Giants’ Brian Daboll is getting coaching staff overhaul. If it fails, there will be no one else to blame

Giants’ Brian Daboll is getting coaching staff overhaul. If it fails, there will be no one else to blame

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The New York Giants had been caught in a cycle of replacing their head coach every two years. They broke that trend Monday. This year, they have to replace everyone else instead.

That’s only a slight exaggeration after a tumultuous start to the offseason Monday. Head coach Brian Daboll will become the rare Giants coach to reach a third season after predecessors Ben McAdoo, Pat Shurmur and Joe Judge were fired within two years. But Daboll will have to do a lot of heavy lifting at the start of Year 3.

Daboll must replace defensive coordinator Wink Martindale (resigned), special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey (fired), running backs coach Jeff Nixon (leaving to become Syracuse’s offensive coordinator), offensive line coach Bobby Johnson (fired), outside linebackers coach Drew Wilkins (fired), defensive assistant Kevin Wilkins (fired) and strength coach Craig Fitzgerald (leaving to become Florida’s strength coach).

Of all those vacancies, Martindale’s departure is the most consequential. It was viewed as a coup when Daboll, as a first-time head coach, landed Martindale to run his defense two years ago.


But the relationship dissolved quickly. The Giants’ surprising success mostly masked the friction last year, but as the losses piled up this season, the tension grew.


Daboll made weak attempts to diffuse the spotlight on the issue, with jokes about fighting over pizza and a forced game ball reward for Martindale the same day a report from Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer brought attention to the fractured relationship. But, in reality, the relationship was contentious to the end.


Daboll shifted the onus to Martindale by declaring during his season-ending news conference Monday morning that it was his “expectation” the coordinator would be back. Daboll made that comment despite revealing moments later that he had yet to have a conversation with Martindale about his future. That didn’t matter because Daboll had already tried to ensure that a split would be on Martindale. Daboll even referenced Martindale’s previous comments about how much he loved working for the Giants.


“I know Wink talks about this as a destination place and things like that,” Daboll said.


The firings of the Wilkins brothers were reported by The Athletic five hours after Daboll’s comments. An hour later, news of Martindale’s resignation broke. The timeline of how everything unfolded internally is unclear, but firing the Wilkins brothers was clear a sign Martindale’s days in East Rutherford were numbered.


The brothers began their coaching careers at the lowest levels in Baltimore and rose through the ranks under Martindale’s tutelage. Drew Wilkins became Martindale’s right-hand man, as the duo worked closely to design the defense’s exotic blitz packages.


With Martindale and his protégés gone, the pressure on Daboll intensifies. The honeymoon already was over, but now he needs to find an upgrade on one of the most respected defensive coordinators in the league.


It would be one thing if Martindale was fired for poor performance. But this relationship dissolved over a personality conflict. If Daboll could have made things work with Martindale, he wouldn’t have a major hole to fill on his coaching staff.


Here are some additional thoughts on a wild start to the offseason:


A messy divorce?

Don’t expect this to be an amicable split between Martindale and the Giants. He’s still under contract for 2024, so despite reports about the demand for his services, he’s not free to pursue any job he wants.


If Martindale gets head-coaching interest, which seems unlikely, he can pursue those opportunities. But it’s hard to imagine the Giants will let him walk to any defensive coordinator job of his choosing.


The last thing the Giants want is for Martindale to head to Philadelphia, whose defense has disintegrated down the stretch. That’s why a firing was unlikely, since that would have paved the way down I-95 for Martindale.


The resignation is a much better outcome for the Giants, since they maintain control over Martindale’s next stop. Depending on how bitter the breakup is, it seems like the sides should be able to reach a mutual parting if Martindale gets a coordinator offer from a team that meets the Giants’ approval.


Starting over

Martindale arrived with a reputation as a mad genius whose blitz packages flummoxed opposing coaches and quarterbacks after four successful seasons running the Baltimore Ravens’ defense. Martindale deployed that style with varying levels of effectiveness in New York. But there was no questioning which unit was the strongest on this season’s 6-11 team.


The Giants’ 31 takeaways tied for the most in the league. Their 21 takeaways in the final seven games were the biggest key to a 4-3 finish behind backup quarterbacks Tyrod Taylor and Tommy DeVito.


Still, it’s possible Daboll could find an upgrade from Martindale’s high-variance defense. For all of Martindale’s creative blitzes, the Giants allowed 640 yards in a 49-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys and 524 yards in a 31-16 loss to the Miami Dolphins this season.


But changing coordinators all but ensures a slow start to next season as players adapt to a scheme that will certainly be different. The defense weathered a slow start this season because players respected Martindale and bought into his coaching. Daboll could lose some locker room support if the new defensive coordinator doesn’t match Martindale’s ability to relate to players and his on-field results.


Will Daboll look in-house?

Daboll was lauded for branching outside of his comfort zone when assembling his initial staff. That approach seemed like a smashing success when strong coaching played a crucial role in the Giants’ surprising playoff berth last season.


But it’s fair to wonder if Daboll will adjust his hiring process this time around. He didn’t have a pre-existing relationship with Martindale, McGaughey or the Wilkins brothers before hiring them two years ago.


With Daboll’s seat getting hotter, will he cast a wide net again, or will he look to find familiar faces to fill vital roles on his staff? If he chooses familiarity, internal options (DL coach Andre Patterson, DB coach Jerome Henderson) or those with past working experience (former Buffalo Bills DC Leslie Frazier, Philadelphia Eagles senior defensive assistant Matt Patricia, Bills DL coach Eric Washington) figure to be at the top of the defensive coordinator list.


What is Mike Kafka’s future?

Offensive coordinator Mike Kafka was grouped with Martindale in Daboll’s “expectation” that the coordinators would be back. That comment obviously tells little about Kafka’s future, which hasn’t received the same attention as Martindale’s.


Kafka is a much greener coach with a more reserved personality than Martindale, so less is known about his relationship with Daboll. But it is known the 36-year-old Kafka left Kansas City for the opportunity to serve as the play caller with the Giants.


That looked like a wise move for career advancement when Kafka fielded interview requests from four teams with head-coaching vacancies last offseason. But there figures to be far less interest in Kafka after the Giants plummeted to 30th in scoring, along with Daboll’s involvement in the offense increasing during the season.


Daboll never fully seized play-calling duties from Kafka this season, although there were times when the head coach had a heavier influence on game day. A full-time change to taking over play calling wasn’t ruled out by Daboll, who got the Giants job based on his success as a play caller in four years as Buffalo’s offensive coordinator.


It’s hard to imagine Kafka being keen on sticking around if he’s stripped of play-calling duties, so that’s another situation to monitor despite Daboll’s “expectation.”


Filling the other vacancies

Monday started with Daboll announcing the firings of McGaughey and Johnson. McGaughey’s dismissal wasn’t a surprise. The kicking game was too inconsistent over the past two seasons after Daboll retained McGaughey, who survived two head-coaching changes after returning to the Giants on Shurmur’s staff in 2018.


The dismal offensive line performance put Johnson on the chopping block, but some sources wondered if Daboll would dismiss Johnson based on their relationship. They worked together for three years in Buffalo, and Daboll hand-picked Johnson to fill the critical offensive line coaching role with the Giants.


Johnson’s firing shows that results outweigh sentiment, although Daboll declined to provide any insight into the decision, so it’s possible the move was the result of pressure from above.


Whatever the reason for Johnson’s ousting, it’s imperative Daboll nails his next O-line coach hire. The search should start with finding out how much it would cost to lure Mike Munchak to New Jersey. The 63-year-old Munchak has an extensive track record as a top offensive line coach. He has been out of coaching for the past two years but has said he’s interested in getting back on the sideline.


Another name to keep in mind with ties to Daboll and the Giants: Dave DeGuglielmo. He was the Giants’ assistant O-line coach from 2004-08 and returned as O-line coach in the second half of the 2020 season after Judge fired Marc Colombo. DeGuglielmo has worked with Daboll for three years in Miami and New England

The potential departures aren’t restricted to the coaching staff. Assistant general manager Brandon Brown received an interview request from the Carolina Panthers for their GM vacancy.


Viewed as a rising star in the industry, the 35-year-old Brown is one of eight candidates for the Carolina job. If Brown gets the job, the Giants will receive a third-round comp pick in each of the next two drafts for developing a minority GM.

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Dan Duggan is a staff writer for The Athletic covering the New York Giants. He previously covered the Giants for two years for The Star-Ledger. He has also worked for the Boston Herald. Follow Dan on Twitter @DDuggan21

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