Patrick Graham once called being the defensive coordinator of the Giants his “dream job.” There is at least a chance that he will get to keep it.
The 42-year-old Graham, who will be interviewed for the Giants head coaching vacancy, is interested in staying on as the defensive coordinator under a new head coach, according to someone familiar with his thinking. And many believe the Giants would be open to his return in the right situation.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are also interested in Graham, who is still under contract with the Giants, and they have requested permission to speak to him about their defensive coordinator job. But Graham's preference would be to stay in New York, according to the source.
Graham was popular with his players, and his defenses were the only successful part of the last two seasons. He’s also well-liked by Giants owners, who gave him a raise to return last year after he declined a chance to interview for the head coaching job with the Jets.
Presumably, the decision to keep Graham or not will be up to the next head coach -- though it’s not like Giants ownership hasn’t had a hand in hiring (and firing) coordinators before. Graham does have strong ties to two of their head coaching candidates, former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores and Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.
Graham worked with Flores on the same side of the ball as assistants in New England from 2013-15. And when Flores got the Dolphins job in 2019, he brought Graham with him as his defensive coordinator. It wasn’t a particularly good year, though, as Graham’s defense ranked 30th and the Dolphins went 5-11. When it ended, Flores let Graham leave for New York to work with Joe Judge.
The two remained “very, very close,” as Graham said in early December before the Giants played the Dolphins. Flores called Graham “a great friend of mine” and Graham said they’re “like brothers.”
Graham also worked on the same staff as Daboll in New England from 2013-15.
There doesn’t appear to be any obvious ties between Graham and the Giants’ other candidates -- Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo. Notably, they’re all defensive-minded coaches who likely have other choices in mind who may be more familiar with their preferred defensive schemes.
But that might not preclude the Giants owners from at least suggesting the new coach keep Graham, who earned rave reviews in 2020 for his 12th-ranked defense that nearly carried the Giants to the NFC East title. And while his defense slipped in the ranking last season (to 21st) they were also carrying an historically bad offense on their backs.
According to a team source, ownership’s feelings about Graham haven’t changed, which is a big reason why he’s getting an interview for the head coaching job -- the only interview he’s been offered this cycle, so far.
And the Giants owners have gotten involved in assistant coaching decisions before. That tradition goes back to at least 2006 when Mara convinced Tom Coughlin to fire offensive coordinator John Hufnagel and replace him with Kevin Gilbride. He did it again after the 2009 season when Mara ousted defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan, who was replaced by Perry Fewell.
Mara also made it clear that he strongly favored Ben McAdoo keeping Steve Spagnuolo as defensive coordinator when McAdoo took over the Giants in 2016. And he publicly pushed Jason Garrett as a potential offensive coordinator in 2020, even before Joe Judge started forming his staff.
Whether he would intervene again is unclear, especially since Mara promised new GM Joe Schoen “will oversee all aspects of our football operations, including … coaching.” But Graham is likely the only holdover from Judge’s staff that ownership would push to keep.