The New York Giants wouldn't have their new offensive coordinator if it weren't for a conversation with Northwestern's head football coach six years ago.
At the time, Mike Kafka, whom Brian Daboll recently tapped to run his offense, had just finished his NFL playing days and was contemplating the next step in his life. Just as the former quarterback dipped his toe in the choppy waters of entrepreneurism, he got a call from the familiar shores of Lake Michigan. It was Pat Fitzgerald, the face of Kafka's alma mater offering him a role as a graduate assistant. After consulting with his wife, Kafka accepted.
"Three days into it, [I knew] this is exactly what I want to do," Kafka told Giants.com in his first interview since being named the team's offensive coordinator. "I just love being around the guys, helping develop those guys, just being around the Xs and Os and getting a different view of how game plans are put together, the details of coaching, and all those things really fit my personality and fit what I enjoy doing."
Following a standout career at Northwestern, where he climbed to eighth in program history in career passing yards, completions, and total offense, In 2010, Kafka began his NFL journey as a fourth-round draft pick by the Philadelphia Eagles. He appeared in four games the following season before moving on to six different teams over the next three years. Like many backup quarterbacks, coaching was a natural progression.
"To begin with, even as a player, [when] you're a backup quarterback, you're always coaching behind the scenes and helping guys who are the starters out there," Kafka said. "It felt easy to me. It felt comfortable, and I just really enjoy doing it."
With the coaching bug taking hold, he got his next opportunity to work under famed coach Andy Reid in Kansas City. He served as the Chiefs' offensive quality control coach in his first year (2017) before serving as quarterbacks coach and pass game coordinator the past two seasons.
"Big picture-wise, you always think about generating those explosive plays," Kafka said of what he learned from Reid. "The Kansas City offense, they're going to throw it deep. We're going to do those types of things downfield. I think that's important to understand and that has to be an element of your offense. Now, we've got to take a step back and make sure it fits for our personnel, fits for the quarterback, fits for offensive line, but I think you want to be able to find ways to generate explosive plays, especially this day in age in the NFL."
With the Giants, he inherits an offense that ranked last in plays of 20 or more yards in 2021.
"What you've got to look at is, right now, we're trying to fit these pieces in," Kafka said. "I think we have an idea from the offensive side and a vision for what this offense is going to look like, but we've got to find out who those pieces are. I think right now we're going through that process. We're going through free agency. We're going through evaluating the guys currently on the team, and we're going through the draft process. So, there's a bunch of steps we've got to take. I'm excited about the players we have in the building. I'm excited about the prospects that are out there. We've got to make sure that we can build a program that is efficient and effective for all the guys on the team."
Quarterback is always at the top of that list. And the Giants' Daniel Jones will enter his fourth season with his third different coaching staff.
"He's athletic," Kafka said. "He can make every throw outside the pocket. He can throw from different launch points. I think that's some of his best stuff. It's about making sure that we can make him as comfortable as possible, put him in positions to be successful, and make sure the playmakers around him can also be in position. It's not just a one-man show. It's got to be an 11-man operation, being creative with ways of getting these guys the football, getting the ball out of his hands. Being creative with Daniel will be an element of that. That's the challenge for us as a staff right now is a lot of different pieces, we've all got to come together and put together a strong plan with some foresight so that we can take advantage of it right now during this time, [with] OTAs and as we go through the off-season."
Kafka will do so under Daboll, who helped build the Bills into an AFC powerhouse to rival the Chiefs. But Daboll made one thing clear - although they want to replicate the level of success they had in Buffalo and Kansas City, they need to blend to form their own identity.
"It's unbelievable, from Day 1, he's been very open about making sure we can collaborate on this thing," Kafka said. "And make it not the Chiefs' offense or the Bills' offense, but the New York Giants' offense."
View photos of the 2022 New York Giants coaching staff, led by Head Coach Brian Daboll.