The President is black. The top General Manager in the NFL is too. New York Giants General Manager Jerry Reese, like Obama, is the Jackie Robinson of his gig. Obama was the first African-American to rise to the highest office in the land. Jerry Reese is the first African-American GM with Super Bowl bling. Both feats – in their own right – are powerful.
The difference is that Obama is on the clock. Regardless of the change he brings America in the next four years; his contract is up in 2016. Reese’s influence on the NFL is just getting into full swing. Since being named former GM Ernie Accorsi’s successor in January ‘07, Reese’s keen player evaluation, shrewd salary-cap finessing and chip collection, has him sitting on top of the NFL GM throne.
If The Mara family wants to keep him, Reese can reign for as long as Pepi II Neferkare ruled the Sixth dynasty in Egypt's Old Kingdom, maybe even matching the 19-year run of stability and class of former Giants GM/VP of Football Operations George Young (1979-1998).
Reese is even with Young in rings. Young won his two with the Giants in ’86 and ’90, when LT was ravaging offenses and snorting more coke than Amy Winehouse on tour. Reese won a ring in his first year ’07-’08. He nabbed another last season. Giants GM standards are too lofty to rest on his laurels, though. There’s still work to be done.
Reese doesn’t dwell on race, or being a pioneer. He doesn’t ignore the way he has inspired young blacks, particularly non-players, to pursue opportunities in NFL front offices, either.
"It would've impacted a lot of people, if I failed”, Reese said in an interview with ESPNNY.com. “In the past some people thought you might have to be a great football player or a name to get a chance, and I'm not either…For African-American kids coming behind me, dreaming of being an executive, it wouldn't have been a good look if I failed.”
This responsibility to others is part of what drives him to succeed each season, along with staying the course and defying the odds. Reese made that clear in his first meeting with Tom Coughlin, emphatically telling the Giants coach, “failure is not an option to me.”
And it’s obvious that he he hasn’t. He knows the only true color in the NFL is green. The only social category is winner and loser. In NY, GM’s can go from toast of the town to burnt bread in one disastrous season. That’s what’s so notable about Reese. He works in the NYC pressure cooker. He’s thrived in it. He’s even lived to fail, tell about it and redeem himself.
Being a top GM is about finding those later-round guys that have just as many flaws as talents, believing that their upside will translate to NFL success and that guessing correct on that hunch. Reese, in his relatively short tenure, has begun to master this elusive knack.
He started with the Giants as an area scout in 1994 and five years later was promoted to assistant director of pro scouting. According to Greg Gabriel, a scout on the Giants staff at that time, Reese’s diligence, intuitiveness and rapid grasp of scouting got him promoted to Director of Player Personnel–College Scouting in 2002 and eventually the coveted GM job in January 2007.
“A scout has to have the ability to find and understand talent,” Gabriel, a 29-year NFL scouting vet said. “Jerry has all those traits. I always found Jerry to be greatly instinctive and have a very progressive thought process. He can see through the BS and find the player.”
Haters often try to temper the credit Reese should get for the first Super Bowl, because most of the players, in particular Eli Manning, were former GM Ernie Accorsi’s picks. But from all accounts, Reese’s scouting contributed majorly to aiding Accorsi on the draft day trade for Manning and in drafting other NFL impact players like Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Derek Ward (7th-round), Brandon Jacobs and Corey Webster. Reese was obviously highly valued by Accorsi, who recommended Reese as his successor, upon retiring in ’07.
Reese set his GM tenure off correct. He drafted Kevin Boss, Steve Smith, Jay Alford and underrated seventh-round running back and current Giant’s starter Ahmad Bradshaw. The years in- between those two Lombardi trophies is when Reese really became an All-Pro GM, though. After that quick success, he was dissed for the Giants' failure to make the playoffs in 2009 and 2010. He was also criticized for his tough contract negations stances with star players. The 2011 season began hellishly too, as Reese was vilified for his inactivity and letting some key players walk during free agency.
People thought he was nuts, but Reese relied on his special gift. As the 2011 season seemed doomed, players like ’09 draft pick wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, sack master Jason Pierre-Paul, and the sickest find of Reese’s tenure – unsigned hype turned slot machine Victor Cruz -- blossomed into forces behind another Super Bowl win. Reese’s handling of that difficult season and the way he helped turned the tides, was no surprise to his mentor.
“He never flinched, never,’’ Accorsi said, in a February Boston Globe article. “He was confident. It all comes from the courage of your convictions. In our business, the judgment business, all you can ever ask for is to have a conviction.”
The second time around was most def sweeter than the first. These were his players and the Giant’s latest Lombardi Trophy is filthy with his fingerprints. There is no doubt now, who the culprit is behind the Giants’ current reputation for fielding deep, talent-laden rosters. The Beast of the East is Jerry Reese.