In an exclusive interview, New York Giants head coach Ben McAdoo reflected on the strong values gained from working with two of the NFL’s oldest franchises and how they have positioned him to succeed.
There’s a sign above New York Giants head coach Ben McAdoo’s second-floor, corner office in the Quest Diagnostics Training Center that, in three words, reminds him of his daily objective.
“Attack the job.”
It’s a short, simple and yet powerful message befitting of the man who, since being elevated to the Giants’ head coaching position, has told anyone who has asked or expressed concern about his lack of experience that he was born for the position.
Coaching in the league’s most visible media market, a pressure cooker at times if the results are lacking, doesn’t faze McAdoo for a very good reason: his background.
A native son of Homer City, Pennsylvania, McAdoo is more at ease wearing the team-issued sweats than he is the designer duds some of his players have tried to hook him up with following his introductory press conference in which he not so famously wore an ill-fitted suit.
His press conferences are as laid back as he is. He often stands before the media straight up with his hands in his pockets instead of grabbing hold of the podium in front of him.
His answers are often guarded and of a few words, and he rarely uses “I” in his answers, instead using the plural “we” when asked about topics over which he would supposedly have the final say.
This isn’t a man, though, who is intimidated by the media or the challenges that are constantly brought up during his press briefing.
This is, instead, a man who has worked all of his adult life to get to this point, along the way picking up lessons from his humble beginnings in his hometown of Homer City, Pa, to his stops with two of the NFL’s oldest and most storied franchises.
A Rising Star
Ben McAdoo, like any other person on the face of the planet, had a vision for himself as he was coming up the coaching ranks, ad that was to one day fulfill the position he’s often said he was born to fill.
To get there, he had to work his way up the ranks, just like anyone else. He started as a high school assistant coach, first for Homer-Central High and then for Indiana (PA) Area High.
From there he would spend one year a piece at three different college programs, starting with Michigan State in 2001, followed by Fairfield and then Pittsburgh.
At just 38 years old, McAdoo finally made it to the NFL coaching ranks in 2004 with the New Orleans Saints after head coach Jim Haslett hired him as the team’s offensive quality control coordinator.
After one season in the Bayou, McAdoo headed out west in 2005 to join San Francisco 49ers head coach Mike Nolan’s staff as an offensive line coach and offensive quality control coordinator.
In 2006, McAdoo landed with Mike McCarthy’s staff in Green Bay, first as a tight ends coach, a position he held for six seasons before being re-assigned to coach the team’s quarterback for the 2012 and 2013 seasons before becoming to the Giants as their offensive coordinator for the 2014 and 2015 seasons.
The Fabric for Success
Having been a part of the fabric of the two oldest NFL franchises helped McAdoo establish a foundation for when he ultimately got his chance to be a head coach.
“The first thing that comes to mind is the people,” he said of one of the biggest takeaways from his time with the Packers as well as his ongoing tenure with the Giants.
“There is strong leadership in both organizations. It doesn’t waver in tough times and there are no knee-jerk reactions.
“You can see in both the 2007 season and the 2010 season, 2011 seasons, the three Super Bowls won by the two organizations—they were all won during tough times and it wasn’t a very clean season for each organization, but the strong leadership probably helped pull them through a little bit.”
Besides the strength and the tendency of both organizations to stick with the program, even if it’s not producing the desired results on a weekly basis, McAdoo praised the integrity of the people in both organizations.
“Integrity is important and I think there is a great working environment in both organizations that keeps football first which is tough to find in today’s day and age. We used to say in Green Bay—and you can say it here—’The tradition is in the bricks.’
“The tradition is respected and tradition doesn’t necessarily offer you guarantees to winning a championship, but there’s a blueprint there and it does offer hope because it’s been done before.”
Fulfilling His Destiny
When McAdoo stood before the scores of television cameras and microphones at his introductory press conference in January, he already knew what kind of leader he wanted to be.
“The most important thing when you talk about leadership is that you have to be yourself,” he said. “Everyone else is already taken, including Tom (Coughlin). I can’t worry about being in Tom’s shadow; I have to be comfortable in my own skin. And I am.”
That comfort comes as no accident.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of great coaches and players and administrators take an interest in my career,” McAdoo said via phone during a break in his summer “prep-cation”.
“Along the way, I’ve pulled some different things and put it in a book and stored it – ended up putting it into a computer, just different ways of doing things, things you find interesting and things you feel could help as you eventually get the program going.”
McAdoo didn’t go into specifics about what’s in his book, but based on some of the changes he’s implemented in the Giants offseason practice, the key takeaway is that he wants the team to practice the way they play games.
“Evolution, not revolution,” he said, reiterating the catchphrase that made headlines when he first introduced it at his introductory press conference.
“Really what we did is ask ourselves one question: Do we feel it was working? If we didn’t feel it was working, then we needed to think outside of the box to figure out a way to get it working.
“If it was working, we didn’t change it all, and if it was just functional, we had to massage it a bit.
“That’s probably where you can make the biggest jump, where if something was functional and really taking it to that next level is where you can make the big jump.”
“Sometimes the greatest resources are right down the hall from you. You just have to get them to open up and communicate.” — Ben McAdoo
When assembling his assistant coaching staff, McAdoo hired 12 of Coughlin’s assistants from 2015, prompting some outside skeptics to wonder what, other than the head coach, had really changed for an organization that hasn’t come close to the playoffs since 2011.
He also hasn’t been afraid to pick the brains of his assistants, some of whom have lengthier coaching resumes than him, as well as long-time team administrators regarding logistical and planning issues.
“I will tell you what, one of the traits that Ben has that I really have a great respect for is he is the type of person that is willing to come in and ask a question,” said defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
“That is gold right there. He is a great listener. He always has a note pad, so if we talk about something, I know he is hearing it because he is writing it down and I respect that. I think it is great.”
“A lot times, people and leadership go outside of the building to find a solution to a problem,” McAdoo said. “I think when you have a staff like we have—and we hired a good staff here and have a lot of good resources in the building—sometimes the greatest resources are right down the hall from you. You just have to get them to open up and communicate.”
Standing Up to Pressure
With the spring program completed, McAdoo’s way has drawn thing but praise from both the coaches and the players, eve onlookers in the media have noticed the uptick in energy in what’s shaping up as a very competitive training camp.
While McAdoo has thus far made all the right moves, he is only human and is bound during the course of what he hopes will be a long and successful head coaching career, to make mistakes.
The problem is that if McAdoo makes a mistake, it could have larger repercussions on the franchise, a rather terrifying thought in the surface.
McAdoo paused to contemplate the question. “You have a vision, you have philosophies and you have a plan.
Of course, all the planning in the world won’t mean a thing if, come the 2016 season, the Giants struggle to best last year’s 6-10 record.
McAdoo obviously can’t make predictions or guarantees, but in emphasizing the goals and message he wants his football team to follow, it would be a stunning development if the Giants aren’t a much different and improved looking football team this year.
“We ask the players to play aggressively and to push the envelope and to attack their job. We as coaches are going to do the same thing,” he said
And if the desired results aren’t there right away, well, don’t expect McAdoo to back down.
“We’re going to attack in all three phases and we’re going to put the players in a position where they can play fast and attack.
“That’s my job. We’re going to be aggressive at the end of games as we have been, and we’re going to get better at it.”