The Giants, a storied N.F.L. franchise that for decades prized patient, stable management, began its third overhaul in five seasons after firing Coach Pat Shurmur on Monday. While the dismissal of Shurmur, who compiled a 9-23 record in two seasons, was expected, the move nonetheless left the team in unfamiliar territory yet again as it searches for a new on-field leader.
The team’s general manager, Dave Gettleman, whose job was considered to be in jeopardy, survived the latest upheaval. But his plans to resurrect the moribund Giants after six losing seasons in the last seven years are unclear.
A leading candidate has emerged as Shurmur’s replacement: Baylor University’s coach, Matt Rhule. A native New Yorker, Rhule, who turns 45 this month, took over a downtrodden Baylor team in 2017 and was 1-11 in his first season at the university. This season, Baylor is 11-2 and will play Georgia on Wednesday night in the Sugar Bowl. Rhule was an assistant coach with the Giants in 2012 when Gettleman was a top front office executive for the team and played at Penn State for Joe Paterno, an association that has in past years carried weight within the Giants’ hierarchy.
Another candidate for the Giants’ job is likely to be the New England Patriots’ offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, who spent considerable time with the Giants’ rookie quarterback, Daniel Jones, when the Patriots evaluated Jones before the 2019 draft.
One longtime Giant who will not be with the team next season, quarterback Eli Manning, acknowledged that Monday was his last day in the team’s locker room. After 16 seasons, Manning’s current contract will soon expire. He conceded that he was contemplating retirement, but also said he had no timetable for announcing his plans. Manning, the last active Giants player from the team’s two Super Bowl victories this century, said he would not dwell on the miseries of recent seasons.
“Too many good memories and laughs and wins to worry about the tough times,” Manning said before cleaning out his locker.
Gettleman has remained optimistic that the team’s recent top draft picks are forming the core of a significant revival. In fact, a news release issued by the Giants on Monday made it clear that the team’s co-owners, John Mara and Steve Tisch, believed the same thing. Prominently mentioned were Jones, the quarterback; running back Saquon Barkley; left guard Will Hernandez; and wide receiver Darius Slayton, each a Gettleman draft pick in the last two years.
“Dave Gettleman is our general manager in 2020 and hopefully for many years after that,” Mara said. “We believe he is the right person to lead us going forward. We think he’s capable of putting a great team together and he’s going to get that opportunity.”
Mara added a potentially crucial caveat that should not go unnoticed: “To the extent we need to make changes in personnel or the way we do things, we’re going to discuss that.”
In a news conference on Monday, Mara elaborated, saying he would consider letting the new coach have an augmented role in organizational decisions if the coach could convince ownership that it was warranted.
Any reference to revamping the Giants’ recent approach to building a winning team will be welcomed by the legions of irritated fans. Regardless of what Mara said on Monday, retaining Gettleman will remain a target among a large swath of the team’s following, as he has been since his hiring in late 2017. The Giants have not won a playoff game in seven seasons.
Gettleman, formerly the Carolina Panthers’ general manager and a Giants front office employee for 13 years, has been responsible for several free-agent signings considered to be busts. He also made questionable decisions, like not trading the Pro Bowl safety and Giants draft pick Landon Collins before Collins’s contract expired, allowing the veteran to leave without any compensation to the Giants. Gettleman traded Odell Beckham Jr. after insisting he would not, and he hired Shurmur, who never proved that he could improve the team.
While avoiding direct criticism of his general manager, Mara admitted that some personnel decisions have failed. He added that Gettleman “knows the batting average has got to increase going forward.”
But keeping Gettleman while jettisoning the coach follows past form for the Giants, who have had just four general managers since 1979.
When Dan Reeves, Jim Fassel and Tom Coughlin were fired as Giants coaches, the general manager in place remained with the team. In the case of Coughlin, that meant Jerry Reese kept his job, a decision that was criticized at the time. Reese was relieved of his duties less than two years later.
That marked the beginning of the last makeover the team promised, which figuratively began with the hiring of Shurmur, who came to the Giants from the Minnesota Vikings, for whom he had been a successful offensive coordinator.
Perhaps tellingly, on Sunday, after the Giants’ 34-17 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles — a game played before a home crowd that was largely absent of Giants fans but was well attended by Eagles fans — Shurmur seemed eager to include Gettleman when blame for the last two woeful seasons was passed around.
Shurmur, whose postgame demeanor suggested he knew he was going to be fired, twice mentioned the large amount of money being paid to players no longer with the team, a direct reference to Gettleman’s management of the roster and salary cap. Those salaries inhibited the Giants’ ability to acquire new players.
Shurmur also said the team’s defense, which was overmatched in nearly every game this season, was playing short-handed from a talent standpoint — another perceived jab at Gettleman.
“On defense,” Shurmur said, “you need to have impact players that when the game is on the line can do things.”
But Shurmur was also hopeful about the Giants’ prospects next season.
“Whoever is coaching this team has got a great group of young players,” he said, adding that the constraints of paying former players’ salaries would dissipate in early 2020 and that the Giants would have the fourth overall pick in the coming college draft.
“There’s going to be cap space, we’ve got picks,” Shurmur continued, “so there’s ways to improve.”
In the end, Tisch and Mara on Monday sought to placate fans of a team with a 51-77 record since its last Super Bowl victory, after the 2011 season.
“We understand how frustrated our fans are,” Tisch said.
Mara added, “We will do everything in our power to see that there is a rapid and substantial turnaround.”
Mara, whose grandfather established the Giants in 1925, is a die-hard, lifelong Giants fan and not just one of the team’s co-owners. No one doubts his desire to turn things around. But Mara’s words alone will not assuage modern Giants fans; they are hearing them for the third time in five demoralizing years.
The Giants’ fandom has typically been among the most passionate, and plentiful, of any team in the N.F.L. But as Giants ownership and management embark on yet another overhaul, they must get it right this time or risk losing a generation of ardent fans.