Brian Daboll was Coach of the Year as a rookie head coach, the answer to the prayers of John Mara and Giants fans everywhere, making a mockery of the NFL hiring practice that kept overlooking him in favor of the hotshot flavor of the year.
He was Coach of the Year because he brought the Giants back from the dead, because he salvaged Daniel Jones and cemented him as the $40 million franchise quarterback, created an environment conducive to winning and fun, and was the same guy every day during times when lesser Giants head coaches would have blinked and crumbled.
And here’s what the Giants will need from him for an encore:
Coach of the Year again.
The Giants will report to training camp Tuesday, with Saquon Barkley out of sight, but absolutely not out of mind.
Daboll seamlessly handled the inevitable adversity that befalls every head coach. He told nobody about the pain, but showed New York the baby when he led the Giants to their first playoff victory since they won Super Bowl XLVI in February 2012.
But the Barkley situation is something entirely different.
This is what former Lakers coach Pat Riley, in his book “The Winner Within,” labeled a thunderbolt:
“A thunderbolt is something beyond your control. A phenomenon that one day strikes you, your team, your business, your city, and even your nation. It rocks you; it blows you into a crater. You have no choice except to take the hit. But you do have a lot of choice about what to do next.”
Your move, Coach of the Year.
So when Daboll addresses his 2023 team for the first time, Barkley won’t be there. When he organizes practices with offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, he will be designing plays for Matt Breida, Gary Brightwell, rookie Eric Gray and newly signed James Robinson.
When Jones hands the ball off, or looks for a safety valve out of the backfield, there will be no No. 26 to help make life easier for him.
Guess you heard: Barkley didn’t sign his franchise tag, and no one can be certain when he will be back playing Ping Pong in the locker room … or if he continues to feel disrespected enough by general manager Joe Schoen and the front office to consider the nuclear option of holding out for at least the regular-season home opener against the Cowboys.
Barkley was one of Daboll’s 10 captains last season. He showed himself to be as smart, tough and dependable as any of Daboll’s Giants.
In and around 1925 Giants Drive, feel free to call this the long, hot summer.
Inquiring media minds taking a respite from the Aaron Rodgers hysteria in Florham Park will want to know what the Giants’ players think of one of the twin faces of the franchise opting to take his ball and go home for now. Questions about Barkley will linger and cast an unwelcome haze overhead, and Daboll will view it as a troubling new air quality alert.
What Daboll should do, and likely will do, is address Barkley’s absence at his opening press conference with Schoen, and announce that he will not be answering Barkley questions again.
Daboll will tell his team and the media that he will coach the players who are there, but at the same time it would also be a good idea to express the hope that Barkley rejoins the team, because he happens to be the Giants’ best playmaker.
There is an elephant in Daboll’s room, and not being afraid to say it for all to hear, and for Barkley to hear, won’t soothe the wound, and won’t get Barkley one cent over the $10.1 million tag, but any form of olive branch never hurts.
You can be a playoff team with great team chemistry one year and a mediocre one without it the next.
Bill Parcells the mentor would tell his former pupils:
“Four or five things happen in pro football every day that you wish wouldn’t happen. If you can’t handle those, you need to get another job.”
Daboll was up to the task. But though Schoen added speed on both sides of the ball and weapons for Jones, none more imposing than tight end Darren Waller, the gap has not yet been closed on the Eagles, and probably not on the Cowboys either. Even with a happy, motivated “Payquon,” a treacherous schedule awaits.
The young Parcells sought advice from the late Al Davis: “Al, I am just not sure how we can win without so many of our best players. What should I do?” And Davis told him: “Bill, nobody cares, just coach your team.”
Coach of the Year, coach your team. Every bit as expertly as you coached it last season. Or else.