EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The first decision Steve Spagnuolo made as interim coach of the Giants will likely be his biggest, and he didn't really have to give it much thought.
When Spagnuolo decided to reinstate Eli Manning as the starting quarterback of the Giants, he simply went with his "gut."
"All I can tell you is this," Spagnuolo said in his first press conference since taking over for the fired Ben McAdoo. "When John Mara and I talked, one of the first things he asked me was about the quarterback situation and I said, 'John, my gut right now is that Eli should be the starter.'
"What you have to understand is when I was coaching just the defense and I have the blinders on and all I'm worried about is the defense -- I stay in my lane - I didn't have my eyes on what was going on on offense. So I took my gut and visited with the offensive coaches, and together with that and with my gut, Eli Manning's going to be our quarterback."
And with that, Spagnuolo reversed one of the strangest decisions in Giants history -- the benching of Manning after 210 consecutive starts. That move, orchestrated by McAdoo and now-fired GM Jerry Reese, was done, they said, so the franchise could get a look at the young quarterbacks on their roster. And it led to 27-year-old Geno Smith getting the start on Sunday in Oakland, where the Giants lost to the Raiders, 24-17.
Spagnuolo, though, probably had little choice even if he had wanted to go in a different direction. According to multiple team sources, Mara's strong preference was to have Manning start on Sunday at home against the Dallas Cowboys -- especially with protests by fans and a small group of former Giants players reportedly planned.
It was also, obviously, Manning's preference. Spagnuolo -- who said he discussed his 'gut' feeling and the quarterback decision with offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan and the offensive assistants -- said the 36-year-old quarterback made that clear on Monday when they met, shortly after McAdoo was fired. Manning even publicly said he told his new coach that he wanted his old job back, during his regular weekly interview on WFAN later that day.
There was almost no way, after the way the Manning benching was botched, that Spagnuolo could get away with telling Manning "No" after he publicly stated that he had asked for his job back. Of course, it seems pretty clear that Spagnuolo was going to start Manning regardless.
The interim coach insisted Manning gives the Giants the best chance to win.
"Yeah, that would be a pretty good assessment," Spagnuolo said. "Look, I think you all know how I feel about Eli. What happened, happened. In the long run, hopefully it's a really good thing. He walked in my office, and I will tell you this: As a coach you want every player walking in your office with the intent and resolve and the determination that he had. So I respect that."
"I just wanted him to know that I do want to play," Manning said. "I want to be the starting quarterback, I want to be out there. I wanted to make sure he knew that. He said that he was going to think about it and talk with the coaches, but his gut said that I would be the starting quarterback.
"So I'm happy that he went with that decision and that he has the faith in me that we can go win this game with me as the quarterback."