Brian Daboll has walked the red carpets and given all the speeches as the NFL’s reigning coach of the year, but he’s done patting himself on the back.
When a reporter listed Daboll’s rookie year accomplishments in Phoenix last week, the Giants’ head coach cut off the praise.
“Yeah, got smoked in the playoffs,” Daboll said. “Yeah.”
In seven words, Daboll demonstrated the kind of personal accountability that is imperative for his Giants to take another step in Year 2.
Daboll’s team didn’t just lose to the divisional rival Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC’s divisional round. They got embarrassed, with Daboll front and center making critical mistakes.
“We got outcoached. We got outplayed. And that all starts with me,” Daboll said in January.
His decision to go for it on 4th and 8 at the Eagles’ 40-yard line down 7-0 after a Haason Reddick sack of Daniel Jones was a panic move. It accelerated a 38-7 beatdown in the Giants’ third loss in three meetings to their most bitter rival.
Daboll didn’t take a ton of heat for that major mistake because he had earned the benefit of the doubt by exceeding expectations, having galvanized the undermanned Giants to a 6-1 start, a 9-7-1 playoff season and a road Wild Card in Minnesota.
His early-season aggressiveness, results and offensive acumen won the locker room and instilled confidence.
Getting humbled in South Philadelphia was a harsh reminder, however, that this could all turn if Daboll and the Giants don’t change the dynamic in their own division in the next couple years.
“We kid him: right now he’s Bono walking around New York City, but I’ve told him, ‘In this business it doesn’t take long to go from Bono to bozo,” Giants co-owner John Mara said with a laugh on SiriusXM NFL Radio late last week. “’So don’t get your head too big right now.’”
In Daboll’s defense, it would be unfair to believe the Giants are close to reversing the NFC East’s balance of power in 2023. They went 1-5-1 in the division and won only three of their 10 games (3-6-1) in the season’s final two months from Nov. 20 through Jan. 21.
So it’s certainly in Daboll’s best interest to pump the brakes on praise and unreasonable expectations. He is working for an organization that has fired each of its last three coaches during or after their second seasons, including Ben McAdoo after a rookie playoff berth in 2016.
“That’s old news,” Daboll said of his coach of the year award.
Daboll’s situation obviously feels much different.
Mara cited Daboll’s alignment with GM Joe Schoen as a major factor in the Giants’ 2022 success. It impacted the quality of their player acquisitions and the consistency of their internal messaging.
“I think Brian Daboll coming in and Joe Schoen coming in, them being on the same page, the communication that they had [was a key factor],” Mara said at the NFL owners meetings.
Daboll allowed that his leaders, starting with his quarterback, now have a year in his system and program under their belts. That should help.
“We have a long way to go in terms of time, and we have a long way to go in terms of improvement,” the coach said. “I’m not saying we’re starting at ground zero, because they know our system. There’s a lot of things they know more than they did last year. But in terms of where we’re at and the things we gotta do, we got a long climb ahead of us.”
The second-year coach also noted that there are four new coordinators in the division: Eagles OC Brian Johnson and DC Sean Desai, Washington OC Eric Bieniemy and Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy taking over play-calling with new OC Brian Schottenheimer.
Those changes, along with evolved rosters, will make for a new year, new challenges and perhaps new opportunities — albeit against a daunting schedule that includes the AFC East.
Mara said Daboll “has been great” in relating to the New York fan base in the wake of his first season success. There’s no question Giants fans have embraced him as one of their own.
“He likes to go to Rangers games at the Garden, and they put his picture up there and he gets these standing ovations week after week,” Mara said. “So it’s a pretty cool thing to see.”
The cheers for Daboll and Schoen are a welcome sound, no doubt, compared to the fleeting good feelings and extended futility that had colored this franchise’s fortunes for several years.
But the Giants aren’t there yet. Neither is Daboll. And it was encouraging to hear him take accountability and admit that.