Assessing the Kevin Gilbride situation
December, 31, 2013
By Dan Graziano | ESPN.com
People want answers, and I get that. Coaches were getting fired left and right in the NFL on Monday, so New York Giants fans are wondering why it should take a few days for their own team's coaching situations to sort themselves out. Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride is the name on everyone's mind, and everyone wants to know whether he'll be back or if the Giants will find someone new to guide their offense. Former Giants assistant Mike Sullivan, just fired as Tampa Bay's offensive coordinator Monday, makes a lot of sense, and it's possible Gilbride will get fired and Sullivan will get the job.
But it's also possible Gilbride will keep the job, and truth be told no decision has been made on that yet. Head coach Tom Coughlin, who says he wants to return and has been told by owner John Mara that the team wants him to return, is scheduled to meet with Mara and other Giants decision-makers later this week, likely Thursday. Until that time, little that you hear or read should be viewed as final.
"We’re going to do what we have to do, but we’re going to do it in an intelligent fashion," Mara said Monday. "We’re not going to make these sweeping changes. Stability is important. It’s one of the reasons we’ve had some success here, but there are times when changes have to be made. If we agree on those changes, then we’ll make them going forward."
Here's how I read the situation as of Tuesday afternoon:
Coughlin wants to be back as head coach and the team wants him back as head coach, so all of the discussions to come work within that framework. Coughlin operates as one of the decision-makers. Head coaches like to choose their own coordinators, and the Giants historically have allowed that to be the case. Coughlin is, however, outranked in the decision-making hierarchy, chiefly by the people who own the team. And if Mara, who described the offense as "broken" Monday, thinks Gilbride needs to be replaced, he's surely going to make that opinion plain to Coughlin.
If and when that happens, the manner in which Coughlin reacts will determine a lot. I do not know for certain how Coughlin would react if presented with a suggestion or ultimatum about firing Gilbride, who's been with him since his Jacksonville days, and neither does anyone else who's speculating on it right now. The people I've talked to think Coughlin would resist or possibly refuse, but even those people are speculating. Only Coughlin knows what's in his heart and head. So be careful with that.
The other piece to remember here is that Coughlin only has one year left on his contract. In the past, when it appeared he might confront that situation, Coughlin has cited with admiration the old Brooklyn and L.A. Dodgers manager Walter Alston, who never had a contract longer than one year but held the job for 23 of them. He says he's not afraid of having to prove himself year after year, and if the Giants insist on breaking with organizational policy and allowing him to coach as a lame duck, he may say that's fine with him.
But it also could be a negotiating tool. For instance, if the Giants insist that Coughlin fire Gilbride and replace him with Sullivan and he agrees (which isn't an insane thought, since he likes Sullivan and so does quarterback Eli Manning), he could do so under the condition that they add a year or two to his contract. If he goes to the mat for Gilbride and insists that he be kept (also possible, since Coughlin is loyal and has expressed confidence in his coaches in recent days), the Giants could agree but then refuse to extend the contract.
There exists the slim possibility that the whole thing could blow up and that Coughlin could decide to leave (or the Giants could decide to fire him) over one or more of these issues. That would be a shocking result at this point, but again, these meetings are going to be emotional, and it's impossible to predict exactly what will come of them. And there are other coaches whose names will come up for evaluation in addition to Gilbride. Special teams coordinator Tom Quinn can't be assumed to be safe. Gilbride's son is the wide receivers coach, and one of Mara's best lines Monday was about how he was "not sure why it took us three years to figure out Jerrel Jernigan can play." This is, as Mara said, intended to be a thoughtful process and not a rash one. For that reason, it must take some time.
So while I wish I could give you a more definitive answer, the fact is I don't know right now if Gilbride will be fired because the Giants don't either. My only advice is to be patient and rest assured that the decisions will be discussed and made the right way, whether you end up agreeing with them or not.