The blaming fingers for New York's disappointing season are pointing in all directions, including at the architect of this team, the general manager. Ernie Accorsi, in his sixth season as the Giants GM, took time out recently to discuss what's gone wrong with Big Blue in 2003, as well as his future with the organization.
Q: Did you think the team quit in Philly?
A: I don't ever believe that. If players don't have confidence, sometimes they look that way. But you've been around long enough to know that it's mayhem out there. You don't quit. I'd never say an athlete quits. It's too physical out there. If you quit, you're going to get killed. I just don't think we're playing with too much confidence right now. That's what it is.
Q: How do you regain that confidence?
A: It's hard to say. If I could define that, I'd be a genius. This game's too volatile. The little things are what turn these things. The turnover ratio is usually what determines games. Why is that? Because teams are so close; teams don't dominate other teams like they used to. You just don't know what you're getting any more. One AFC coach told me that he doesn't even know his team. One week they're great, then they turn around and play the worst game he's seen in his career. I think a lot of people are in that boat.
Q: How many times have you been asked about Jim Fassel and his job security?
A: Not that much, because everyone knows that I'm not going to say anything about it.
Q: What is the process after the season to determine whether he stays or goes?
A: We don't talk about it so it's not an issue. That's one thing about this organization is that it's always been this way. It's never changed. This isn't any criticism of the media because you guys have the right to ask anything you want. But just because they think it's an issue, doesn't mean it's an issue to us. Just because they decided there's a timetable, it doesn't mean we have one. It's a closed issue; we don't even talk about it.
Q: How shocked are you that this season has gone down the way it has?
A: I honestly don't allow myself to think that way. I learned way back when that you can never quit. These six games are precious games. They're six games in our lives that we'll never get back. We have to try to win every one of them. I'm not going to look at the season yet; it's not over. Some of the great comeback stories in the history of the league wouldn't have been very good if you evaluated them in the middle of the season. As a competitor, I don't think that way. The greatest competitor in America today is Tiger Woods. If he's 15 strokes behind on Sunday he's trying to shoot a 62. That's the only way you can play. That's how I look at it.
Q: But is it fair to say that you're surprised at your record?
A: I'm not happy to be 4-6. I'm not going to say surprised because I don't handicap the season. I certainly am not happy. I'd rather be 10-0; you want to win every game. Sure I'd rather have a winning record. But I don't look backwards; that's just the way I am. I understand the media has to analyze; there's only one game a week and that's their job. I'll evaluate the team at the end of the year, and how it relates to our moves. But I don't languish on what's happened to now.
Q: What in your mind has led to your record?
A: I don't think there's a simple answer to that. We lost two unbelievable games that never should have been lost. That's just the way this league is right now. I'm not going to try to take the temperature of this team right now. I'm not trying to be evasive; I'm just not going to do it. My job is the big picture job. The coaches have to work day to day to try to correct things. I'll evaluate our team as the season goes on.
This whole league is so fragile now that there's a domino theory. If we win the Dallas game and the Philadelphia game, it's not just a two-game swing. It's your whole frame of mind and self-confidence that changes. We seemed to have overcome them and recovered, but then we had the Atlanta game, which was a big setback for us.
Q: What can you draw on from previous occurrences to help you through these types of times?
A: You really have to. I just xeroxed something for Jim. It's a chapter out of Bill Walsh's second book called "Staying the Course." In it he said that everyone goes through times like these and not to cite John Wooden, because he didn't win for 15 years. They didn't care about basketball at that time.
I was with the Colts in 1975. We were 1-4 and were losing 28-7 at the end of the first quarter on the road. O.J. Simpson touched the ball twice and he ran 80 yards for a touchdown each time. If it was one-hand touch we wouldn't have touched him. I'm seriously thinking that we're going to lose like 100-14. We won the game 42-28 and won nine straight. It goes to show you that anything can happen in this business. The Eagles were in trouble at 0-2. You're a loss away from a crisis every week, but you're a win away from a chance at having a resurgence. I'm not talking Pollyanna, but we're at the top level of our profession and we have to believe that we can still pull this out. That's the only way you can think, even now that we have all these injuries.
Q: You have to think this team has enough talent, don't you?
A: If I say that, it's being unfair to the coaches. I will say that we are what our record is. I never got caught up in the high expectations. I'm too cautious, have been through too much and I'm probably too Italian. We all felt good going into the season. But things happen. We play a great first game then one crazy bounce helps Dallas in that second game. You can't subscribe to all these great principles during your whole career and then cast them aside. You have to live by them. I know they sound like clichés and like I'm being defensive. But you have to be that way. We're the ones winning and losing. These games are all on our record. It's like the old golf adage. Even if you're out of a golf tournament, until you realize that a 79, which isn't very good for a pro golfer, is better than an 80, you're never going to win. Five wins is better than four.
Q: Are you tempted to get more involved with Jim's decision-making?
A: No, you have to let coaches coach. We've never had a meeting since we've been together; we just talk all the time. I've communicated more with Jim than any other coach that I've ever been around. I've never had a coach that I've worked more cohesively with. We certainly don't agree on everything, but like Wellington Mara said, if we did they wouldn't need us both. And you need a coach so I know who would be gone. I make suggestions. We both have something at stake here; it's not just one of us. The most important thing you can do as a general manager is to make sure that the players know that you support the coach. They have to know that or the coach can't control the team.
Q: How is Jim holding up under all this stress?
A: I don't see any difference. His poise is solid. He's focused on trying to win a football game now. I don't see any crack in him.
Q: What concerns you about this team?
A: There are always concerns. The closer you are to a team, the more you see its weaknesses. You don't have the system any more to have all kinds of depth. If any starter goes down, you're playing a rookie. That's pretty much how it is. We definitely blew some leads, but we were able to come back and win two of those games in overtime. That really showed me something. That's why I really thought after the Jets game that we were going to take off. That was an emotional game against the Jets. That was really encouraging. That's why what's happened since is so disappointing.
Q: What does this team need at this point?
A: I form evaluations every week on every position and every player, but you have to wait until the whole picture is complete. There are times that you'll change your opinion as the season goes on. You always have to think ahead. A lot of my scouting is tailored toward what we need.
Q: So, what do you need?
A: I don't want to say. I'm not going to evaluate our personnel. Plus you know I never talk about anything, even before the Draft. Why tell people what you're going to do and what you're looking for? Stuff always gets out anyway, but you always hope that it's misinformation.
Q: What stands out from this year?
A: I think the swing from beating the Jets to losing to Atlanta. And I don't want to concede anything because we still have six games left. But that might have been the difference between 6-4 and 4-6. We've had two traumatic losses and three very dramatic wins. When we were 4-4, we were all over the place. Then we lost the Atlanta game; I think our team was shocked in that game, right from the first drive.
Q: What do you have left in your tank?
A: I really want to win a championship. Am I going to do this eight more years? No. I've been in it 33 years. (Bill) Parcells made a statement that 10 years is five years now. That's the toll it takes. I want to see this through. You always want to end on a good note; I'm not retiring right now.
A Conversation with GM Ernie Accorsi
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