The Giants were not overly impressed with themselves, which is why they realized, as soon as their productive and in some ways breakthrough 2022 season was over and done with, that they needed to add, add, add.
More. Better. Deeper. That is what the Giants embraced as the tasks at hand. That is what Brian Daboll, after completing his first year as a head coach at any level, realized had to be done to enhance the roster.
But first — before any of his own players could be re-signed, before any attractive free agents could be procured, way before the draft plan was set in motion — Daboll was immediately confronted with a real threat: possible defections from the highest level of his coaching staff. One would be a deep cut, two would be damaging, possibly beyond repair.
A few months later, Daboll and his coordinators on defense, Wink Martindale, and on offense, Mike Kafka, are working together, again, putting the Giants through Phase 3 of the offseason program, gearing up for the mandatory minicamp next week. Of all the losses and gains and changes made to Daboll’s team and the Giants’ infrastructure, the returns of Martindale and Kafka can be viewed as the most critical to the promise of future success.
“It’s fun to build something from the ground up and see it all the way through, and that’s what we have the opportunity to do,’’ Martindale said.
That is what they have the opportunity to do. Building together is the way to go, but it does not always work out that way.
Daboll never before had worked with Martindale, and yet he entrusted the entire defense to him, acknowledging the veteran coordinator’s grizzled nature and big and bold personality not only would be tolerated, but also would be encouraged. Daboll never before had worked with Kafka, and yet had no reservation plucking him off the Andy Reid tree and — get this — allowing him to call the plays Daboll himself designed, an assignment Kafka never before carried out, anywhere.
What coalesced so seamlessly in 2022 was in danger of getting torn asunder. There were head-coaching vacancies coursing throughout the NFL, and Daboll’s top lieutenants were moving into the bloodstream.
Daboll anticipated Martindale, who recently turned 60, would attract interest, but there was no way anyone could envision Kafka, 35, becoming such a popular figure on the interview circuit. Kafka was called in to speak with the Texans (twice), Colts, Panthers and Cardinals, those organizations interested in learning more about a rising star who in his first year with the Giants helped Daniel Jones play the best football of his career.
Daboll, of course, would not stand in the way of anyone’s career advancement, but he said he thought to himself, “Am I really going to lose Kafka after only one year?’’
The four teams that interviewed Kafka went elsewhere for their hires.
“Don’t really think about it all that much outside of the experience, being fortunate enough to be a part of those discussions, those conversations, was really cool,’’ Kafka said. “I learned a lot about myself. Learned a lot about the league and the multiple organizations. It was a good experience overall.’’
Martindale’s defense was not a statistical smash in his first season with the Giants (its only top-five finish was in third down conversions allowed), but he made a big impact with his aggressive style and his player-friendly, supportive nature. Martindale has made no secret of his desire to become a head coach, and he realizes the clock is ticking. He did not garner a great deal of interest during the most recent hiring cycle, interviewing with just one team, the Colts.
“Anytime you have a chance to talk to a different organization, and especially the owners, it’s eye-opening, and you can learn things from it,’’ Martindale said. “But I’ve also said that this isn’t a stepping-stone job here. This is a destination. And I believe that, or I wouldn’t say it.’’
Kafka has plenty of time for another run at a head-coaching job. Martindale, one of three recipients of the 2023 Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman Award, presented for lifetime achievement as an NFL assistant coach, does not.
“I don’t have a problem sleeping every night,’’ Martindale said. “I’m at peace. It sounds a little dramatic, being at peace, but I’m excited to be the defensive coordinator of the New York Giants, and the day that I’m not is the day that they say, ‘Hey, you hear Wink retired?’ ”
Returning players are thrilled Martindale is back to continue what he started.
“They were happy that we’re going to keep things the same way, and I am, too,’’ he said.
The same way is a good way, in this case, for the Giants, Kafka, Martindale and Daboll.