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What Kind of Coach is Ben McAdoo?

One of my favorite movie quotes comes from the movie, “The Breakfast Club.”  “You see us as you want to see us - in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain and an athlete and a basket case and a princess and a criminal.  Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club.”  I believe that is what vexes people when it comes to coach Ben McAdoo.  He doesn’t fit the most convenient definition.

It would be comforting to many if Ben McAdoo fit one of the usual definitions for a head coach.   The brilliant Xs and Os coaches like Bill Belichick, the player-friendly coach like Buddy Ryan, the Disciplinarian like Tom Coughlin or a great motivator like Bill Parcells.  When you try to apply one of these usual categories to Ben McAdoo, they don’t seem to fit any more than the suit he wore for his initial press conference.

Ben’s Xs and Os style is similar to his first mentor Mike McCarthy.  It’s a basic style of play calling that challenges the receivers to beat their one on one matchups.   It’s been proven successful in Green Bay and with the Giants.  Ben’s first two offenses finished 10th and 8th, in his first two seasons. The drop to the 25th spot this past season has made many question Ben’s abilities as an offensive coach.   Some have questioned if he should be calling his own plays as his mentor in Green Bay does.  Some wonder if it was the result of Ben losing the two fullbacks he brought into camp and the resulting reduction in the variety of formations.  Others may point to the fact that the teams starting tight end, Larry Donnell, starting running back, Rashad Jennings and number two wide receiver, Victor Cruz are all currently unemployed.   One could also point out that similar comments were made just the prior season about Steve Spagnolo and his defense.  Still, with such a basic style of offense, it’s hard to say Xs and Os are Ben’s calling cards.

Ben might better fit into the category of the player-friendly coach.  His millennial-friendly style and unassuming presence would seem to fit the profile.   His players all seem to speak of him highly, and with great respect, so it might be a label that could fit.   His public challenges to his starting quarterback, Eli Manning, would tend to suggest that he doesn’t exactly fit the mold of the most player friendly of coaches.  His team played with more discipline than one usually sees under a player-friendly coach.

While Ben still has the clocks set to “Coughlin time,” he hardly fits the profile of a hard-nosed disciplinarian.   Sure his teams tend to play with good discipline and poise under pressure, but where are the blowups on the sidelines?  Where are the players being suspended for parts of games?   Where are the long sets of rules the players need to follow?   While it appears Ben is firm, he doesn’t show the hallmarks of a classic disciplinarian.

The final label that some coaches get is the master motivator.    While Ben’s team certainly played hard last season, there are no stories of brilliant mind games that usually mark that type.  Plus the way Ben is economical in his words just doesn’t paint the picture of a guy who gets teams fired up with brilliant speeches.

People can’t deny that Ben turned around a franchise that hadn’t seen a winning season since “The Avengers” was the highest-grossing movie of the year, 2012.   More than a few people seem unwilling to give Coach McAdoo the credit a head coach usually receives for such achievements.   While it’s not unreasonable to suggest the addition of three big ticket free agents (Snacks, Vernon and Jenkins) helped the team’s fortunes it doesn’t fully explain an 11-5 record and the team’s first playoff birth since 2011.  Without a label as way to understand how Ben created this winning team many simply decline to give him credit.

So what kind of coach is the man who looks and carries himself more like a gym teacher than what people imagine when they think of a head coach of an NFL franchise?  The answer to that question is complex.   To start with, Ben is a more intelligent than many people give him credit.  It may be Ben’s unassuming ways, but it belies that he graduated summa cum laude from Indiana University of Pennsylvania with a degree in health and physical education or that he got a master’s degree in kinesiology in just nine months from Michigan State University.  Ben was the sort of intelligent man that had plans of becoming a lawyer.  It was when he learned just how much passion he had for the game of football that he changed his plans and pursued a career in coaching. 

Perhaps Ben’s biggest strength as a coach is his ability to teach.  Ben prides himself on his abilities as a teacher and feels it’s a very important aspect of coaching.  This ability to teach and develop young players might explain why players like OBJ, Shepard and even a raw tight end from little Stony Brook University, Will Tye were able to contribute so much as rookies.  The ability to teach and develop young players is nearly as important as drafting and signing the right players.  It’s probably more than just a coincidence that the team got so much contribution from their rookie draft and undrafted free agent class last season.  It’s more than likely a product of effective teaching and development.

As newly signed quarterback Geno Smith proclaimed, Ben Mcadoo is also a progressive coach.  You see that ability to push the envelope in things like the change of the traditional day off.  Ben changed that to allow players to better rest and recover from games.    You could see it in his adjustment to the training camp practice schedule or the addition of recovery Fridays.  Ben shortened the length of team meetings and increased the numbers because he had seen studies that indicate that millennials are best able to absorb knowledge in shorter doses.  One might attribute the team’s better health to Ben’s kinesiology background and wholehearted endorsement of cutting edge athletic training techniques.

Reports from players show he does have a bit of the player’s coach in him.  You can see it in practice as he is calling out guys names or recognizing a birthday.   Reports from players say he will joke about himself and they all look forward to the first slide of his meetings which are always something humorous.  For all his friendliness one look at last year’s training camp shows he is not soft on his players.   If anything, Ben’s camps looked to be more physically demanding that even Tom Coughlin’s.  There was little down time as the players seemed to be constantly moving and always busy.

So for a rookie head coach who never was the head coach of any football team before taking over the Giants, his performance was very impressive.  Sure there were a few notable bumps in the road, such as the radio incident and the infamous trip to Florida by the wide receiving corp.  When you consider what he accomplished in just one year, perhaps the best label, for those that need one, is WINNER.   

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