Giants' Perry Fewell fueled by job snubs
Left off head-coaching carousel, defensive coordinator can make a Super statement
INDIANAPOLIS -- Perry Fewell was done being Mr. News Conference Nice Guy, done with the platitudes and coachspeak for the microphones and notebooks surrounding him. Now the table was clear and he was speaking one on one, man to man, jabbing an index finger at an inquiring mind while making his private fire public.
Fewell was addressing all the NFL teams that had head coach openings and didn't bother asking the New York Giants for permission to talk with him. In a defiant tone, the defensive coordinator said he was glad he wasn't summoned to an interview on the road to Super Bowl XLVI because it might've fractured his focus.
"So I was almost relieved that I didn't get that call," Fewell said, his voice rising, "because I wanted to win. I wanted to beat Green Bay. I wanted to beat San Francisco. I wanted to show people that I was good at what I could do when we got healthy."
Fewell is a prototypical we guy, not a me guy; he's a human echo of Tom Coughlin's all-in mantra. But if only for a few minutes Wednesday, he decided it was OK if there was an I in team.
Fewell went 0-for-4 on job interviews last year in Cleveland, Carolina, Denver and Tennessee, and went 0-for-0 on job interviews this time around while Tampa Bay, St. Louis, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Oakland, Indianapolis, and Miami filled openings. But back to those four swings and misses last year, and to the Rooney Rule designed to ensure that minority candidates are part of a fair and open-minded process.
"I think it's given us an opportunity and a vehicle to get in some doors we never would've gotten in before," Fewell said, "and it's hard to argue with the success of African-Americans being hired, as well as Ron Rivera. ... But sometimes you feel like you're a victim of the Rooney Rule, even though I think it's still a good rule."
Fewell believes some of his job interviews were meant to honor the letter -- not the spirit -- of the law. "I would say two, at least two, maybe three," he said. Fewell wasn't naming names, but he was saying he had little problem identifying a legitimate interview from a counterfeit one.
"More than the questions, it's the body language, just the interview process itself," Fewell said. "You can pick out the questions and how they're structured and how the conversation is going. It's a lot to do with body language and how you're being catered to."
Caught between a crock and a hard place, Fewell did what he could to win over the semi-engaged executive on the other side of the desk. "It's up to me to go in there and convince them to change it," he said.
He would speak passionately about his philosophy, give off a high-energy vibe and surprise the executive with an ambitious list of assistants he planned to hire in assembling a championship staff.
"They ask you about who you would surround yourself with," Fewell said, "and my answer makes them shake their heads, because I feel like I can put together the best staff in the National Football League. And sometimes I've heard, 'You can't do that.'"
"Exactly," Fewell said.
The coordinator said he scored a victory or two in defeat, as a couple of skeptics who granted Fewell an audience later conceded he was more impressive than they'd expected him to be.
"I felt like they should've known that when they brought me in," Fewell said. "So it's kind of like a slap, because I've worked my ass off for 20-some years to get to this point. I'm not tooting my own horn, but we've had success in this profession, my wife and I. I just felt like, 'Look at the record. Look at what we've done and how we've done it, and look at the players that we helped.'"
The wife, Kathleen, was on the phone Wednesday to say her husband wasn't frustrated by some of his job interviews as much as he was proud to have turned them into something they weren't meant to be.
"Like he'd accomplished something," Kathleen said.
It wasn't easy being the wife of the Giants' defensive coordinator for most of 2011, when crippling injuries and maddening miscommunications sent Fewell's unit -- ranked seventh in 2010 -- plunging toward the bottom of the league's standings. The Fewells' 10-year-old son was subjected to a hurtful comment here or there -- "And that was the toughest part for me," Kathleen said -- and Perry himself faced a gathering storm of message-board criticism from fans.
Only Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora got healthy in the nick of time, the Giants rediscovered their pass rush, and Fewell's defense hasn't lost since. The phone has remained silent, a truth Kathleen called "very disappointing," as teams either didn't want to wait for the Giants' season to end, or didn't want to explain why they were hiring a man who presided over a defense rated so low.
"But I never once saw that disappointment in Perry," Kathleen said. "He never said one word about it because he was too focused on his job."
His job is leading the Giants' defense back to a place where that former rock star of a coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo, led it four years back. For Super Bowl XLII in Glendale, Ariz., everything was Spags this, Spags that. A close friend of Spagnuolo's, Giants safeties coach Dave Merritt, called Fewell "underrated, just as good as Spags," and cited his unique ways of connecting with players.
"Perry will come into the room and recite some old R&B singer and relate it to football," Merritt said. "He'll do something off the wall like sing a couple of notes from Al Green, 'Let's Stay Together.' I wouldn't advise him to go on 'American Idol,' but he definitely knows how to get the players' attention."
Fewell has coached at four Division I colleges, and for five NFL teams. He was Buffalo's coordinator when Dick Jauron was fired at 3-6 in 2009, and he did credible work going 3-4 as interim coach before being fired.
Yes, the Vince Lombardi Trophy would make the coordinator's résumé whole. It would also sentence Perry Fewell's token interviews to a long overdue death.
Ian O'Connor is the author of "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." "Sunday Morning With Ian O'Connor" can be heard every Sunday from 9 to 11 a.m. ET on ESPN New York 1050.