No one envies Steve Spagnuolo right now.
He is the interim head coach of a 2-11 football team. He is working 16-hour days two weeks before Christmas for an organization that almost certainly is going to hand him a pink slip next month.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The Giants won 11 games last season and made the playoffs. Spagnuolo’s defense gave up the second-fewest points in the NFL. They were considered a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
But it all went to hell when the Giants opened the season with five straight losses, and it’s been a downward spiral ever since. Head coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese were fired last week after McAdoo benched quarterback Eli Manning. Spagnuolo was put in charge for the final four games.
“It’s been a rough one,’’ said Spagnuolo, who was an Eagles assistant on Andy Reid’s staff for eight years and was the Rams’ head coach from 2009-11. “It hasn’t been easy. You just never know when these things are going to happen. Not only in the NFL, but in life. We’re all part of this. I’m part of the failure as well. I don’t forget that. Now I’ve had to step in and do this job. I’ll do it with honor. I respect this organization. I love the New York Giants. Hopefully, we’ll unite and restore and win some games.’’
In Spagnuolo’s first game as McAdoo’s interim replacement last week, the Giants stayed with the Cowboys for three quarters before getting outscored 20-0 in the fourth quarter and losing 30-10.
On Sunday, they’ll host the 11-2 Eagles, who are a 7 1/2-point favorite even though they lost their MVP-candidate quarterback, Carson Wentz, to a season-ending knee injury last week.
The Eagles won the first meeting in Week 3, eking out a 27-24 win on a 61-yard field goal by Jake Elliott with no time left on the clock.
Since then, very little has gone right for the Giants. They have been ravaged by injuries. They have 20 players on injured reserve. The most recent is starting left guard Justin Pugh, who was added to the list Wednesday.
They have scored the second-fewest points in the league and have given up the sixth-most. Manning has had one of the worst seasons of his career. He is 24th in passer rating, 34th in yards per attempt and 25th in touchdown percentage.
Speaking specifically about his 32nd-ranked defense, Spagnuolo said: “It’s been an accumulation of a lot of things, beginning with injuries. We’ve had five different MIKE [middle] linebackers. That’s like playing five different quarterbacks. That’s been tough. Having said that, there have been some spells of some really good defense. It just seems like when we make a mistake, it becomes a drastic one rather than a semi-drastic one that we’re able to recover from.”
The Eagles have won six of their last seven meetings with the Giants, but each of the last four games has been decided by five points or fewer.
After clinching the NFC East title last week with a 43-35 win over the Rams, the Eagles can earn a first-round playoff bye if they win at MetLife Stadium.
The Giants? All they have left to play for is pride. And it remains to be seen how important that is to them at this point.
“Guys are buying in, I think,’’ Spagnuolo said. “It didn’t translate to the win-loss column last Sunday. But we’ll keep trying to make that happen.’’
Eagles coach Doug Pederson understands what Spagnuolo and his staff are going through. He was on Reid’s staff in 2012 when the Eagles lost 12 games. That final month of the season, all of the coaches, including Reid, knew they were dead men walking.
“It’s not what you wish on anybody,’’ Pederson said. “As a coach, you’re [focusing on] where am I going to be next spring? As players, it’s very uneasy, unsettling. It’s difficult. You can’t sugarcoat it. Guys are thinking about other things other than football right now. But the one thing I know about Spags is he’s going to continue to rally. He’s going to continue to coach his tail off. He’ll have those guys ready to play.’’
Spagnuolo will land on his feet. Hell, he might even end up as the Eagles’ next defensive coordinator if Jim Schwartz gets a head-coaching job.
Many of the Giants’ other assistants, however, particularly the younger ones, don’t know what the future holds.
“I understand the anxiety,’’ Spagnuolo said. “It’s human nature. I know there are a lot of people thinking that way, and understandably so. There are families involved, just like there were families involved last week [when McAdoo and Reese were fired].”
“It’s hard. This business is hard. It’s tough on families. But we have a job to do. We get paid to do a job. So, hopefully, everybody’s in here doing what they’re expected to do. And hopefully, as a team we can unite and find a way to make the result the right one on Sunday.’’
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