EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Ray Handley era ended yesterday. To no one's surprise, the New York Giants dismissed their coach after two tumultuous seasons marked by player-coach controversies, confrontations with the media, inconsistent play and a losing record.
General manager George Young announced the dismissal at a news conference at Giants Stadium. He said he told Handley, 48, of his firing Monday.
At a 10 a.m. meeting yesterday, Handley told his assistants of the decision. An hour later, he was gone without comment, and only Young appeared at the news conference.
Although Young said there was no leading candidate for the job, he added, "I do have things in my mind."
Bill Parcells, who left the Giants after they won the Super Bowl in January 1991, remains a popular choice among players and fans, but indications are that Young is leaning toward Tom Coughlin, a former Giants assistant who is coach at Boston College.
Another Young favorite is believed to be Dave Wannstedt, the defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys. Wannstedt and Coughlin are involved in postseason games.
Linebacker Lawrence Taylor, recovering from Achilles' tendon surgery, again campaigned for the return of Parcells.
"I think George probably did the right thing by letting Ray go," Taylor said. "The question now is, will he do two right things in a row? Will he get Bill Parcells to coach this team and bring us back a championship?"
One Giants source confirmed that some of the prospective coaches already were under contract. Coughlin and Wannstedt fit that category. Young did say he had made no contact with prospective coaches and had not sought permission to talk to any coach under contract.
Young said he was drawing up a list of candidates, but he would not mention names. "I'm not going to talk about anybody we're considering," Young said. "There will be more than one candidate."
Coughlin and Handley were Giants assistants together.
Coughlin, who left as receivers coach after the 1990 season, is in Tampa, Fla., where Boston College will play in the Hall of Fame Bowl tomorrow.
"If and when there is contact with the Giants, I will decide on the matter at the proper time," Coughlin said. "I came to Boston College to win the national championship. None of this is going to diminish what we're trying to do in Tampa."
Young gave no timetable for naming a new coach, but there were indications that the selection might not be made until mid-January.
Parcells, concerned about health problems and burnout, quit the Giants on May 15, 1991, less than four months after the Giants won Super Bowl XXV.
At Super Bowl time, Handley was the offensive backfield coach. Weeks later, when he was about to leave coaching to enter law school, the Giants changed Handley's mind by promoting him to offensive coordinator. When Parcells left, Handley became head coach.
"Some guys are meant to be head coaches," said Giants linebacker Pepper Johnson. "I don't know if Ray was."
Nose tackle Erik Howard said: "The team never jelled. We just couldn't find consistency all year. I don't think the players believed enough in the system."
Young sensed that, saying: "You can be a great doctor and operate on one of the player's knees and if it's not 100 percent the player thinks you're a bad doctor, so you don't have credibility. I think a coach is in the same situation."
Handley's lack of head-coaching experience in the NFL may have hurt as the Giants fell to 8-8 last season and 6-10 this season.
However, Young said the new coach would not necessarily have to have been a head coach in the NFL.
"I'd be limiting myself," Young said, "if I said the new coach would have had to have previous head-coaching experience. What's important is the person."
The assistant coaches, whose contracts expire Feb. 1, will be kept on until the new coach has an opportunity to interview them.
Meanwhile, they will go to the practices for the Jan. 16 Senior Bowl game in Mobile, Ala., to help the Giants' scouts and to give themselves opportunities to discuss job openings on other teams.
Young spoke kindly of Handley, portraying him as somewhat of a victim because he was named coach so late last year, after the draft, Plan B free agency and a minicamp. Handley has said he tried to become a caretaker for Parcells' team and called that a mistake.
"He was very professional," Young said. "He's a very bright man who understands the situation. He felt he was always objective in every decision he made."
Handley finished with a .438 winning percentage. That leaves him ninth out of 13 Giants coaches, ahead of Alex Webster (1969-1973) at .421, Ray Perkins (1979-1982) at .407, John McVay (1976-1978) at .378 and Bill Arnsparger (1974-1976) at .200.