Steve Wilks had the Giants' full attention on Tuesday, and a real chance to win their head coaching job.
Wilks, the Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator and a man long-assumed to be new GM Dave Gettleman's guy, met with the Giants in New Jersey in what might turn out to be the most important interview of their head coaching search so far. He was interviewed, as the previous four candidates were, by Gettleman, co-owner John Mara and assistant GM Kevin Abrams. And even co-owner Steve Tisch was on hand -- the first interview he has participated in so far.
Tisch's sudden presence had more to do with his personal travel schedule, according to a source, but there was no doubt about the importance of Wilks' interview inside the organization. The 48-year-old had a chance to separate himself in what one source said was still a wide-open field if he was as impressive as Gettleman apparently believed he would be.
It was not immediately clear how the interview went, but according to a source Wilks planned to continue on to Arizona to meet with the Cardinals on Wednesday. That is not necessarily an indication of anything, according to sources on both sides. Wilks always planned to take other interviews and the Giants, meanwhile, are scheduled to meet with former Broncos assistant head coach/running backs coach Eric Studesville on Wednesday.
After that, Mara, Tisch, Gettleman and Abrams are expected to meet to discuss whether they have found their guy, or whether they need to continue searching. More candidates -- like perhaps Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz -- could be available after the playoff games this weekend.
As for Wilks, his interview was key component in how serious a contender he is. And his candidacy may depend on this simple question:
Was he able to convince Mara that the man matters more than the resume?
Because Gettleman, according to multiple sources, believes Wilks will be a terrific head coach. But he simply doesn't have the experience that Mara said his next coach will need.
"I think, obviously, (the next head coach) has to be somebody who has either had head coaching experience or at least has been a coordinator for a significant period of time," Mara said on the day Gettleman was hired. "Because I think if you don't have that, the odds are really stacked against you. It's not impossible for you to succeed without that, but I think the more experience that that individual has as either a head coach or as a coordinator on either side of the ball, I think is very important."
Mara knows that from recent experience. When he hired Ben McAdoo in 2016 he was taking a chance on a man who had only been a coordinator for two seasons and had never been a head coach. It seemed to work well when he led the Giants to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth in his first season, but McAdoo collapsed in Year 2 as he struggled to deal with discipline issues, player relations, media relations, a quarterback controversy, injuries, losing, and everything else that went along with being the man in charge.
Wilks doesn't have much more experience than McAdoo did. He was a head coach for one season at Savannah State back in 1999. He was has been the assistant head coach to Panthers coach Ron Rivera since 2015 and served as his defensive coordinator this past season. And Gettleman was there from 2013-17 to see Wilks rise from defensive backs coach and to see the way his players responded to him.
That, according to those familiar with the relationship, is why Gettleman kept his eye on Wilks as a potential future head coach. He apparently believes that while the resume may not be there, the other necessary qualities are.
"I really believe that the head coaching job is a CEO position," Gettleman said. "It really is. You look at the great head coaches and I'll tell you right now, there ain't a dumb one in the group. They're all leaders. They all know how to lead men. And that's what you need. You need intelligence. You need leadership. And, on the assumption that you hire an intelligent guy, you're going to have a guy with vision. Those are critical components you're looking for."
Aside from Wilks, the Giants have interviewed three outside candidates -- Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, and Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur -- all of whom have more of what Mara said was the necessary experience. None of them, though, have emerged as a favorite or separated themselves in their interviews, a team source said.
The other two known candidates are interim coach Steve Spagnuolo, who interviewed last week, and Studesville. Neither of them are thought to have much of a shot.
The only other candidate known to be on the Giants' radar is Schwartz. The Giants asked and received permission to interview him, but were unable to work out the scheduling last weekend, a team source said. The Giants now can't talk to him until the Eagles' season is over. It's not clear at this point if they plan to wait.
Wilks, meanwhile, has reportedly scheduled three interviews, including the Giants, Cardinals and another in Indianapolis on Thursday. The Lions also reportedly requested permission to interview him, but with Patricia reportedly lined up for that job it's not known if Wilks will accept the interview.
Regardless, Wilks had a great opportunity to make a first impression on the Giants on Tuesday. If he was able to impress Mara and convince him that experience isn't necessary and convince him to take a second consecutive chance on a relatively inexperienced coach, he could be the Giants coach by the end of the week. If he couldn't, the Giants' search will go on.