Handley And The Giants: A Bad Match From The Beginning When The Team Needed A New Head Coach, It Chose A Man Whose Personality Doomed Him To Failure.

Posted: December 27, 1992

Until Ross Perot is signed to a long-term contract as the Eagles' next middle linebacker, Giants coach Ray Handley will continue to be the least appropriate man for his job anywhere in the NFL.

Fortunately for those tender-hearted fans who have spent much of the season screaming "Ray must go" at the Meadowlands and at Newark International Airport, Handley may not be on the job long after today's Giants-Eagles game at Veterans Stadium (Channel 10, 1 p.m.).

A New York radio station has reported that Handley as ex-coach is a fait accompli and that he already has informed his assistants that they will not be employed by the Giants next year.

One football tabloid has headlined it "The End of an Error."

Whether that's true or not, how did Handley manage to generate so much contempt for his program and his personality (assuming, indeed, that he has one) in so short a time? He became the Giants' head coach (the team's 13th, as bad luck would have it) only on May 15, 1991.

The late date on which the team's running-backs coach succeeded Bill Parcells accounted for several of the problems that he faced during his first season on the job, when the championship team he inherited fell from a 16-3 record to 8-8.

But then and now, with the Giants at 6-9, most of Handley's trouble with players, assistant coaches, fans and reporters has been of his own making. He has shown himself to be a humorless man who can neither deal nor communicate effectively with people.

Handley hails from Reno, Nev., where his reputation as a card-counter at the blackjack table has resulted in his banishment from the state's gambling casinos.

Now his tunnel-vision concentration has caused him to miss the big picture in the NFL.

For example:

After taking over for Parcells, who had given the once-dormant Giants franchise two Super Bowl victories and a swashbuckling, hands-on style of getting players to perform at peak efficiency, Handley proved to be as detached as a botany lecturer.

He neither cajoled his players nor praised them, at one point saying it was not the responsibility of a head coach to motivate, but only to teach. That attitude made following Parcells' tough act even tougher.

So did Handley's treatment of Ron Erhardt. A man who had been assistant head coach under Parcells, who had been given responsibilities to match his knowledge of the game, Erhardt was resented by Handley, who had assigned him such menial tasks as breaking down film.

Erhardt ultimately left. He became offensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he will be involved with the playoffs next month, when Handley may be looking for a job.

Handley effects a stilted, pompous style of speech unlikely to catch a player's attention. How many other coaches use words like portend or expressions like "We accounted ourselves well" and "I will address that at the proper time"? How many, on the day after the Giants hammered Kansas City, 35-21, would have assessed their team's improved performance by saying, "We performed relatively well; I was relatively satisfied"?

That was the same day a reporter asked Handley, "When you see them play that well, does it make you wonder why they couldn't play that way more often?"

Handley's answer: "No."

When asked why, Handley said: "I don't know the reason. I just know the answer is no. I didn't try to discern a reason, either."

What's the point?

It all started, of course, when Handley made a long-running controversy out of his decision to start Jeff Hostetler rather than Phil Simms at quarterback last season.

That was a controversy that would resurface this season. When Hostetler was sidelined by a bruised pelvis this season, Handley told the quarterback he would be the starter again when he returned. But Simms kept the job after Hostetler regained his health, with Handley explaining that the team needed continuity at quarterback.

The situation devastated Hostetler, especially when Handley later said: ''Quarterback is just another position on this team."

Nor has Handley won a legion of admirers for his preparation, adjustments and game-day coaching.

In the Giants' second game of the 1991 season, on the heels of an inspiring comeback victory over San Francisco, Handley was outcoached by John Robinson of the Los Angeles Rams, who were on their way to a 3-13 record.

Defensing the Giants' traditional sledgehammer rushing attack, Robinson used eight- and nine-man fronts that invited the deep pass. But Handley, then the Giants' offensive coordinator as well as their head coach, never adjusted to that tactic, and New York wound up a 19-13 loser.

Against Dallas this season, Handley wanted to bench his veteran defensive players after the Cowboys took a 28-0 halftime lead. The veterans barely managed to talk him out of it in a confrontation that the New York Times called "nasty." The Giants came back but ended up with a 34-28 loss.

For a team whose defense had been defined by the crazed-dog play of all- world linebacker Lawrence Taylor, Handley this season hired Rod Rust as his defensive coordinator.

Rust installed an un-Giants-like scheme to replace the more instinctive style of the past. The players have complained all season long that the read- and-react tactics have constrained them and made them tentative.

When linebacker Carl Banks offered to bridge the communications gap between the coaching staff and the players by acting as a go-between, Handley denied that any gap existed and flatly turned him down.

Handley lost more respect among his players after he reacted in a curious way to comments by guard Eric Moore, a notorious clubhouse complainer who let it be known that he wanted out of the Gaints organization and wouldn't be back next season. The coach engaged Moore in a shouting match but took no disciplinary action against him.

Handley had closed practice to reporters (he later rescinded that edict),

cut down on news-conference time, and walked out of a news conference over a TV reporter's question.

But most of all, he has given his team little in the way of direction.

"It's hard," linebacker Pepper Johnson told the New York Post six days ago, "to just shut your mouth and play ball when you know some of the difficulties and stuff we're having inside this locker room among ourselves and the separation between coaches and players."

Or, as Eagles cornerback Eric Allen said this week, "We want Ray to stay."

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