Ben McAdoo’s 40th birthday arrives Sunday with a dramatically new reality for a second-year head coach who not long ago was greener than the MetLife Stadium turf.
Thirteen months back, McAdoo was a 38-year-old with big eyes and nothing to lose, coaching a 2016 team on a four-year playoff drought after two-time Super Bowl winning coach Tom Coughlin was pushed out the door.
But following an 11-5 debut and a 2016 playoff berth, McAdoo suddenly faces heightened outside expectations: Simply making the playoffs won’t be sufficient. He’ll need to get Big Blue closer to putting “that fifth trophy in the case,” as the coach boldly stated to open his first training camp last July.
One impressive quality of McAdoo’s is that he appears to have a work ethic beyond reproach, which likely accounts at least partially for the respect he has garnered in the locker room so far.
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“I don’t shut it down very easily,” McAdoo said at the end of minicamp in June, facing a six-week break before training camp opens July 28. “I am going to stay engaged and get a little bit done each and every day, whether it is on the offensive side of the ball reflecting on the pieces that we added, or taking a look at the defensive side of the ball and what we can do to help the defense there.
“(I’ll be) looking at players and personnel and taking a look at the schedule and looking at how we can tweak things and make them a little bit better,” he added. “You never really shut it off; you just work from a different place.”
The NFL’s coaching landscape also has changed significantly in just a year, so while he is still very young, the league’s high turnover on the sidelines dictates that McAdoo suddenly is no longer one of the league’s young pups with a long leash for first-year growing pains.
In 2016, McAdoo was the second-youngest coach in the NFL (39 years old at the start of Week 1) behind only Miami rookie Adam Gase (38). McAdoo, one of six rookie coaches in 2016 and seven with new jobs, was 14.3 years younger than the league average age (53.4) for head coaches last season.
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But come Week 1 of the 2017 season this fall, L.A. Rams rookie coach Sean McVay, 31, will make McAdoo seem like a grizzled veteran. McAdoo will be the fourth-youngest coach in the league behind McVay, 49ers rookie Kyle Shanahan (37) and Gase (39), and will be 12.3 years younger than the average (52.5).
McAdoo also will have more head coaching experience than five of the six new NFL 2017 coaching hires, true rookies McVay, Shanahan, the L.A. Chargers’ Anthony Lynn, 48, the Broncos’ Vance Joseph, 44, and the Bills’ Sean McDermott, 43 (ages as of team’s upcoming 2017 Week 1 opener). The Jaguars’ Doug Marrone, 53, is the lone exception, having led the Bills for two seasons prior (2013-14).
What this means only two years into his tenure is that McAdoo has moved into the category of coaches, with mild experience and success already, who more acutely will experience the expectations and pressures of the NFL’s win-now business, especially in a market such as New York.
Even Coughlin, despite winning Super Bowl XLII to cap 2007, only lasted 12 years in New York because the second title at Super Bowl XLVI of 2011 bought him four seasons without a playoff game at the end.
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This is not to say McAdoo is on the hot seat. On the contrary, co-owner John Mara has raved about McAdoo, and GM Jerry Reese capped last season by praising McAdoo as doing “a really nice job for us as a first-year head coach, how he handled himself, and how he handled the team.”
It’s simply a reality that McAdoo has ample talent on his roster, including a formidable defense, plus a two-time Super Bowl champ quarterback Eli Manning, 36, with a limited window to win a third, a volatile yet explosive receiver in Odell Beckham Jr., and an offense run by McAdoo himself that was the 2016 team’s Achilles’ heel. Regression is not an option.
McAdoo has his doubters: Elliot Harrison of NFL.com recently ranked McAdoo just 20th of 32 coaches in his power rankings. That’s the point, though: This is McAdoo’s season to prove that 2016 was for real.
There will be less tolerance for an anemic offense, for mistakes like McAdoo’s illegal use of a walkie-talkie on the sideline in Week 14 against Dallas — a violation that bumped the Giants down 10 slots in the fourth round of this year’s draft, and resulted in fines for both the team ($ 150,000) and McAdoo ($ 50,000).
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Even McAdoo’s questionable personnel calls in the playoff game in Green Bay that were barely scrutinized will be under a greater microscope the more experience he gains. (He sat starting free safety Andrew Adams, which backfired, and barely played Rashad Jennings, even though the veteran back was running the best he had all season playing in his first career playoff game at 31 years old).
Through any of his tough decisions, though, McAdoo has not lost his players, which speaks to the direct, honest way he communicates and relates to them. His ability to laugh at jokes about his hilarious haircuts has gone a long way, as one example, toward the players accepting and trusting him.
The only player who challenged McAdoo openly last season was Victor Cruz, but when Cruz accused the Giants after the season of a conspiracy to limit his game action, it became clear that Cruz had become bitter and taken McAdoo’s coaching personally. Cruz also is, not coincidentally, no longer a Giant.
So McAdoo seems to have full buy-in with the roster that will return to East Rutherford on July 28. And when they get back, they’ll find a head coach a year older, facing increased pressure. But knowing McAdoo, he will probably not notice because he will have his head down, a product of constantly staying at work.
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