EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - There was a time when Steve Spagnuolo imagined being the head coach of the Giants, and maybe even hoped for the chance someday. He remembered that on Wednesday, as he conducted his first practice as the interim coach.
He just never wanted that opportunity to happen like this.
"I'm not going to lie, in the past I had thought about this," Spagnuolo said in his first press conference since taking over for the fired Ben McAdoo on Monday. "But because of how fast it all happened, I haven't thought that way. I prayed Monday morning that it wouldn't happen. I'll be honest with you.
"But that's OK. This is where we're at. I'm honored to do it. But as soon as that happened, it was 'boom!' You shift gears."
The gear shift came quickly, less than 24 hours after the Giants lost 24-17 in Oakland. By mid-Monday morning, McAdoo was fired and Giants co-owner John Mara was asking Spagnuolo to steady his sinking ship over the final four games.
And for the 57-year-old "Spags," those four games will amount to an audition to become McAdoo's permanent replacement. Mara said on Monday that Spagnuolo, the popular defensive coordinator in his second tour of duty with the franchise, will be a candidate for the job. Given the troubles the Giants have had on defense this season and Mara's understanding that "wholesale changes" are needed, Spagnuolo might be tough to sell.
But he has long been a Mara favorite, he was the architect of the defense that upset the unbeaten Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, and he had the Giants playing like a top-ranked defense just last season.
So while other candidates are far more likely, Spagnuolo certainly can't be easily dismissed.
"I'll be honest with you, I'm not focused at all on that," he said. "And I would say this to everybody -- and I mean this sincerely -- I leave that in God's hands. I'll be where he wants me to be and right now he wants me to be here for this game and that's how I'll function. And that's as honest as I can get."
During what Spagnuolo described as a "real emotional" 60 hours between McAdoo's dismissal and Spagnuolo's first press conference, he did his best to keep the focus on the preparing the Giants to win just their third game of the season this Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. Spagnuolo seemed hurt by the firing of McAdoo, in part because "I'm one of the guys that let him down." He also immediately began making some changes - most notably reinstalling Eli Manning as starting quarterback. But he also changed some of McAdoo's routine - including the schedule and to the music that was a staple at practice before.
Spags did get in one musical request: He had Frank Sinatra's "That's Life" playing as the Giants went through their pre-game stretching.
This late in the season, of course, that is life for the Giants - they are what they are, and there is no magic fix just because there's a new head coach. In fact, Spagnuolo made it clear that if he did have any brilliant solution to the mess the Giants are in, he would've long ago knocked on McAdoo's door and opened it up.
"In the middle of what we were going through, if I felt that there was something that could have changed or helped, I would have said that," Spagnuolo said. "Ben and I had a great relationship. One of the finest qualities that Ben had was he was a great listener. So, had I felt that, I would have said something. He was more than willing to adjust."
So what can Spagnuolo accomplish in the final four games of the season? What can he do to convince Giants owners that he's the right man for the job? And perhaps more immediately, how can he convince the Giants' disgruntled fan base that there's a reason to show up for the final three home games of the season? What is his message of hope for them?
"It's our hope to unite, restore and find a way to win football games," Spagnuolo said. "When I (say) 'restore" -- you know, restore Giant pride. It's hard to be real prideful when you don't win a lot of football games. But I think the guys feel that and they understand it and we'll function that way going forward."