How Brian Daboll restored NY Giants’ pride in leading the franchise back to the playoffs

EAST RUTHERFORD – Brian Daboll stepped out of the celebratory New York Giants’ locker room and smack dab into another crowd following Sunday’s 38-10 victory over the Colts.

Gear was being loaded into an idling delivery truck waiting to return to the team’s training facility. Security guards were mulling around. Seemingly everyone had a fist bump or an attaboy for the first-year coach that led the Giants back to the playoffs for the first time in six years.

“This one’s for you, Coach,” an equipment staffer told Daboll, handing him a victory cigar while hanging off the back of the truck.

“Appreciate it, I’ll enjoy this one,” Daboll shot back. “This one and a few others.”

The Giants went out and earned the celebration, not just for themselves, but for their head coach.

As Daboll made his way down the hallway toward the MetLife Stadium exit, his cell phone would not stop ringing. The video calls were coming from one of his daughters, who opted to attend Monday’s Rose Bowl to watch Daboll’s son coach his last game at Penn State against Utah.

That meant she had to skip Dad’s game, of course, thus missing out on the playoff party.

It’s a family thing for Daboll, always has been going back to the late grandparents who raised him. He demands his players be smart, tough and dependable, and that’s because those were the qualities that always earned respect from Ruth and Chris Kirsten, both of whom passed away within weeks of each other 15 months ago.

The Giants have not necessarily taken on Daboll’s personality – he encourages them to be themselves. There is no pretense, no phoniness from the 47-year-old who has changed the narrative around the team that was tied with the Jets for the most losses in the NFL over the last five years when this season began.

“You’ve got to be real in this game,” Giants linebacker Jihad Ward said. “Players take honesty seriously and he tells you like it is. He’s not shiesty, Dabs is a real one.”

How Daboll went about restoring the pride within one of the league’s flagship franchises has been a study in persistence and consistency, especially for a team that has fired each of its last three coaches in two years or fewer. He’s done it not with fear, but fire, focus and a feel for the game of how to genuinely treat people, convincing all those around him that they matter to the Giants’ success.

And they do because he’s made it so.

“We’re not a finished product,” Daboll told NorthJersey.com, part of the USA TODAY Network as he headed for the parking lot Sunday night. “But we’re working on it.”

Embrace the grind

Upon accepting the job nearly one year ago, Daboll promised he is plenty comfortable in who he is as a man and a coach, and that much has certainly come through in not just what he says, but how he says it.

Daboll is no stranger to the work, having embraced the grind of the coaching life for more than two decades, working his way up the ladder in college and the NFL. His first playoff game as a coach was an infamous one – the Tuck Rule game in the 2001 AFC playoffs between the Patriots and the Raiders – and after New England prevailed, Daboll spent the next few hours not celebrating, but holed up in a closet-sized office doing advance scouting work on the next opponent.

Forced to embrace the process over results, Daboll dug in.

“Live in that moment,” he said.

Now, 21 years later, Daboll will lead the Giants (9-6-1) into the playoffs in two weeks for the first time as head coach.

Giants defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson was on two different coaching staffs with Daboll, first with the Jets and then the Browns. When Daboll was interviewing to take over the Giants, Henderson got to share ideas and hear for the first time his vision for turning Big Blue back into a winner.

“The thing that I know about Dabs is, from being on the other side of the ball and working with him in practice, he’s one of the most competitive people about everything you’ll ever meet. He wants to win everything,” Henderson said. “Like, if right now, we were playing rock-paper-scissors against him, he’s playing his hardest. He’s gonna try to find a way to beat you and he’s going to let you know he beat you. He’s going to rub it in. He’s ultra competitive. He’s ultra smart. So you would think that he would do well as a leader, and working with him now in that capacity, and he has become that. He wants our team to be competitive. He wants our team to play smart. He wants us as coaches to put our guys in the best position to give them the best chance to win. He’s driven for us to make the people of New York proud.”

Daboll won a national championship as the offensive coordinator at Alabama in 2017. He also coached in New England for a total of 11 seasons spanning two different stints, and won five Super Bowl titles as an assistant coach. 

But this challenge was a daunting one, a pressure-filled job in a position that has experienced its share of turnover.

From the outset, Daboll’s secret to success is an uncanny ability to connect with those around him, and not solely players, but team employees throughout the organization spanning different departments.

With his own players, Daboll treats each as an individual, finding ways to discover what makes each tick.

This summer, Daboll invited Daniel Jones to his Bergen County home and spread three years’ worth of playbooks on a table, letting the Giants’ quarterback dive in, seeing what he liked and what he didn’t, all the while assessing how their football minds meshed. With Saquon Barkley, Daboll tapped into that competitive side of his star running back: they played ping-pong, but Daboll talked trash, using his less dominant hand to play, pushing to see how Barkley responded, revealing the heart (and desire) of a champion.

“No doubt about it: when you’re talking to him, there’s nothing else going on – it’s just you and him – and that helps with mindset, buy-in, a player’s want to,” Giants quarterbacks coach Shea Tierney said of Daboll, with whom he worked in Buffalo. “He knows how to read players, how to understand players. They are part of something important, and that makes them feel like they’re part of something important. When you have the head coach who is willing to take time out of his day and talk to you, and kinda get your life story, understand who you are as a person, that’s big, and he’s always done that.”

A matter of trust

Sterling Shepard has been with the Giants for six years, drafted into the organization in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Daboll is his fourth head coach, so make no mistake: he’s witnessed it all during his tenure here.

“Dabs is just different,” Shepard said. “What sticks out for me is the signs that you see around the building, the ones he had put up: ‘Be a pro.’ He trusts guys to do the right thing and be a professional. A lot of times coaches say they do. He trusts that we’re gonna be a pro, handle our business. That’s the main word that sticks out to me: trust.”

Jon Feliciano signed with the Giants as a free agent this offseason because of Daboll and general manager Joe Schoen, with whom he spent the last three seasons in Buffalo. So he was immediately coming from a different angle with an already-established relationship with Daboll as offensive lineman to coordinator. His perspective of who Daboll was versus who he is as the coach of the Giants: he’s the same.

“He’s remained true to himself. That’s the biggest challenge head coaches have to face, going from coordinator to a head coach, and some guys don’t know how to handle it,” Feliciano said. “It’s easy to like him, and he’s just … real. He’s gonna tell you exactly what he thinks. If a coach looks in your face and says one thing, and then lies, it’s over. Once that happens, when guys see that, all the trust the gone. Dabs always preaches that anything we do is to win, and he’s gonna hold us to that standard, and he holds himself to that standard.”

Daboll has brought out the best in this team, putting together a coaching staff that has squeezed every ounce of talent out of a roster limited by salary cap restrictions and poor foundational drafting for years now.

He deserves credit for helping Daniel Jones ascend, for Dexter Lawrence breaking through and for Saquon Barkley rediscovering his mojo. He is creative, authoritative and savvy enough to understand the dynamics within the game, and through a history of coaching both sides of the ball, there is an appreciation for how everything fits together.

“I’m just one part of the puzzle,” Daboll said. “I try to do my job the best I can, but count on a lot of other people doing their job well.”

That’s essentially the definition of a team, no matter the sport, and at any level.

“Obviously, he’s grown a lot,” Henderson said. “I’m sure if you ask him, I’m sure he’ll tell you he’s grown from the day he accepted this job until now, and I’m sure he still feels like he’s evolving and getting better, and will continue to get better. Still remember the young, fiery guy who just would lose his mind. You know, it’s just fun to sit back and watch all of this coming together.”

It’s what Daboll has built with the Giants in his first season as they head into the regular season finale in Philadelphia against the Eagles on Sunday. After that, the playoffs will welcome Daboll and the Giants back after six years.

He doesn’t offer excuses, only promises kept to this point.

Daboll has a franchise believing again that its success is not just earned, but deserved.

“I don’t think anybody here is satisfied, and that’s because of Dabs,” Tierney said. “We want to keep pushing this thing and see how far we can take it. We’ve come so far as a team, but there’s so much further we can go.”

He paused before adding: “And I don’t think anyone has any doubt: Dabs is the one to lead us there.”

This content was originally published here.

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