Giants facing issues Cowboys once did
Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett can sympathize with what New York Giants interim coach Steve Spagnuolo is likely feeling.
Garrett, now the longest tenured coach in the NFC East, began on an interim basis in 2010 when he was named by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to succeed Wade Phillips after a 1-7 start that year.
Garrett ultimately led the Cowboys to a 5-3 finish on their way to a 6-10 record. The first victory for the one-time Giants backup quarterback turned coach? A 33-20 win over the Giants at the Meadowlands.
Still, despite that strong start, Garrett admitted that he often had to fly by the seat of his pants.
"It was a collective challenge," Garrett said via conference call Wednesday. "We had to somehow, some way, process what had happened and then get our sights set on a ballgame that we were going to play in six days."
That game, ironically was against the Giants, then led by Tom Coughlin. Now with the Giants, led by Spagnuolo, Coughlin's defensive coordinator who was retained by now former coach Ben McAdoo when he was named to succeed Coughlin, Garrett's message to the Cowboys at the time is pretty much like what Spagnuolo told the Giants.
"The biggest thing I wanted to do is to focus on what was ahead of us, not how we had gotten to that position," Garrett recalled. "I thought our coaches and our players did a really good job responding the right way."
Spagnuolo has issued the same message to his players during his first team meeting as coach.
"One of the main focuses was asking the guys that when they come into the building, when they come to work, come to work expecting to win," Spagnuolo said in his first media briefing as the team's interim head coach. "That's how they should function. Forget about what has happened prior. Let's just go forward coming in the building ready to work every day and expecting to win."
Unlike Garrett, who inherited a somewhat stable quarterback situation, Spagnuolo is coming off an earth-shattering week in which Eli Manning, the Giants' franchise quarterback since 2004, was removed from the starting lineup by McAdoo, the first game that Manning had not participated in since Nov. 14 of his rookie season.
That move created a firestorm like no other among the team's fan base, one that even co-owner John Mara admitted caught him a bit off guard.
McAdoo had presented the preseason-like plan that Manning rejected. It called for Manning to play the first half of last week's game against the Oakland Raiders before yielding to Geno Smith.
The first thing Spagnuolo did was trust his gut in returning Manning to the starting lineup.
"What you have to understand is when I was coaching just the defense, I had the blinders on and all I'm worried about is the defense. I stay in my lane. So I didn't have my eyes around what was going on on offense -- who was playing what," Spagnuolo said.
"I took my gut and visited with the offensive coaches and together with that and my gut, Eli Manning is going to be our quarterback."
Asked if his gut told him that Manning, who met with Spagnuolo earlier in the week to petition for his starting job back, would give the team the best chance to win, Spagnuolo smiled and said, "Yeah. That would be a pretty good assessment because the first thing you focus on and think about is how are we going to find a way to win the football game, and I think you all know how I feel about Eli."
As far as Garrett is concerned, it doesn't matter who is under center for the Giants.
The Cowboys will be without suspended running back Ezekiel Elliott another week and could also be without offensive lineman La'el Collins (back), linebacker Justin Durant (concussion/illness), defensive lineman David Irving (concussion), cornerback Orlando Scandrick (back), left tackle Tyron Smith (back) and middle linebacker Sean Lee (hamstring) in a critical weekend matchup in which a win is needed to keep their playoff hopes alive.
"Again, our focus is really on us," Garrett said. "We have great respect for the Giants, their coaching staff and all their players. But the biggest thing we try to do is just focus on what we need to do each day to prepare to play our best."