EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - When the Giants owners held their fire on Ben McAdoo this week and announced they would re-evaluate everything at the end of the season, New Year's Day became a key day on the team calendar. That's the day after the end of the regular season -- and the day McAdoo would be fired.
Even though it feels inevitable, and is being reported as virtually a done deal, the truth is John Mara and Steve Tisch have not definitively made up their mind on the future of McAdoo and the franchise yet. Most team sources believe McAdoo will be fired, but they simultaneously warn that there is a lot of time left for that to change.
And yes, there are absolutely things that can happen in the next seven weeks to convince the owners he should keep his job …
Just win, baby
In 2013 the Giants started 0-6 and it looked like Tom Coughlin, even two years after his second Super Bowl, might be on the hot seat. Then the Giants won their next four games to make some of December a little meaningful. That was part of a 7-3 run to finish 7-9, and his job was saved. One year later, Coughlin's Giants had a horrible loss in Jacksonville on Nov. 30 to fall to 3-9 and Mara later admitted his instinct was to fire everyone immediately. But the Giants won their next three games, and even though they finished 6-10, Coughlin's job was saved again.
So yes, winning is a good deodorant, even for endangered coaches. What if, by some miracle, these Giants win their last seven games? McAdoo surely wouldn't be fired after going 8-8. OK, without Odell Beckham, Jr. and a slew of other players, that's a longshot, but what if the Giants go 4-3 and stay competitive against a tough schedule? Would that be enough to make Mara feel better about his coach?
The players that actually quit on their team are showing something damning about their own character, but there's no way of avoiding the fact that it's also a referendum on the coach. Coughlin's teams were rarely no-shows, and even in those terrible seasons mentioned above he found a way to keep his players fighting. It was either a testament to his motivational ability, or to the respect his players had for him.
So if Mara and Tisch see a lot more performances like the disgraceful showing cornerback Janoris Jenkins gave Sunday in San Francisco, or if they see more defiant acts like the ones that led to the brief suspensions of Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and the benching of Eli Apple, that will reflect very poorly on McAdoo. If the owners think the players -- even some players -- have stopped listening to or playing hard for the coach, he's gone.
But if they fight to the end for him? Maybe that says something, too.
Change the tone - The tone right now is one of total chaos. Losing, player discipline issues, anonymous players speaking out … it's all bad. The fact that ownership felt they needed to issue a statement of "support" was telling. They wouldn't do that if things were calm.
Now, McAdoo said on Wednesday that "A calm doesn't suit me. A storm does." Unfortunately his bosses don't want a storm, especially when it's so negative. They want to stop seeing back pages portraying their franchise as a disaster and their coach as a doomed clown. They want people to stop yelling about them on TV and talk radio. They prefer less angry crowds. They want the focus to be on something -- anything -- positive.
Yes, winning would help. So would a different tone in the locker room, with players focusing on being a team. But it would help to start with a coach who doesn't seem to be constantly searching for answers or answering questions with dumb things like "Ummmm …."
Fixing his public image
Laugh at "Ummmm …." if you want -- and it was hilarious when the video went viral of him using that "line" to answer a question about his halftime speech against the Rams -- but it was a symptom of McAdoo's terrible image problem. It was amusing when the Giants were 11-5 and the focus was on his oversized suits and questionable hair choices. But when the losing started, the focus shifted to his awkward press conferences, his refusal to answer basic questions, his combativeness with reporters, and his inability to act like a man completely in control.
That matters. And for proof, look back to 2007 when the Giants only kept Coughlin around after he agreed to listen to suggestions about softening his image with players and the press. The changes were subtle and the winning mattered more, but it proved that Mara and Tisch cared at least a little about how their coach appeared.
McAdoo has managed to seemingly turn most of the media against him, which won't help his cause in the end. But players see and read more than they admit. So do fans. And everyone, including owners, want to see a coach who looks like a leader and who inspires confidence, not a man who appears smug and uncooperative as the losses continue to mount.
Stop messing with the QB
McAdoo's public criticism of Eli Manning has always been a little overblown. It's not like he's ever really ripped his quarterback. He's just been more critical of him, specifically, than he has been of most of his other players. Rarely does he call out anyone other than Manning by name.
If it stops there, fine. But if McAdoo's frustration with Manning and his play continues to boil over, it's a fight he's going to lose. Manning is a franchise icon. He also remains a more-than-capable quarterback, far better than almost every feasible replacement option. He's not going anywhere next year, nor probably the year after that.
And while Manning will never show frustration with McAdoo, people around him are already bristling at the way he's publicly treated by the coach. If that gets worse … well, if there's ever even a perception of a Coach vs. Quarterback battle, the coach will lose. Period. McAdoo just can't let that happen if he wants to be back in 2018.