EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – John Mara said he would be patient. He wanted to be patient. But after evaluating the wreckage of the Giants' 2021 season, Mara decided the coach of the team could no longer be Joe Judge, whom he dismissed yesterday after two seasons.
"We just got to a point where I thought we had dug ourselves a hole so deep that I didn't see a clear path to getting out of it unless we completely blew it up and started all over again with a new general manager and a new head coach," Mara said today on an 18-minute Zoom conference call with reporters. "I still think that there is a really good head coach inside of Joe Judge. I just felt like given where we are right now on the verge of bringing in a new general manager, we have to give that person the flexibility to bring in the head coach that he wants. I think that was a large part of the decision here in making a change. I just felt like we really needed to just start from the ground up again."
Yes, again. The next coach will be the fourth – plus one interim coach - since Tom Coughlin's highly successful 12-year tenure ended after the 2015 season. Ben McAdoo, Steve Spagnuolo, Pat Shurmur and Judge were a combined 33-64.
"We've gone through this process far too often in recent years after having a lot of years of stability and it's not a fun process at all," Mara said. "There is nothing more painful to me than making that long walk down the hallway to tell somebody, particularly a good person like Joe, that we're making a change. It's gut-wrenching for me. It's been gut-wrenching every time I've had to do it. Obviously, I've had to do it far too often lately. That's why we're in this process again and we're going to get it right this time."
Mara was asked pointedly why Giants fans should believe he will get it right.
"I haven't given them any reason to believe that and it's up to (chairman and executive vice president) Steve (Tisch) and me to make the right choices going forward to earn back their trust," Mara said. "That is not going to be an overnight process. That's going to take some time and it starts with getting the general manager pick done correctly and with hiring the right head coach. That's going to be a process that we're going to have to earn their trust again. As I said, that's not going to happen overnight."
Mara said he is confident the organization will make the right decision regarding both positions.
"I don't expect a lot of people to believe that given what's happened over the last few years," he said. "But I feel very good about the group of candidates for the general manager position that we have scheduled right now. I think any one of a number of them would make an excellent general manager, so I am confident that we have the resources to make the right choice here."
Judge's departure came one day after Dave Gettleman announced his retirement following four seasons as general manager. The process to create a new leadership tandem began today, when Buffalo Bills assistant general manager Joe Schoen was the first candidate to interview for the G.M. position. Whoever occupies that seat will lead the search for a new coach.
The new football hierarchy must construct a coaching staff and significantly rebuild a roster to return the team to playoff contention. The Giants lost their final six games of the just-completed season and were 10-23 under Judge, increasing their streak of consecutive double-digit loss seasons to a franchise-record five. Mara, whose family has owned all or half the team for all his 67 years, has endured many disappointing years. But he conceded this is as embarrassed as he's ever been regarding the franchise.
"Honestly, I would have to say yes. Yes, it is," Mara said. "I kept thinking during the season that we had hit rock bottom and then each week it got a little worse. Honestly, I'm not proud of saying this, but if I'm going to be 100 percent honest, I would have to say the answer is yes."
When the season began, Mara was confident the Giants were progressing. They finished 6-10 in Judge's debut season after a 1-7 start. But the Giants lost their first three games in 2021. Numerous key players, including quarterback Daniel Jones, were sidelined with injuries, and they never competed for a postseason berth.
"At the end of last season, we finished 5-3," Mara said. "I thought that the arrow was pointing up, I thought we were moving in the right direction. I thought that the communication at that end of the building was good and for whatever reason, things went haywire this year. Everybody got hurt between training camp and the early part of the season and things just went downhill from there. We reached a point where I just think we need to hit the reset button and get a fresh start. That's why we made the decision we did."
It was that "culmination of things" that prompted Mara to change coaches. He said Judge's 11-minute postgame address 10 days ago in Chicago – which some considered a plea to keep his job – was not decisive. "I wasn't thrilled with that particular press conference, but I can't say there was one specific act that was the last straw."
Nor was Judge's decision to run two quarterbacks sneaks deep in his own territory in the second quarter of the season-ending 22-7 loss to Washington on Sunday.
"Obviously, those weren't my favorite play calls in the world," Mara said. "I wish we had run that back when (Joe) Pisarcik was here. (Pisarcik's infamous fumble in 1978 led to numerous organizational changes.) That was just one minor factor in the overall scheme of things. Obviously, not what I was looking for watching the game, but you could point to any number of play calls that any of us could've second-guessed. That was a bit of surprise to me, let's put it that way."
Mara also tackled a thorny claim by members of the media and many fans that his brother Chris, the Giants' senior vice president of player evaluation, and his nephew, Tim McDonnell, the co-director of player personnel, have an undue impact in shaping the roster without accountability because they are members of the Mara family.
"That perception has been created by you and others," he said. "The reality is that … my brother spends most of his time doing evaluation of college players. His grades go into our system, and he participates in the draft. All personnel decisions in this building, and this has always been the case, have been made by the general manager and the head coach. When they agree on a personnel decision, they come to me with it and as long as they're both in agreement, I okay it. The only times I would possibly not do that is if there was an off the field conduct issue.
"Chris is a very skilled evaluator, but he does not have any authority here other than the fact that I will go to him on occasion and ask him about players. Tim is probably the most respected guy we have in this building. The coaches, front office staff, the general manager go to him and ask his advice on players because he is a good evaluator. He's worked his way up from the bottom and he's earned his stripes. He does not have any authority here. The personnel decisions have always been made and will always be made by the general manager and the head coach. If they agree on a draft pick, on a UFA (unrestricted free agent), then I'm going to OK it 99.99 percent of the time. The only time I will raise an issue about it is if there is a conduct issue. I'll question them about it. I'll make them defend their positions and I'll make sure that they're on the same page, but at the end of the day, if they're in agreement then that's the decision we're going with."
Asked a follow-up question about Chris Mara and McDonnell, John Mara said, "the only two voices at the end of the day that matter are the head coach and the general manager. They make the final determination. They listen to them because they recognize their evaluation skills, but there are other people in the building who have evaluation skills as well and who have voices as well. But they do not have undue influence on the final decisions that are made here. They absolutely do not."
Mara knows the first step the Giants must take on the path back to success.
"What we need to do is hire the right general manager to oversee the football operations and that's what this process is about," he said. "… The general manager and the head coach that are the most important people in this building in terms of making personnel decisions. Chris is in those interviews because he's part of ownership and I value his opinion, I value his skills and I want him in there. At the end of the day, I'll listen to him, but it will be Steve Tisch and myself who make the final decision."
And they'll be the first to say they need to get it right.