MINNEAPOLIS — Among the hundreds of people I interviewed for a book about Bill Belichick, one stood out for his ability to scout the Patriots personnel and read it … well … like a book. He had a great feel for the strengths and weaknesses of Belichick’s executives, assistants, scouts and executives, and how much (or little) each figure meant to the dynasty.
But in reviewing those old interviews, there was only one Patriots person this source missed — a guy named Brian Daboll. The source said Daboll’s reputation as a major contributor was a “head-scratcher” for many in the know, and that, on top of that, some of his former colleagues in Cleveland had little use for him.
Of course, the same could be said for another former Browns coach — Belichick — at the time.
Dambolt did lose his job in Cleveland after two years as offensive coordinator and again after a year in Miami as OC and again after a year in Kansas City as OC, and his teams went 18-46 in those four season. .
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 landed him the head coaching gig with the Giants, at age 46. At the end of the summer, fans were just hoping that Daboll would win five games.
He won nine instead, tied another and got the Giants into the playoffs for the first time in six years. You can argue it was a better rookie job than Rex Ryan did with the Jets in 2009, after inheriting a 9-7 team and going 9-7 with it … before making the first of two straight trips to the championship game AFC 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, but a trip to the NFC title game is unlikely right now for the sixth seed.
But whatever happens inside US Bank Stadium, where the third-seeded Vikings are favored to beat the Giants the way they beat them on Christmas Eve, Daboll’s work will stand the test of time. Given that some believed the Giants had the worst roster in the league, Daboll’s Year 1 work is right up there with Jets coach Bill Parcells in 1997 (he followed Rich Kotite’s 1-15 with his own 9-7) and with Yankees manager Joe Torre in 1996. (He overcame three firings and an owner who didn’t want him to win the first of four World Series titles).
On one level, it makes sense that an unlikely season was shaped by an unlikely coach. Daboll didn’t just endure those four brutal years as Browns/Dolphins/Chiefs coordinator and the firing of Jets boss Eric Mangini before following Mangini to Cleveland. He also overruled 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 truly seen it all in the NFL – the good, the bad and the really ugly – before he got the call from the Giants. As proud as Daboll is of his five Super Bowl rings and national championship with ‘Bama, he’s just as proud of his scars, and rightfully so.
“I’ve been doing this for 25 years, so it’s not like I’ve been a coach for five years and come in hot,” he told The Post in June. “It’s been 25 years in the making, a lot of good ups and downs that you learn from. Many “no’s”, many who do not find work. So every day I thank my lucky stars that … I’m the coach of a football team, let alone the New York Football Giants.”
Fans are busy thanking the stars themselves. They’ve been lost in the wilderness since their second Super Bowl win over the Pats more than a decade ago, and Daboll is the one who came out of nowhere and drove them home.
Giants fans of a certain age who remembered Belichick’s role on Bill Parcells’ two title teams as defensive coordinator could once again thank Little Bill for his role in the development of their current coach.
“I’m learning things every day from him still,” Daboll said during his final season in New England, just before the Patriots completed their historic comeback against Atlanta in Super Bowl LI. “It still demands your best. There is a process you go through as a young coach with him when you start. It’s really priceless what it teaches you, and you grow and grow and grow.
“It’s everything. Leadership ability and how he deals with children in front of the team. Good times, bad times, situational football. It’s non-stop.”
Daboll’s gifts as a leader and communicator were missed by some, including the Patriots insider with an All-Star batting average. But now it doesn’t matter.
Win or lose against the Vikings, Brian Damball’s rise is no longer incredible.