No more Mr. mean guy (cont.)
Posted: Thursday October 25, 2007 1:51PM; Updated: Thursday October 25, 2007 1:51PM
Coughlin got the players' attention when he held a casino night at Giants Stadium in the offseason. In training camp, he backed off his grueling practices and even canceled one night of meetings to take the players bowling. Later, he created his first leadership council, comprised of team leaders who have his ear on everything from when and how they practice to what's served at the training table.
"You expect somebody to change a little bit here and there," defensive end Michael Strahan said. "But I'll be honest with you, the changes that he's made have exceeded anything I ever expected to see as long as I've played for him. It's just the way he treats the players, his whole demeanor and personality. The guy actually is a personality now. He's funny. He has jokes. He gets the room laughing. He makes you feel like you can enjoy being at work. That's the one thing he has done this year; he makes it fun to be here. That's important."
Added O'Hara: "He's kind of let his true personality come forth. In years past he always kind of bottled that up for fear -- and I think most coaches fear this -- that if you let your players see your true side, then they will take advantage of you. I think that's a legitimate concern as a coach, but I think the majority of the players on this team have been with Tom since he got here [in 2004]. This is my fourth year with him now. I think we know what he expects from us."
Coughlin came under tremendous fire last offseason. The team started 5-2 but finished 8-8 before losing in the first round of the playoffs. Along the way, some players grumbled privately about his unforgiving ways, and star running back Tiki Barber, now retired, took his issues public at times. Coughlin also had issues with reporters, some of whom found him to be condescending, if not disrespectful.
Coughlin does a post mortem at the end of each season and looks for things he could have done differently. He says one of the things he realized last offseason -- with the help of family and team friends, including vice president of communications Pat Hanlon -- was that he had to do a better job of improving the lines of communication with his players and the media. He even called in nearly a dozen reporters for individual, candid, off-the-record conversations about their working relationships.
"I talked to every beat writer," Coughlin says. "We took the gloves off for a no-holds-barred, say what you want to say and I'll say what I want to say. I got a lot of good stuff out of it. The guys were real honest with me, which was a tribute to them. They could have come in and [not been honest], but they were right on.
"It was important for me to understand what they were feeling, and I did understand. I understood, if nothing else, these guys have got a job to do. I don't always agree with them -- and I certainly don't like the way I was treated at the end of the year -- but they do have a job to do. They looked at me as being a problem with them doing their job. One of the guys said, 'Geez you act like you don't even have time for us.' I'm not going to come across as disrespectful if I can do something about it."
He has been more tolerant and forthcoming with the media this year. There haven't been any sudden ends to news conference because he felt he had addressed a question previously. He also has been more tolerant with his players, particularly when they tell him they're hurting physically.
"He's giving us more rest," says wide receiver Plaxico Burress, who has been nursing an ankle injury much of the year. "That's the one of the things that has really been helping us out and making us feel that he cares about us a little bit. In the past it was so much more of a work, work, work atmosphere. ... Now he's more lenient in certain areas. He's still Tom, don't get me wrong. But you've got to love it because he's showing that he cares about us and is taking strides to take care of us."
For the first time since he arrived in New York in 2004, Coughlin believes that the coaches and players are all pulling in the same direction. There are no factions, no agendas.
"That's the whole reason we were able to come back from 0-2," Coughlin says. "No one panicked. We all felt like we were going to improve. Everyone was zeroing in on the defense, trying to say that the defense was this and that (after giving up 45 points to Dallas and 35 to Green Bay). But we thought things would change. We were better than we were playing, and we felt that just by improving and continuing to work at it and focusing on what we were doing, with everybody working in the same direction, we would play the type of defense that we were capable of playing.
"The biggest thing is to have no agendas. All we want to do is win. As long as we can stay like that we'll have a chance. A house divided cannot stand, and that's exactly what my initial approach was with the team. From Day 1, the very first thing I did in camp was talk once again about team, to put greater emphasis on the idea that we would only be as successful as we were unselfish, and we had to check our egos at the door. That included me. I've told the players that I don't really have an agenda. All I want to do is win."
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