The No. 1 name on the Giants' list to be their next head coach is the same man who was very nearly hired to be the Jets coach last year.
Matt Rhule, the 44-year-old head coach at Baylor, is the early favorite to replace the now fired Pat Shurmur, according to multiple team and league sources. The Giants owners "like him a lot," said one league source, and have been enamored of him since his one year as a Giants assistant back in 2012.
He left a big impression then, one team source said, and they were certain the native New Yorker would be a successful head coach when he left after that one season as the assistant offensive line coach under Tom Coughlin to take over the football program at Temple.
"He's got an NFL mind and well-run program and seems to have every small detail covered," one NFL scout told SNY earlier this month. "He's got a little Coughlin in him. The Giants will like that."
Indeed they do. And Rhule apparently likes the Giants, too. One source familiar with his thinking expects there will be "strong interest" from Rhule when the Giants call. The source also said any idea that Rhule wouldn't want to work with Giants GM Dave Gettleman, who was retained by the franchise on Monday, is "ridiculous."
It's not clear if the Giants have contacted Rhule yet, but they reportedly have requested permission from the New England Patriots to interview their offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels. The Giants interviewed him two years ago when they hired Shurmur. McDaniels went on to accept the Indianapolis Colts' head coaching job, only to back out of it days later.
Presumably, the Giants would have to be absolutely sure that McDaniels is ready to leave New England before they got serious about him again.
As for Rhule, it's not a lock he'll leave Baylor, either, but he definitely is interested in exploring his NFL options. In fact, he told that to his players on Sunday in a team meeting as they continued to prepare for the Sugar Bowl this Wednesday. He is under contract with Baylor through 2027, but it is believed that contract can be bought out.
Rhule was a finalist for the Jets job last January and was nearly hired before they turned to Adam Gase instead. The issue with the Jets was reportedly that they weren't pleased with his choices of coordinators and were trying to convince him to bring in defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. The Giants likely wouldn't stand in Rhule's way of hiring his own staff.
He could have other options, too. The Carolina Panthers reportedly want to interview Rhule about their vacancy, and he's been mentioned as a possible candidate in Dallas if Jerry Jones fires Jason Garrett. Rhule also could be a candidate in Cleveland, where Freddie Kitchens was fired on Sunday night.
Rhule has been in the NFL's sights for several years after the way he turned around two struggling college programs. First, he took a middling Temple program and had the Owls winning 10 games and going to a bowl in back-to-back seasons just three years later. Then he took over a Baylor program that was engulfed in scandal in 2017 and won 11 games this season and very nearly had the Bears in the national championship playoff.
He's been successful enough that the Giants seem willing to overlook the fact that he only spent one year in the NFL, and the fact that they haven't hired a coach out of college since they brought Jim Lee Howell out of Wagner in 1954.
Obviously, Rhule won't be the only candidate with the Giants, but the rest of the field is still taking shape. The Giants were expected to have a strong interest in Ron Rivera, who worked with Gettleman in Carolina, but he reportedly is about to become the new head coach of the Washington Redskins. Garrett could get an interview if he's fired in Dallas, though he is not expected to be a top candidate for the Giants job. It does not appear that there will be strong interest in former Packers head coach Mike McCarthy at the start of the search. One source suggested former Broncos coach Gary Kubiak could get a call to see if he's interested in coaching again.
And according to the NFL Network, the Giants have requested permission to interview Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy, who also interviewed with the Jets last offseason.
The 43-year-old McDaniels, who is considered one of the best offensive minds in pro football and would surely come with the endorsement of Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, could also be a serious candidate. However, one team source said the Giants won't necessarily be looking for an offensive-minded coach, even though most would assume that because of their young franchise quarterback. The source said a defensive-minded coach might actually be preferable to Gettleman and the Giants, so the head coach can manage the whole game and leave the play-calling to his offensive coordinator.
But any search might just be window-dressing if Rhule decides he wants the job and the Giants can lure him away from Waco, Texas in the next few weeks.