Giants DC Wink Martindale resigning from team to cap explosive Black Monday of coach firings and departures

Wink Martindale is resigning as defensive coordinator of the Giants to pursue head coach and defensive coordinator opportunities elsewhere, a source first told the Daily News on Monday.

Martindale’s defense tied for the NFL lead in takeaways (31) as the lone bright spot during an otherwise dismal season. But the tension and internal dynamic between Brian Daboll and Martindale boiled over into the public eye prior to the Giants’ bye week and foreshadowed change once the season ended.

His resignation capped a slew of coach firings and planned departures on a busy Black Monday for co-owner John Mara, GM Joe Schoen, Daboll and their reeling franchise.

Prior to losing their defensive coordinator, the Giants already had fired special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey and offensive line coach Bobby Johnson on Monday morning and outside linebackers coach Drew Wilkins and his brother, defensive assistant Kevin Wilkins, in the afternoon.

Running backs coach Jeff Nixon (Syracuse) and strength coach Craig Fitzgerald (Florida) already had left on their own in the past few days, too.

Martindale, 60, should be in high demand on the league’s coaching circuit after a decade with the Baltimore Ravens and two seasons with the Giants. But in his wake, the pressure is ratcheting up on Schoen and Daboll after a 6-11 season with rampant operational issues.

“It starts with me,” Schoen said Monday morning. “I’ve got to do a better job throughout the entire organization. We’re a six-win team. You are what your record says you are. And I’ve got to do a better job.”

Daboll said in the morning that “my expectation” is that both offensive coordinator Mike Kafka and Martindale would be back in 2024, but he hadn’t even spoken to either coordinator yet. Then he fired the Wilkins brothers, who Martindale brought to New York from the Baltimore Ravens last year.

Drew Wilkins in particular has been Martindale’s right hand with the Giants’ defense. Firing him sent a clear message. Daboll also noted that “Wink talks about this as a destination place and things like that,” seemingly in an attempt to put the onus on Martindale and not the team if he left.

Ultimately, however, nothing that happened Monday was going to change the day’s outcome for the organization. The groundwork was laid for it all year.

Johnson, who followed Daboll to the Giants from the Buffalo Bills in 2022, was canned after the Giants’ 2023 offensive line allowed 85 sacks, the second-most in NFL history.

But the sacks were also due to Schoen’s personnel mistakes up front and Daboll’s inability to run an offense that protects the quarterback. No other team allowed more than 65 sacks this year.

It also didn’t help that undrafted rookie Tommy DeVito led the league in sack percentage (15.5%) for quarterbacks with more than 33 drop-backs this year. That was often due to DeVito holding onto the ball for too long.

McGaughey, meanwhile, was fired after spending the past six seasons with the Giants across three coaching staffs under Pat Shurmur, Joe Judge and Daboll.

That unit made some costly mistakes this season, starting with a blocked field goal in Week 1. The Dallas Cowboys returned it for a touchdown, and left tackle Andrew Thomas got injured on the play.

But McGaughey also created an innovative and effective punt game with Jamie Gillan. Gunner Nick McCloud challenged for a Pro Bowl spot as a special teamer. And McGaughey’s hands were tied in a lot of ways by things out of his control.

Schoen forced running back Eric Gray into a punt return role he couldn’t handle early in the season, a mistake the GM took blame for publicly. And the GM made veteran Parris Campbell a healthy scratch for the final five games, even though Campbell had injected life into the Giants’ stagnant kick return unit.

Deactivating Campbell for the final five games cost him $500,000, or $100K per game in an active roster bonus incentive.

The Giants did that despite McGaughey raving about Campbell’s value. Down the stretch, the team actually stopped returning kicks altogether. And McGaughey said that was because the Giants’ analytics team — an arm of the front office and coaching staff — told him so.

“It’s all kind of based upon analytics,” he said of any kicks within a certain range of the goal line.

So begins the ugly autopsy of a Giants season to forget that puts a lot of pressure on year three of the Schoen-Daboll regime.