EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (Jan. 16, 2006) -- Jerry Reese says it was fitting the New York Giants tapped him for their general manager's job on the holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr.
"Not to sound cliched, but I really feel like it's my time to carry the torch," Reese said as the team formally introduced him a day after he was picked. He is the third black general manager in NFL history.
"Many people went before me who suffered through this process and now it's my time. I'm looking forward to this challenge. It's my time to keep this dream alive. It's very important to me and I don't take it lightly."
Reese, who has been with the Giants since 1994 in various capacities and was the team's director of player of personnel the last four years, succeeds Ernie Accorsi, who is retiring after nine seasons with the team.
Reese said his career with the Giants almost ended before it began. He had risen in the coaching ranks at Tennessee-Martin, his alma mater, and had his eye on the head coaching position when he was approached by Giants scout Jeremiah Davis, who had also coached at the school.
"He called and said, 'We need a scout in the Southeast,"' Reese said. "I said, 'No way, I'm not going.' But he said, 'Please give us a chance.' And, long story short, here I am."
Accorsi, coach Tom Coughlin and Giants co-owner John Mara all praised Reese's skill at evaluating talent and his no-nonsense approach on draft day as qualities that made him the right pick.
Coughlin got his introduction to Reese during his first draft with the Giants in 2004, the year New York traded with San Diego to acquire quarterback Eli Manning.
"I was very impressed with way Jerry ran the draft," Coughlin said. "The efficiency, the leadership and the way the room was organized. You can waste an awful lot of time on things that aren't critical, and Jerry never let that happen."
The Giants' fortunes are tied to Manning's progress, and the quarterback appeared to regress at times this season. Reese simultaneously defended Manning against a growing chorus of detractors while acknowledging the Giants will do "everything possible" to help his development, including hiring a new quarterbacks coach.
"Eli's progress right now is not where we want it to be, obviously," Reese said. "He's played for two full seasons as a starter, so he's really not that far behind. I think it's overexaggerated. Look at the quarterbacks that are playing now in the playoffs, are those guys that much better? I don't think so. He's our franchise and I hope he'll be here for a long time."
Reese's promotion is one of a series of moves in an overall shake-up of the staff. Coughlin's contract was extended for a year, but defensive coordinator Tim Lewis was released and former offensive coordinator John Hufnagel was replaced for the last game of the regular season and the playoff game by quarterbacks coach Kevin Gilbride.
The only other black general managers in the NFL are Baltimore's Ozzie Newsome and Houston's Rick Smith. There are several black men who have considerable say in front offices, notably Rod Graves of Arizona, whose title is senior vice president-football operations. Ray Anderson was vice president of the Atlanta Falcons for the last four years before moving to the NFL in August as senior vice president of football operations.