EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — New York Giants coach Brian Daboll’s new staff is already at work at 1925 Giants Drive. They are not just digging into fixing the team, they’re also getting to know each other.
It’s necessary because Daboll, in contrast to his predecessor Joe Judge, didn’t just focus on former co-workers. He kept an open mind while assembling his staff and has three coordinators he has never worked with directly before.
Daboll appears to be assembling a strong staff, perhaps the most important step for a first-time head coach. Offensive coordinator Mike Kafka comes highly regarded from the Kansas City Chiefs, where he was quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator. Don “Wink” Martindale is the defensive coordinator after having that same role each of the past four seasons with the Baltimore Ravens. Thomas McGaughey was retained as the Giants’ special teams coordinator after turning down the Carolina Panthers and interviewing for a similar position with the Los Angeles Chargers and Chicago Bears.
In addition to the coordinators, offensive line coach Bobby Johnson had success in Buffalo, outside linebackers coach Drew Wilkins likely would have been Martindale’s defensive coordinator had Martindale landed a head-coaching job, wide receivers coach Mike Groh was previously an offensive coordinator in Philadelphia, and getting Anthony Blevins to return as the assistant special teams coach was a coup considering he was up for several coordinator jobs.
“I’ve known [the coordinators], but I wouldn’t say [there’s] a relationship,” Daboll said. “I’ve known them throughout the years just being in the league.”
It appeared Daboll would have another familiar face on his staff in addition to Shea Tierney (quarterbacks coach), Johnson and Laura Young (director of coaching operations), who worked with him in Buffalo. Patrick Graham, who worked with Daboll from 2013 to 2015 in New England, was expected to remain as defensive coordinator in New York if he didn’t get a head-coaching job. That was until the Las Vegas Raiders and head coach Josh McDaniels came calling.
Graham took a job there as defensive coordinator, forcing Daboll to pivot. He turned to Martindale, a name Daboll had been linked to during his interviewing process. Not a bad option considering Martindale’s track record.
“Best [coordinator] I’ve had,” one veteran defensive player said. “I don’t know how he got fired.”
Turns out it was more an amicable split between Martindale and the Ravens after a bad season. A surprise nonetheless.
In Martindale’s four years as coordinator, the Ravens had a top-seven defense three times. They were ranked first overall in 2018, fourth in 2019 and seventh in 2020. They finished 25th this past season.
Hiring Martindale allows the Giants to remain a 3-4 base defense, so they won’t need a complete personnel overhaul on that side of the ball. The Giants have some pieces on defense — especially in the secondary to play man to man — which would allow Martindale to manufacture a pass rush with his blitzing. That’s his M.O.
Martindale doesn’t coach scared. His defenses bring a lot of people to the line of scrimmage, using different looks and disguises to complement a barrage of blitzes. His units in Baltimore were among the top six in blitz percentage each of his four years as coordinator, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. They were first with a 50.8% blitz percentage in 2019 and first again at 45.3% in 2020.
While Graham was considered a substantial loss by a pair of NFL executives who think highly of the new Raiders coordinator, both executives were almost equally approving of Martindale.
“I’ve always thought really high of him,” one executive said.
The Giants special teams also seem to be in good hands. They ranked 11th in DVOA this past season, per Football Outsiders — by far their best unit.
McGaughey has guided units ranked among the top half of the league in three of the past four seasons. He’s a respected coach by his peers and players, as evidenced by the outside interest in his services this offseason.
And as the Giants try to fix their 31st-ranked offense, the addition of Kafka also seems to be viewed positively around the league. Chiefs coach Andy Reid has always thought highly of the 34-year-old former quarterback out of Northwestern. The belief is that Kafka would have become Kansas City’s offensive coordinator had Eric Bieniemy landed a head-coaching job.
Kansas City’s passing offense ranked among the top four in each of the past two years with Kafka as the passing game coordinator. Giants quarterback Daniel Jones is feeling optimistic with Daboll, who produced top-five offenses the past two seasons as Buffalo’s coordinator, and Kafka running the attack.
“I think if you look at what they were doing in Kansas City and the success they were having, I think [Kafka] was a significant part of that. That’s exciting for me,” Jones said recently on the Breaking Big Blue podcast. “We’ll get deeper into some of the football conversations and how they see it all working out, but there is a lot of smart football people with a lot of success [on the staff].”