There aren't many New York Giants fans that would argue with the recent firings of head coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese given the team's horrendous performance on the field this season, but it's how the team went about getting to that point that has left a stain on a franchise known for its professionalism and straight-shooting.
After stating last month that both coach and general manager were safe for the remainder of the season, co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch did a reverse. In a press conference on Dec. 4 to announce the firings, Mara acknowledged he had signed off on a plan for quarterback Eli Manning to be benched midway through the previous day’s game against the Oakland Raiders. The plan caused a firestorm of protest from fans who were upset over the way the face of the franchise was being treated — Manning had started 210 straight games at that point — and that he was being replaced by a failing coach with veteran castoff Geno Smith.
How did a brand that used to epitomize everything right with sports set itself up for such a damaging hit? In his press conference, Mara stated the fiasco surrounding the Manning benching had “no effect whatsoever” on the McAdoo and Reese firings, especially given the Giants had just two wins in 12 games at the time. Yet, given ownership’s reversal on McAdoo and Reese just a week after it gave the OK for the coach and GM to bench Manning, the organization had a crisis on its hands.
Reached for comment, Giants senior vice president of communications Pat Hanlon would only say, “I would defer to John Mara’s comments.”
Bob Zito has a unique perspective on the Giants’ travails. Besides being head of Zito Partners, the Warren-based public relations and marketing company that advises companies on brand management, advertising and communications, he also is a season-ticket holder.
“I think John Mara did a good job at changing the dialogue to a mea culpa, and a focus on moving forward. And Eli Manning is a class act. He’s not the best quarterback, probably far from it. But he had some great games in those playoff runs and realized he was on teams with great defenses, which put him in a position to be that winning quarterback.
“So the Giants go into this season knowing they have an aging, immobile quarterback who needs some protection to get the ball to a supposedly talented corps of receivers. And Reese never decides to upgrade the offensive line. Eli never complains. It’s a lesson in leadership for every manager. Never blame the troops. Be a team player.”
Boston -based communications executive David Kowal compared the Giants to the defending champion New England Patriots in terms of stature. Kowal, president of Kowal Communications pointed out that while Robert Kraft is the Patriots’ owner, all football decisions are left to coach Bill Belichick.
“I see where John Mara is saying that nobody is doing a good job. And he is right,” Kowal said. “You have Odell Beckham acting like a clown (prior to being injured for the season the star wide receiver had celebrated a touchdown by impersonating a dog urinating) and other players not performing up to expectations. Manning had a great career and should be treated as such. Does the team really feel his consecutive game streak is more important to him than winning? If it is, he shouldn’t be the quarterback. Football is a team game and the Giants seem to highlight the individual.”
Added Curt Block, who for years was a senior corporate communications executive at NBC, “… You know things can change in a short time. If you don’t answer, you get criticized for dodging the question. The team started badly and injuries piled up. How long you can stay with the status quo?”
“For an organization that has always prided itself on having a stellar image and reputation, it’s a crime [both as a communications professional and a Giants fan] to see the Giants and their whole management team mishandle the Eli Manning benching situation,” said Bill Southard, CEO of Southard Freeman Communications, which has offices in New York City and Fairfield, N.J.
Southard felt the Giants weren’t prepared for the negative reaction from fans, the media and a number of former Giants players who spoke out on the Manning situation.
“The fact that they ended up firing their head football coach and general manager less than a week after the benching I believe only served to inflame the situation,” he said. “Together these really negatively impact the overall image and reputation of the Mara and Tisch families and the Giants. And this is case of underestimating the power of social media and the impact it can have on the corporate image and reputation of an organization.”
Nevertheless, the now-retired Block reminded that in sports, a negative can turn into a positive in relatively short order.
“The solution is winning,” he said. “Then the players can do all the celebrating they want.”