EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Four of the Giants' powerful football decision-makers today expressed dismay at the team's recent struggles and optimism that better times lay ahead, beginning with the 2015 season. If not, that hierarchy could look different next year.
Asked at the end of a 20-minute news conference if next season is a "win or else proposition for a lot of people in this franchise," team president John Mara said, "I do not think that is an unfair statement."
Two of those people followed him to podium in the auditorium in the Quest Diagnostics Training Center: head coach Tom Coughlin and general manager Jerry Reese. Mara officially confirmed what had become a foregone conclusion - Coughlin and Reese will remain in their jobs. And neither the coach nor the G.M. flinched when it was suggested the Giants need to win in 2015.
Questioned if 2015 is a "make or break year,' Coughlin said, "Every year is. Every year. Don't put words in my mouth, and I'm not going to say that in those terms. Why would you do it for any other reason? You're supposed to win. So win."
"I heard Tom Coughlin say every year is a win-all," Reese said. "You win Super Bowls; it is what have you done for me lately. You have to continue to win. It is hard to do it in this business because the league is built with a cycle. If you win, you penalized for winning, so you have to fall back and pick last in the draft, you lose some coaches. That is how the cycle goes. But our job is to beat the system. That is what we pride ourselves on, beating the system, staying on top, staying relevant."
On Sunday, the Giants concluded their 2014 season with a 34-26 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. The defeat left them with a 6-10 record, one year after they finished 7-9. It was their third season in a row without a postseason berth.
"Like always, our goal is to come into the season, have a winning season, get into the tournament," Reese said. "We haven't done that in the last few years, that is not our standard. We want to apologize for that, number one, to our fans, who, no matter what, they come out and really give us their best. We want to apologize for that."
"Obviously, I am very disappointed about this past season," Mara said. "Sick about it, as a matter of fact. Certainly not what I expected or what any of us expected. Six and 10 is an embarrassment."
But Mara quickly shifted direction to look ahead.
"I do think there is some reason for optimism going forward," Mara said. "We had some young players really develop who we are excited about. We have had two pretty strong drafts in a row that we feel good about. We were still 6-10, so obviously we have a lot of work to do."
Steve Tisch, the Giants' chairman and executive vice president, also spoke of the day's twin themes of frustration and hope.
"Like John, Jerry and Tom, I am disappointed in how this season played out," Tisch said. "None of us ever expects to be 6-10; our objective is always to play in the postseason. Clearly, John and I believe in the leadership of Jerry and Tom to reach that objective. We appreciate their ability to work together and in the best interest of the organization. I am encouraged by the outstanding young players we have, combined with the team's veteran leadership. Our players showed tremendous character by how they finished a difficult season. I am looking forward to the growth of this team and achieving our objective in 2015. Our fans, whose loyalty and enthusiastic support we appreciate, deserve it."
"I'm as sick and disappointed as anybody in the last few years," Coughlin said. "But you know what? How are you going to do anything about it other than fight and swing and get back out there and try harder? What else are you going to do? Are you going to go crawl in a corner? No, I'm not going to do that."
The Giants have numerous reasons for optimism. Eli Manning, who just concluded his 11th season, remains one of the NFL's best quarterbacks. Manning threw 30 touchdown passes this season. The last two draft classes have been excellent, delivering players such as Rookie of the Year candidate Odell Beckham Jr., Andre Williams, Devon Kennard, Justin Pugh and Johnathan Hankins. And the Giants placed an NFL-high 22 players on injured reserve this season, including key performers like Victor Cruz, Prince Amukamara, Jon Beason and Geoff Schwartz. If at least some of those players return, and the Giants add some components in the offseason, the team can have a more successful 2015 season.
"I believe we're going to be a better football team next year," Coughlin said. "What does turnaround mean? Winning season? I certainly hope so. Why am I here? I'm here because I want to win. What do you think I'm doing? Sitting up in the office with my feet up? The competitive spirit… You're in this to win. You're in this to try to beat the other guy. You've got to win in your division. You've got to beat Philadelphia and you've got to beat Dallas now. We win three games in a row and there's some bounce again in people's feet. I'm excited about getting in there and talking to our team in a little different version than I have to talk to them after losing seven games. We're here to win. That's what this thing is about – the competitiveness of winning."
Reese also believes the Giants are capable of a rapid and complete reversal of fortune.
"The reason I think that is because we were so close so many times during this season," he said. "I say this every single year. When we win Super Bowls, or when we are 6-10, it is a really close margin between winning teams, teams that are in the playoffs, and teams that are not in the playoffs. It is a learned mentality, I think, learned behavior that you have to close games out. We were so close so many times, our offense could have closed some games out, the defense could've closed some games out, special teams could've closed some games out. We have been really close."
The Giants will restructure a portion of the roster as they do every offseason, but the wholesale changes of last year will not be duplicated.
"Last year, we had to turn the roster over and we are not going to go out and spend a huge amount like we did this past offseason in free agency," Reese said. "We did, the roster was getting a little older, so we did have to turn the roster around. There are some new faces. Offensively, I thought we would jell a little bit quicker than we did. We saw flashes later in the season of what we think the offense can be. Defensively, we had some new faces, we lost some players on defense, I do think that if we can get players back, we can have another good draft. We will definitely do some things in free agency, but we are always going to try to upgrade our roster at every position, every year."
Coughlin said he wants a stronger roster and he believes the Giants must run the ball and defend the run better than they did this year.
Mara, who last year expressed his unhappiness about the performance of the offense, said today the defense requires a makeover.
"We need to improve the defense," Mara said. "They did not play well. We were ranked where we were ranked (29th). When you give up the number of game-winning drives that they gave up, we obviously have a lot of improvement to make there."
And a few other places as well. But the Giants' leadership is confident those improvements will be made and the team will have a more successful 2015 season.
Here are the Giants statistical leaders from the 2014 season