EAT RUTHERFORD, N.J — EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The first major move the New York Giants coach made in his rookie year was to bench Phil Simms.
The coach then got off to a rocky start by winning just 10 of his first 28 games.
That's how -- surprise -- Bill Parcells, not Ray Handley, started his career as the Giants' head coach.
They both benched Simms in their first season, but Handley actually has had a better start (13-15) than Parcells (10-17-1).
The difference was that Parcells wasn't following Parcells. When he replaced Ray Perkins, the team hadn't won a championship since 1956.
When Handley replaced Parcells last year, the Giants had won two Super Bowls in five years.
Parcells also improved in his second year, starting out 7-5 after going 3-12-1 in his first year.
Handley started out 8-8 last year and has gone backward to 5-7 this year, which explains why he's under fire as his team prepares to play the Washington Redskins today.
One of the few people who'll speak up in Handley's defense these days is the man who hired him, general manager George Young.
"He's competing against a mythical team from 1984 through 1990 that it now seems never made any mistakes," Young said.
Young isn't impressed that the writers in New York have already decided that Handley should be fired, The sooner the better.
The fans, who figure to be yelling "Ray Must Go" most of the game, agree.
Young looks at it a bit differently.
"The key is to look at somebody who's not doing well and !B determine whether he will do well. That's a little different than [determining it] after the fact," he said.
Young, who missed the team's last two games while being hospitalized with a virus, gives no clue about what he's determined. He's never fired a coach and he's not eager to start now.
But it'll be a shock if Young brings Handley back. A good case can be made that Handley was in an impossible situation. He took over an old team and he now has his first two quarterbacks (Jeff Hostetler and Phil Simms), linebacker Lawrence Taylor and punter Sean Landeta out with injuries. He's even shaken up his lineup this week and benched veteran center Bart Oates.
That may be too little, too late. It's not only that Handley has lost, but the way he's lost that will probably doom him. He never seems comfortable in the spotlight and has been in frequent hassles with the New York writers.
In a conference call with Washington writers last week, when he was asked if he knew he had a better record than Parcells at the same stage of his career, he said he'd read that in USA Today. He couldn't resist adding that it's the only paper he reads.
The next day, even a USA Today columnist predicted he'd be TC fired so Handley can't escape the heat no matter where he turns.
Handley brushes off the talk about his future by saying he's focusing on this season.
The Giants hit a new low in their last game, on Thanksgiving Day, when they were routed by the Dallas Cowboys, 30-3.
If Handley is to save his job, he needs a late-season surge. He couldn't pick a better team to start it against than the Redskins.
The Giants have been dominating the Redskins for the last several years and upset them, 24-7, on Nov. 1.
"It was probably the best game we had offensively as far as being able to go from the run mode to the pass mode," Handley said. "We were able to put a pretty balanced offense on the field through the first three quarters and were able to run the ball in the fourth quarter. That's something we haven't been able to do on a consistent basis in other games."
Coach Joe Gibbs of the Redskins, who may have gotten some last-minute incentive when the Giants claimed John Brandes off waivers Friday, is so psyched to face the Giants that he won't concede Simms and Hostetler are out and that rookie Kent Graham will start at quarterback.
A lot has changed since the first game, though. The Giants have lost Hostetler and Taylor and the Redskins have gotten Jim Lachey and Darrell Green back. With the offensive line stabilized, the Redskins hope to start a late-season roll.
Whatever happens today, though, Gibbs knows he'll have a shot at the Giants next year. This may be Handley's last shot at the Redskins.
The Redskins have a 30-9 regular-season December record under coach Joe Gibbs:
Year.. .. .. .. ..Dec... .. .. .. ..Fin.
1981.. .. .. .. ..3-0.. .. .. .. ...8-8
1982*.. .. .. .. .3-1.. .. .. .. .. 8-1
1983*.. .. .. .. .3-0.. .. .. .. ..14-2
1984*.. .. .. .. .2-0.. .. .. .. ..11-5
1985.. .. .. .. ..3-1.. .. .. .. ..10-6
1986*.. .. .. .. .1-2.. .. .. .. ..12-4
1987*.. .. .. .. .3-1.. .. .. .. ..11-4
1988.. .. .. .. ..1-2.. .. .. .. ...7-9
1989.. .. .. .. ..4-0.. .. .. .. ..10-6
1990*.. .. .. .. .4-1.. .. .. .. ..10-6
1991*.. .. .. .. .3-1.. .. .. .. ..14-2
* Made playoffs