The Giants were practicing under the sun, or doing whatever passes for practicing on a Wednesday in June, and among the moving pockets of outsize football players it was hard to find Brian Daboll. For good reason.
“I lost 50-some pounds since the press conference,” the new head coach said, referring to his January introduction, “though I gained about 20 of it back in the last month of practice.”
Daboll explained that he dropped the weight as part of an in-house bet with a colleague. He is a competitor, after all, and he wanted to win the competition. Daboll felt better as a lighter version of his old self, but to a coaching lifer the rhythms of a football season are, well, the rhythms of a football season.
“I was just trying to get as low as I can get,” he said, “but once the season starts it goes right back up.”
Coaches often lose this battle of the bulge on account of 16-hour workdays stacked on top of one another, week after week, month after month. Daboll embraced this relentless grind as an assistant college and pro coach for a quarter of a century, working his way toward this dream opportunity with the Giants, only to discover that the job of an NFL head coach might be a tiny bit tougher than he realized.
For a moment, let’s put aside the realities of the Giants’ 2022 prospects, and the conspicuous limitations of a roster that won’t be saved overnight by Kayvon Thibodeaux and Evan Neal. At 47, Daboll is just now figuring out how to run an entire NFL team. Though he worked for the greatest pro coach of them all, Bill Belichick, and the greatest college coach of them all, Nick Saban, some things need to be learned on the fly.
The importance of being an empathetic listener, for one.
“When you’re in the office and you’re doing work as a coordinator,” said Daboll, the former offensive coordinator of the Bills, “position coaches are coming in, and you’ll get a player here or there. When you’re the head coach, you get a lot of visitors. And every time they walk into the room, whatever is on their mind is the most important thing to them, and it might be 100th to you. But I think to be a good leader you have to take time and listen to them, and I’m getting used to that.”
Translation: It’s really, really hard being an NFL head coach.
During his Wednesday morning press conference, Daboll said he’s finding out that a head coach never has a good practice, because if one side of the ball is lighting it up, the other side of the ball is not lighting it up. Meanwhile, an offensive coordinator can pop open a bottle of champagne after a high-scoring session and let the DC and the HC deal with the fallout.
After his Wednesday practice was complete, Daboll stopped briefly on the field and expounded on the thought. “You can walk upstairs after every practice [as a head coach],” he said, “and say, ‘We didn’t do this, we didn’t do this, we didn’t do this. We gave up a big play. We missed a guy in protection. We dropped this ball.’ … When it’s a mix, you’re just constantly seeking improvement.”
So everything about this job is a monumental task for Daboll, just as it was for last year’s local head coaching rookie, the Jets’ Robert Saleh.
The Giants have the look of a bad football team that will need much to go right to win more than six games for the first time since 2016. New general manager Joe Schoen appears to be a massive upgrade from Dave Gettleman, and Daboll appears to be the real deal. But then again, Joe Judge appeared to be the real deal too, and ended up as the team’s third straight two-and-done coach.
Trying to find the right person to lead your team without prior head coaching experience to weigh, Giants co-owner John Mara said in January, represents “the most difficult decision by far that you ever make in this business, because you just don’t know.”
The bald and bearded Daboll has played well so far in the market with his everyman disposition and fervent support of the Rangers. As far as his players go, Giants center Jon Feliciano, who worked under Daboll in Buffalo, said his man has remained an authentic truth-teller who gives his players room to make mistakes … as long as they’re made at full speed.
“It just all combines to being a happy player,” Feliciano said.
Saquon Barkley said his new coach “does a really good job of listening to the players, listening to the staff and understanding we’ve been grinding” all spring.
Daboll has also impressed co-workers in his building with his consistent energy level, and with his confidence in his approach.
“I’ve done this for 25 years,” he said, “so it’s not like I was a coach for five years and got on a hot swing. This is 25 years in the making, a lot of good ups and some downs that you learn from. A lot of ‘nos,’ a lot of not getting jobs. So every day I thank my lucky stars that … I’m the head coach of a football team, let alone the New York Football Giants. What an honor that is.”
What an immense challenge too, for a rookie head coach just learning how to lead a bad team in the big city.
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