Related topics

The firing of Ray Handley as the New York Giants coach on

December 31, 1993 GMT

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) _ The firing of Ray Handley as the New York Giants coach on Wednesday surprised neither fans nor players and seemed to be welcomed by both.

″You knew it was going to happen,″ linebacker Pepper Johnson said in a telephone interview. ″Some guys are meant to be head coaches. I don’t know if Ray was.″

Johnson, one of Handley’s most vocal critics in 1992, still seemed annoyed that Handley worked with new defensive coordinator Rod Rust to change the defense to a read-and-react scheme in 1992.

″If he was head coach on a team that didn’t have a winning tradition, that’s one thing,″ Johnson said. ″But we had a style we were used to winning with, and Ray wanted to change it. Some spoke about it publicly and others privately. It was a touchy situation.″

Veteran quarterback Phil Simms asked how anybody could be surprised by the move after all the speculation in recent weeks.

″It’s a direct reflection of the team, all our failings,″ he said. ″Football is not like other sports. Coaching is extremely important, so the blame has to go to everyone. Ray has been criticized and blamed for everything. But sometimes, players take none of it.″

Nose tackle Erik Howard said he had a feeling Handley would not be back for the final year of his three-year contract.

″The team never jelled,″ he said. ″We just couldn’t find consistency all year. I don’t think there was enough belief by the players in the system, not just the defense. But as a whole, the defense never accepted the system.″

Some players were upset with Handley for his failure to communicate. Second-year safety Lamar McGriggs was one. He was twice taken out of the starting lineup when he felt he was playing well. The moves left him frustrated.

″I’m excited for the team,″ he said of the decision to dump Handley after a 14-18 mark and failing to make the playoffs in his two seasons as coach. ″It gives us a fresh start.″

Center Bart Oates, who lost his consecutive-games starting streak after being benched late in the season, still felt sorry for the coach.

″He’s being held up as the scapegoat,″ Oates said. ″To the lay the blame for a losing season on someone who never steps on the field is wrong. It’s up to the players to block and tackle, and everyone looks to him.″

Ultimately, this coach took the blame for a 6-10 season that had Giants fans chanting ″Ray Must Go″ most of the season.

″It doesn’t come as a surprise,″ fullback Jarrod Bunch said. ″Everybody has been expecting this. I think this organization knows what it’s doing.″

Bunch said the players tried to get things to work despite differences with the coaching staff.

″Everybody wanted to win,″ he said. ″We tried to be on the same page, but people went about it in different directions. When they came in with a new defense that wasn’t working, the first thing they should have done is gone back to what was working. But they didn’t do that. That’s where people were on two different pages.″

Handley and the fans rarely seemed to be on the same page.

″He should go. He was bad,″ said Kevin Sheehan, 28, of New York.

Sheehan acknowledged the team was hit hard with injuries, but he said it was hard to believe this was the same team that won the Super Bowl two years ago.

Fred Wilson, 47, of Elizabeth, N.J., said the move could not have come at a better time.

″I couldn’t even watch a game by the end of the year they were so bad,″ he said. ″All they did was run, run, run.

″They never tried anything,″ Wilson said. ″He was just awful.″

A number of candidates have been mentioned as possible successors, with former coach Bill Parcells, Boston College coach Tom Coughlin - a former Giants assistant - and Dallas defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt leading the pack. Marco Lucatorto, 39, of Wayne, N.J., said he liked the idea of having Parcells back

″I didn’t think he was doing a bad job at first,″ he said. ″But it was obvious as the season went on, he couldn’t motivate them. I’m pretty excited. Of course I want Bill Parcells, but maybe he’ll come back and maybe he won’t. I like the idea of an ex-Giant coaching though, you know, that guy out of Boston.″