo every week. Sometimes it might be chicken gumbo, sometimes it might be shrimp gumbo. Whatever I have, that's what you have to work with. You have to work it out, that's the process of being the special teams coach in the NFL."
McGaughey might have to reach into his cabinet of gumbo ingredients this year.
Coaches commonly preach the virtues of player versatility, an attribute that could be particularly vital in a pandemic-era NFL season – even for someone with a very specific responsibility.
Graham Gano joined the Giants last week with a decade-long track record as one of the league's most dependable kickers. But it's not inconceivable that he might be asked to expand his repertoire in 2020.
NFL players and coaches undergo COVID-19 testing daily and each team must have a contingency plan for anyone who tests positive and can't play or coach in a game. Those discussions began long before the opening of training camp and continue regularly.
"Actually, we sat down this spring and we talked about a lot of 'what if's,'" Giants coach Joe Judge said this week. "We put down basically a contingency plan for if any coach or staff member wasn't available on a daily basis, whether that's a practice day, whether that's a game day, how we would go ahead and make sure we made the adjustments. Along with that, it's not if just one person is missing. What if there are multiple people missing? Who handles each responsibility? We're going beyond the coaching staff right now to keep a lot of different people in the organization involved that if it was ever an emergency situation, we have people who are up to date on schematically and conceptually what we're doing football wise, to have as many hands on deck available for us.
"In terms of the players … it's our job to get everybody ready on the roster. It's our job to have plans in place, whether somebody gets disqualified due to a testing measure or somebody gets hurt on the first play. That's our job to have a plan on how to adjust. To answer your question, yes, we're always planning ahead. Those plans always change based on where we are internally with what we're doing."
Which returns us to Gano. Other than tackling the occasional runaway return specialist, kickers are seldom asked to do more than their primary function. But if punter Riley Dixon is unable to play in a game, the COVID testing protocols might preclude the Giants from adding a replacement before gameday.
But Gano can certainly take over the job with proficiency. In his first two seasons at Florida State (2006-07), he was a fulltime punter. After becoming the Seminoles' kicker in 2008, Gano still punted 22 times. In his collegiate career, Gano averaged 42.1 yards on 148 punts with a long of 64 yards.
Gano has punted eight times in the NFL – four for Washington in 2010 and four for Carolina in 2016, when his special teams coordinator was Thomas McGaughey, who is in his third season in the same position with the Giants.
"Not only was he a punter, he was an outstanding punter in college," McGaughey said. "We have protocols in place. We have a lot of great athletes here that can do a bunch of different things. It's amazing what you will find when you start to look. These guys have been stud athletes their whole lives. We have a plethora of guys that can snap, we have a ton of guys that can kick, we have bunch of guys that can punt. If we ever get caught in a pinch, I don't think it will be an issue."
McGaughey, like all the Giants' coaches, is preparing for any unusual personnel circumstance that might arise regarding punting, placekicking, returns and coverages.
"Just know we have a few guys, we have options," McGaughey said while declining to be specific. "Guys are very talented, and they work their tails off. We've done a good job as a staff identifying those guys. Just know moving forward if that comes up, we'll be prepared for it.
"We always identify guys. A lot of these guys haven't done some of these skills since high school, so you just never know. You are always looking for backups in emergency situations. This year more than ever, you want to do a better job of identifying guys and just trying to turn over every rock. See what kind of skills everyone has so we can maximize the roster from the top down and the bottom up."
*Gano played two years (2016-17) for McGaughey. He scored 121 points in each of those seasons and connected on 59 of 68 field goal attempts (86.8%). That included a career-best 96.7% (29 of 30) in 2017, when he was selected to the Pro Bowl. His only missed attempt was a 55-yarder.
"Graham brings a stability to the position," McGaughey said. "Obviously, a former Pro Bowl kicker. Just a veteran player in this league. He brings experience, he brings leadership, and he's a good person. I'm excited to have him here. He's been really good for our room, even in the short time that he's been here. Graham is Graham, he's just a good man. He works his tail off, he's a professional field goal kicker, that's what he is. He goes about his business the way he is supposed to and hopefully once we get rolling, he is going to be his old self."
*McGaughey lost one of his most valuable players when Cody Core tore his Achilles tendon last week. Core was an outstanding gunner on the punt unit and led the Giants with eight special teams tackles last season.
"It always hurts to lose a guy like Cody," McGaughey said. "Love him to death, he was very productive for us. It gives an opportunity for the next guy to come up. See who can step up and take his spot. It's always the next man up. We have to keep rocking, keep moving forward and we'll see where we end up."
View photos of the Giants' active roster as it currently stands.