PHILADELPHIA — Brian Daboll was not planning to say much to his team Friday night, or Saturday afternoon, before it was showtime at the Linc. This is not college football. Daboll recognizes that the NFL is a players’ league, and that sometimes the players need the coaches out of the room.
The guy can explode with the best of ’em on the sideline, as network cameras have relayed to millions of fans. Daboll got all over his most important player, Daniel Jones, in the opener at Tennessee, and that sent just as important a message about his first year as head coach as his endgame decision that day to go for two points and the win.
Daboll is no shrinking violet during the week, either, when he feels the need to impose his will on the men in helmets and pads. He can do an awful lot of talking and messaging during practice. But even in a sport that puts a premium on coaching and unrelenting leadership, Daboll’s greatest strength is knowing when to back off, and when to shut up.
“The night before a game, they’ve got to get ready to play,” he said. “It’s a little bit different [this week] because it’s a later game. So, I’ll probably even say less.”
Daboll is a doer, not a talker, and if you want to know why the Giants are still alive in the Super Bowl tournament, and in position against the top-seeded Eagles to deliver what would be one of the franchise’s signature victories, you can start right there.
His predecessor, Joe Judge, wasn’t a lousy head coach for all of his two-year stay in the Meadowlands. He came in with a good idea — to field a physical team that would represent the blue-collar, in-your-face ethos of the region. Judge talked a lot about building a program worthy of the support of the grinders in the crowd, but never actually built one.
Daboll pulled it off in Year 1 with much less bluster. Two years after Judge effectively promised world domination in his introductory press conference, Daboll said this at his first presser: “I’m not guaranteeing that we’re going to do anything.”
And then he delivered one of the more improbable seasons in the modern history of metropolitan area sports by putting out there the kind of team that matched Judge’s vision. The kind of team that did make Giants fans proud.
On further review, the job might not have been open for Daboll had the 2021 Giants employed, say, Tyrod Taylor instead of Mike Glennon as the backup quarterback. But Judge fired himself at the end of the season with a couple of bizarre moves, opening the door for someone much better at connecting with the human beings on the roster.
Safety Julian Love, working for his third Giants coach, called Daboll “a breath of fresh air” and praised him for allowing players the freedom to be themselves. “That’s how I feel,” Love said, “and it’s been refreshing compared to what we had previously.”
Outside linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux, working for his first NFL coach, credited Daboll for building genuine relationships inside his locker room. “He’s done everything for the players, by the players,” Thibodeaux said.
The result was a 10-7-1 season, including a road playoff victory over the Vikings, a 13-4 division champ. The vast majority of fans would have signed up for 7-10, no questions asked. Instead, Daboll gave them this precious chance to upset the 14-3 Eagles and advance to the NFC Championship game.
The Eagles are favored to win for good reason — they are the better football team by a lot. In recent years, especially in Philly, they have owned the Giants as much as the Maras and Tisches have owned them. The smart money says the Eagles will be hosting the 49ers in a real heavyweight fight next weekend at the Linc.
At the same time, the Giants have a history of unlikely postseason runs. They are 6-0 against No. 1 seeds since the playoffs expanded in 1990, and the two championships won in the Tom Coughlin-Eli Manning era came out of the big blue.
The 2007 team wasn’t supposed to beat Dallas or Green Bay on the road, never mind the 18-0 Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. The 2011 team was 7-7 on Christmas Eve, before ripping Rex Ryan’s Jets and never losing again.
That doesn’t mean Daboll is about to become the first rookie Giants head coach to win two postseason games. But his players are clearly motivated to do special things for him, in large part because he understands that none of this is really about him.
“If you remember [Bill] Parcells’ Hall of Fame speech,” Daboll said last week, “[the players] are dinged up, they’re sore, they go through a lot all the way from OTAs on. So it’s a players’ game. I just respect what they do. I appreciate what they do.”
And to show that appreciation, Daboll gives his team its space before games big and small. Saturday night is a big one. He won’t say much beforehand to his Giants, who have a way of doing their talking on the field.