Ben McAdoo’s tenure with the Giants was short and excessively weird. So, too, is Ben McAdoo’s hairstyle, which he changed between his first and second seasons. There is no doubt in my mind that these two things are related.
McAdoo made the playoffs in his first year as the Giants head coach, and got fired on Monday, midway through his second year. Yet somehow, it feels as if he should have been fired sooner.
It’s pretty stunning. McAdoo turned the Giants’ offense around in two seasons as a coordinator: In 2013, the year before he got hired, Eli Manning threw 18 touchdowns and a league-high 27 interceptions while the Giants finished 28th in offense. In 2015, McAdoo’s second season, Manning threw a career-high 35 touchdowns and just 14 interceptions. Then, McAdoo turned the Giants around as a head coach: Before he was hired, the Giants had three straight losing seasons from 2013 to 2015; after he took over, the team went 11-5 and made the playoffs.
And yet, in his second season as head coach, there was an immense distrust of McAdoo within the organization and among fans: He had reportedly “lost the team,” and he made the wildly unpopular decision to end franchise legend Manning’s consecutive starts streak last week.
His firing was obvious, yet historically unique. McAdoo is the first head coach let go in the middle of his second full-time season since Josh McDaniels in 2010, and the first coach since Bill Callahan in 2003 to be let go during or after his second season in spite of making the playoffs in one of those years. McAdoo and Browns coach Bud Carson are two rare (and maybe the only) examples of coaches fired in the middle of their second season after making the playoffs in their first year.
So what changed between McAdoo’s first and second year as head coach? Well, the answer starts at the top. Here is a picture of McAdoo in 2016:
Was McAdoo’s hair perfect? No, but it looked like a busy person’s honest attempt to look as normal as possible.
And here is McAdoo in 2017:
I would never make fun of somebody’s natural physical appearance, but I will definitely make fun of somebody who, by choice, decides to look like Ben McAdoo did this year. This is the look of a man attempting to convince his ex-wife that he’s reshaped his life in a healthy, productive manner since the divorce, when in fact, his visit to the barbershop was his first trip outside in 11 days. My guy ordered Unpopular Gym Teacher magazine, cut out his favorite page, brought it to Supercuts, and was like “give me this.”
Everybody got jokes off about McAdoo’s awful look (and other stuff about McAdoo too: his ridiculously large play sheet, then his bad press conferences). With his inexplicable new slicked-back ’do, it became easy to portray McAdoo as clueless.
But many of the problems with the 2017 Giants were out of McAdoo’s control—for example, the team’s best player, Odell Beckham Jr., was injured in Week 5, as the team lost three of its top four wide receivers in one fell swoop. Normally, if a coach followed up a playoff year with an injury-filled disaster, we’d blame the injuries. But McAdoo himself looks like a man who has lost all control. Every time a Giants fan watched their team and wondered “Where did it all go wrong?,” the camera would instantly flash to the sideline, to a man whose appearance is the physical manifestation of “Where did it all go wrong?” Of course people began to think the two were linked.
And right now, it really benefits the Giants to portray McAdoo as a buffoon. Last week, he benched Eli Manning—the franchise’s longtime hero—ending the second-longest streak of consecutive quarterback starts in league history. It was a bad decision, serving little purpose for the future of the franchise while alienating a team legend and lots of fans. By firing McAdoo, the Giants can completely separate themselves from that decision. “It wasn’t our fault,” you can imagine team management saying. “It was the doofus with the idiot haircut.”
McAdoo made his fair share of disastrous coaching mistakes. After all, McAdoo’s selling point was his offensive prowess, and the Giants were 26th and 31st in scoring in his one and a half seasons as head coach.
But it wouldn’t have been so easy to call for his head if he hadn’t sabotaged his own head. I genuinely believe that McAdoo was fired sooner because of his new look. Until our society becomes less superficial, maybe coaches should keep a personal stylist on retainer.