When he was named the interim head coach of the New York Giants on December 4, Steve Spagnuolo, the team’s defensive coordinator had a typed up list of about six pages outlining things that, if he ever had another opportunity to be a head coach in the NFL, he would do things differently.
Spagnuolo, who made that list after a failed head coaching stint with the then St. Louis Rams, never did reveal what was on that list, but it wouldn’t be surprised if humility was at or near the top.
“I was honored to do it,” Spagnuolo said of having the opportunity to be the head coach of the New York Giants, even though he stressed that he wished the opportunity hadn’t come at the expense of Ben McAdoo losing his job.
“I will say this, that when it did happen, I certainly felt so much more prepared even though it was right in the middle of it than I did on that day I flew from New York to St. Louis and had the press conference there.
“And I remember going up to my office and then sitting down at my desk and saying, ‘OK, what do I do now?’ because it all just comes at you and you got to move. So, it was more comfortable that way. I wish we had better results in the win-loss column obviously. But, was proud of the way the guys functioned, operated.”
The Giants finished 1-3 under Spagnuolo’s leadership which is the bottom line and how his interim tenure will likely be judged. However, despite mounting injuries and issues in the locker room, somehow Spagnuolo brought a sense of calm to the product on the field.
“I would have felt very empty if we had gone through this month of four games and not having been able to come away with a win,” Spagnuolo said. “Because it is a result-oriented profession, and it was good to at least get that win one time.
Except for their shutout loss to the Arizona Cardinals, the Giants were more competitive in their games under Spagnuolo’s leadership. Against the Cowboys, the Giants were down 17-10 as late as 7:38 in the fourth quarter before that game slipped away to a 30-10 loss.
The Giants also played the Philadelphia Eagles, the NFC’s top-seeded playoff team, tight, losing that game 34-29. Following the blowout loss to the Cardinals on Christmas Eve, the Giants bounced back with a 18-10 win against Washington on New Year’s Eve.
“I think we worked through it. Everything is not going to be perfect,” he said. “So, you expect that and as professionals, when there’s a bump in the road or hiccup, you’re supposed to react to it and do it professionally and move forward and I thought we did that for the most part.”
Spagnuolo knows that his defense wasn’t good enough this year and came up short several times to hold a win, so he wasn’t about to puff out his chest with any pride for the job he did over the entire season. But he was appreciative of how the team banded together and fought through the unchartered waters to at least end the year on a positive note.
“I am happy with the way things went (Sunday). I was really proud of the guys, the way they played. We handled the elements really well. Rushing the ball the way we did, playing third down on defense the way we did, it was New York Giants football, in my opinion.”
He’s also grateful for the job done by the assistant coaches, who banded together to keep the ship together despite the challenging circumstances after McAdoo’s dismissal.
“I thought Sully (Mike Sullivan) was great. Dave (Merritt) did a great job when he had to step in for me. All the coaches. Just trying to keep your guys – where the season was lost in a lot of ways. There were no playoffs to look forward to. Guys were being professionals. Everybody is playing for their own future. Coaches doing the same thing. So, I thought everybody acted professionally.”
Both Dave Gettleman and John Mara have said that Spagnuolo will have a chance to interview for the permanent head coaching role if he wants it.
“None of that has even been talked about,” Spagnuolo said. “Dave and I have been just kind of focusing on getting to this year-end meeting, and that’s what we did. We knocked that out and boom, I’m right here. So, I don’t have anything to report on that.”