Potential candidates for Giants' next defensive coordinator

ByJordan Raanan ESPN logo
Friday, January 26, 2024

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Another opening for the New York Giants was filled Thursday when Michael Ghobrial was hired as the special teams coordinator.

Ghobrial joins offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo and running backs coach Joel Thomas as newcomers to Brian Daboll's staff. He replaces Thomas McGaughey, who was fired immediately after the season.

Ghobrial spent the past three years with the New York Jets, where he worked under accomplished coordinator Brent Boyer. The Jets ranked 11th, 13th and 19th in special teams EPA the past three seasons.

It's a risk in that Ghobrial has never run a special teams unit at the NFL level. He did it at the collegiate level for Washington State (2020) and Hawaii (2018-19).

But that didn't scare away Daboll. Which brings us to the major vacancy that still remains.

The Giants' search for a defensive coordinator labors on, two-plus weeks after they parted ways with Wink Martindale. There are six known candidates (see below), mostly relatively young up-and-comers with little to no playcalling experience.

The most recent name to enter the mix has a direct connection to Daboll. Bobby Babich, the current linebackers coach for the Buffalo Bills, worked with Daboll and general manager Joe Schoen in Buffalo. He was the safeties coach during that time from 2018-21.

Babich, 40, interviewed with the Giants on Wednesday. He has the built-in advantage of having a previous relationship with Daboll, which could be especially helpful after the messy divorce with Martindale.

But if the Giants do ultimately decide playcalling and extensive experience as a coordinator is necessary in this hire, there could be some fallout from the head coaching carousel. Former Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier missed out after interviewing for the main jobs with the Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders. He is especially intriguing, considering he still maintains a close relationship with Daboll and Schoen, even visiting the building last spring.

But scheme could ultimately be the biggest factor in the equation, and not just with Frazier. The Giants were playing a 3-4 defense under Martindale. Their personnel was primarily brought in with that formation in mind. Frazier and some of the other coordinator candidates have spent a majority of their careers in primarily 4-3 defenses.

It would be difficult to make the switch to a primarily 4-3 defensive scheme, especially when factoring the Giants' building blocks, which start with Dexter Lawrence in the middle. Lawrence took his game to the next level playing as a nose tackle in a defense with three down linemen. He was a good player before, but became great when the change was made from Patrick Graham to Wink Martindale's defense and he went from playing in a variety of spots along the line to almost exclusively over the center.

Do the Giants really want to change that?

"It sucks learning a new scheme, if that is what happens," Lawrence said after the season, when he was named second team All-Pro for the second straight year. "So that probably would be the most heartbreaking thing, honestly, and [Martindale] being just a good leader of men. Things like that would probably be the hardest thing to go about."

The six known defensive coordinator candidates:

  • Jerome Henderson: The Giants' defensive backs coach would allow them to keep some continuity. Henderson has experience as a pass-game coordinator and consistently develops young talent. The veteran coach already has the respect of some key players.
  • Dennard Wilson: He's been a player, scout, assistant position coach, position coach and pass-game coordinator. So, he's done it all. Wilson sets standards and enforces them. The Philadelphia Eagles let him walk and their secondary collapsed, while the Ravens' has thrived under his leadership. Just last week, Eagles cornerback Darius Slay admitted they should have hired Wilson as their defensive coordinator. "I thought he would have made a difference," Slay said.
  • Bobby Babich: The Bills linebacker coach was a pass-game coordinator at FIU before coming to the NFL. He should know what to expect working for Daboll and Schoen, considering their time together in Buffalo. That should alleviate some concerns after what just transpired with Martindale.
  • Anthony Campanile: The New Jersey native is the linebackers coach for the Miami Dolphins. But Miami currently has an opening after Vic Fangio parted ways for the Eagles, and Campanile is believed to be among the frontrunners for that job.
  • Shane Bowen: He's the most experienced of the candidates to have interviewed with the Giants having spent the past three years as the Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator. Bowen is known for his work with edge rushers and running multiple schemes.
  • Derrick Ansley: He most recently was the interim defensive coordinator for the Chargers. A former defensive backs coach, Ansley has a strong track record working with the back end of a defense.