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When Joe Schoen arrived in Buffalo, the Bills had just missed the playoffs for the 17th straight season. They were a franchise adrift – perhaps the worst run in the NFL.
Schoen was part of the brain trust that turned them into a playoff team that first season and had them winning their division and competing for a Super Bowl within four years.
Now the Giants are hoping he can work the same magic with them.
The 42-year-old Schoen is being hired as the new general manager of the Giants on Friday, ushering in a new era for a franchise that hasn’t hired a GM who hadn’t worked for them before since 1979. He’s just the fifth GM the Giants have had since then, and also the youngest.
It’s also not a surprise that Schoen suddenly has a franchise to run. Even his boss in Buffalo, GM Brandon Beane, understood he wouldn’t be able to keep Schoen for long.
“He’s going to be a GM,” Beane told The Athletic about two years ago. “The thing about him is that he’s smart enough to know that he’s still learning and growing, and he’s trying to get stronger at his craft. He wants to be totally ready when he gets in there. Instead of just rushing to the seat and then trying to figure it out, Joe’s that guy that he wants to have all the answers to the test before he goes and sits down.”
The former Bills assistant GM will need to come up with a lot of answers quickly for the Giants, because his task with them is enormous. He was left a mess by his predecessor, Dave Gettleman, who “retired” earlier this month with a four-year record of 19-41. Schoen inherits a team that went 4-13 last year for its fifth straight season of double-digit losses and seventh in the last eight years, and has almost no salary cap space to spend when free agency starts in March.
But he will get to rebuild the Giants his way, if co-owner John Mara lives up to his promise that the GM “will oversee all aspects of our football operations, including player personnel, college scouting and coaching.” And according to a source, Mara told all the GM candidates they would have the freedom to rebuild the front office in any way they see fit.
Hiring a coach will, of course, be Schoen’s first priority, since the Giants fired Joe Judge less than two weeks ago. Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is “very high” on his shortlist, according to a source familiar with Schoen, and he is expected to get an interview if he’s still available. But Mara promised no preordained “package deals” with his GM and coach, so the team will have an extensive search over the next few weeks – a search that is expected to include former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores, too.
The Giants would prefer to move quickly on hiring a head coach, but their search could be complicated with several potential top candidates still in the playoffs. The Buffalo Bills – with Daboll and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, who could also emerge as a candidate – play at Kansas City in the divisional round on Sunday night. And after this weekend, assistant coaches on playoff teams can’t interview for other jobs until their teams are eliminated.
Schoen was still free to accept the Giants job, though – and it’s a job many around the NFL believed he would be offered from the start of the Giants’ search. He emerged from a field of nine candidates that also included Chiefs executive director of player personnel Ryan Poles, San Francisco 49ers assistant GM Adam Peters, Tennessee Titans director of player personnel Monti Ossenfort, Baltimore Ravens director of player personnel Joe Hortiz, Arizona Cardinals VP of pro personnel Adrian Wilson, Cardinals VP of player personnel Quentin Harris, Titans VP of player personnel Ryan Cowden, and 49ers director of player personnel Ran Carthon.
Schoen, who also interviewed for the Chicago Bears GM job, was the first to interview last week, and had a second, in-person interview on Tuesday. The other finalists to get second interviews were Poles and Peters.
Schoen has spent more than 20 years in the NFL, getting a job as a ticket office intern with the Carolina Panthers in 2000 after he graduated DePauw University, where he played quarterback and receiver. He then joined their scouting department as an assistant and later a regional scout. He spent seven years in Carolina before he was hired to be a national scout with the Dolphins – by their then-executive VP of football operations Bill Parcells.
“I was impressed with Joe because he was a sharp guy,” Parcells, the former Giants head coach, told The Athletic back in 2019. “And he had a good thought process when it came to evaluating players.”
That “thought process” helped him climb the Dolphins’ front office ladder until he was named their assistant director of college scouting in 2013 and their director of player personnel the next year. In 2017, he moved to Buffalo to join Beane, who also was his first boss in Carolina.
By then, Beane knew Schoen was on a fast track to a GM job and was studying every aspect of Beane’s job to make sure he was prepared.
“Very few people are like that,” Beane said in that 2019 interview. “There’s so many people in this business that are just trying to get into that head coach seat, that GM seat, and maybe they’re not ready for it. I have no doubt he’s going to be ready for it. He’s a great communicator. He understands people. You’re not going to outwork him.”