By Ian O’Connor
Wink Martindale carries himself like a sheriff instead of a deputy, and talks like a head coach instead of a defensive coordinator. He makes statements to open his media sessions and calls for questions, and then before his very first home game as a Giants assistant, implores the fans to turn MetLife Stadium into the seventh circle of hell.
Martindale interviewed to be the Giants’ head coach back when Joe Judge got the job and, at 59, still wants an NFL team to call his own. That says a couple of positive things about the upper echelon of the team’s coaching staff.
1. Martindale is hungry and ambitious, and every organization wants hungry and ambitious people.
2. Just as head coach Brian Daboll was unafraid to hand over the play-calling to a fellow offensive whiz (Mike Kafka), he was unafraid to hire Martindale, an extra-large personality and relative stranger who wants to use his new platform to achieve his ultimate career goal.
If the Giants are to follow up their stunning road upset of the Titans with a victory Sunday over the Panthers, and then with a season that breaks a streak of five straight defined by double-digit losses, Martindale will be a chief reason why. He is the lost son of Buddy Ryan, a big-talking renegade who has never met a blitz package he didn’t like.
It’s too bad the late Al Davis famously said, “The other team’s quarterback must go down, and he must go down hard,” because Martindale probably would have come up with that one next week.
“Whether you’re golfing with him, whether you’re playing pickup hoops, or whether you’re out there on the football field, this guy’s personality is he wants to win and he wants to win by attacking you, and imposing on you,” said Giants outside linebackers coach Drew Wilkins, who spent a decade working with Martindale in Baltimore.
“I know I love this system. … I think our whole staff loves coaching in this system, and the players love playing in it because it’s like you’re playing offense on defense. We’re not going to sit back and say, ‘Oh, this guy made a nice throw.’ … We’re going to affect the quarterback. Everybody on the field is in an attack mindset.”
In 2018, his first year as John Harbaugh’s coordinator in Baltimore, Martindale applied that philosophy in making the Ravens the league’s top-ranked defense. That unit was ranked fourth in 2019 and seventh in 2020, but 25th in 2021, when Baltimore was decimated by injuries. Harbaugh thought it was best to make a change, and Martindale thought his odds of becoming a head coach would be enhanced in the New York market anyway.
Patrick Graham’s surprise departure for Las Vegas opened that big-city door for Martindale, and Daboll, a first-time head coach, didn’t hesitate to hire someone he didn’t really know. Daboll and Martindale have praised each other’s competitiveness, and by all accounts have hit it off.
“They’re so similar,” Wilkins told The Post. “They’re both so driven by the details and they speak the same language. They’ve really blended well together, and it’s like you’re getting that same sense of urgency and that same pure leadership from both of them in our meetings.”
That urgency and leadership worked against Tennessee in the second half, when the Giants’ defense took the fight to Derrick Henry and contained the Titans without the help of injured edge rushers Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari. Giants defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson said he’d never seen his cover corner, Adoree’ Jackson, play with such physicality and purpose in his quest to hit people.
“I think it’s a credit to the way Wink has built our system,” Henderson said, “and the confidence he puts in our players and what he demands from us.”
Henderson relayed that Martindale has repeatedly said he’s “building a bully” defense, which comes as no surprise. When the Giants hired Martindale, his former boss, Harbaugh, told The Post the following:
“Giants fans are really going to like his style. He will be in attack mode. He’s definitely one of the best defensive play-callers in the league, and a real joy to be around every day. I have great respect for him. He’s a highly confident, charismatic-type coach. … You’ve got to be ready for any call at any time, and that’s become one of his trademarks. And he keeps it honest and is very straightforward with the players.”
Of course, that recommendation inspired the natural follow-up: Why, then, did Harbaugh escort Martindale to the door?
An educated guess says Martindale’s outsize persona was less appealing with the Ravens at 8-9, and with their defense ranked four spots lower than the Giants’ defense. Both sides knew it was time for the sheriff, dressed in his cap, dark shades, hooded vest, long-sleeve shirts, shorts and an eclectic array of shoes, to find a new Dodge City.
The other day, Martindale ordered Giants fans to turn MetLife Stadium into the kind of place that inspired fear in opponents.
“We’ll take care of the rest,” he promised, “and we’ll give you something to be loud about.”
Great Giants teams always start with defense. With Martindale as a weapon, this unit should certainly make some noise.