MINNEAPOLIS — Among the hundreds of people I interviewed for a book on Bill Belichick, one stood out for his ability to scout Patriots personnel and to read them … well … like a book. He had a great feel for the strengths and weaknesses of Belichick’s executives, assistants, scouts, and staffers, and for how much (or little) each figure meant to the dynasty.
But in reviewing those old interviews, there was one and only one Patriots person that this source missed on — a guy by the name of Brian Daboll. The source said that Daboll’s reputation as a significant contributor was “a head scratcher” to many in the know, and that, as an aside, some of his former co-workers in Cleveland had almost no use for him.
Of course, the same could be said about another former Browns coach — Belichick — back in the day.
Daboll did indeed lose his job in Cleveland after two years as offensive coordinator, and again after one year in Miami as the OC, and again after one year in Kansas City as the OC, and his teams did go 18-46 over those four seasons.
But Belichick and Nick Saban rebuilt him in New England and Alabama, respectively, and Daboll took it out on the rest of the league by turning Josh Allen into a monster in Buffalo. That got him the head-coaching gig with the dog-ass Giants, at age 46. At summer’s end, fans were merely hoping Daboll would win five games.
He won nine instead, and tied another, and landed the Giants in the playoffs for the first time in six years. You can argue that it was a better rookie job than Rex Ryan did with the Jets in 2009, after he inherited a 9-7 team and went 9-7 with it … before making the first of two straight trips to the AFC Championship game.
Daboll did what he did after inheriting a 4-13 team, and a franchise that had lost 59 games over the previous five seasons. He still has a chance to match Ryan’s run in the postseason, however unlikely a trip to the NFC title game appears right now for the sixth seed.
But whatever happens inside U.S. Bank Stadium, where the third-seeded Vikings are favored to beat the Giants the way they beat them on Christmas Eve, Daboll’s job will stand the test of time. Given that some thought the Giants owned the league’s worst roster, Daboll’s Year 1 work is right there with Jets coach Bill Parcells’ in 1997 (followed Rich Kotite’s 1-15 with his own 9-7), and with Yankees manager Joe Torre’s in 1996 (overcame three firings, and an owner who didn’t want him, to win his first of four World Series titles).
On a certain level, it makes sense that an improbable season was shaped by an improbable coach. Daboll didn’t just weather those four brutal years as the Browns/Dolphins/Chiefs coordinator, and the firing of his Jets boss, Eric Mangini, before following Mangini to Cleveland. He also overcame Belichick’s earlier decision to promote Josh McDaniels ahead of him on the Patriots’ coaching depth chart, after Daboll had helped bring McDaniels into the organization.
The man had really seen it all in the NFL — the good, the bad and the very ugly — before getting the call from the Giants. As proud as Daboll is of his five Super Bowl rings and his national championship ring with ’Bama, he’s just as proud of his scars, too, and rightfully so.
“I’ve done this for 25 years, so it’s not like I was a coach for five years and got on a hot swing,” he told The Post in June. “This is 25 years in the making, a lot of good ups and some downs that you learn from. A lot of ‘nos,’ a lot of not getting jobs. So every day I thank my lucky stars that … I’m the head coach of a football team, let alone the New York Football Giants.”
Fans are busy thanking the same stars. They’d been lost in the wilderness since the second Super Bowl victory over the Pats more than a decade ago, and Daboll is the one who came out of nowhere and led them home.
Giants fans of a certain age who recall Belichick’s role in Bill Parcells’ two title teams, as defensive coordinator, could thank Little Bill again for his role in developing their current head coach.
“I learn stuff every day from him still,” Daboll said during his final season in New England, right before the Patriots completed their historic comeback against Atlanta in Super Bowl LI. “He still demands your best. There’s a process you go through as a young coach with him, when you’re starting. It’s really invaluable what he teaches you, and you grow and grow and grow.
“It’s everything. Leadership ability, and how he deals with guys in front of the team. Good times, bad times, situational football. It’s nonstop.”
Daboll’s gifts as a leader and communicator were missed by some, including my Patriots insider with an All-Star batting average. But now it doesn’t matter.
Win or lose against the Vikings, Brian Daboll’s rise is a head scratcher no more.