Clarence the Blue Puppet Posted November 9, 2007 Share Posted November 9, 2007 http://msn.foxsports.com/nfl/story/7424868?MSNHPHMA Coughlin has changed his stripes Mark Kriegel FOXSports.com, Updated 41 minutes ago With half a season now in evidence, pro football's biggest surprise is not the Patriots and their perfect record. Nor is it the Green Bay Packers and Brett Favre, who seems to have discovered the secret to eternal youth. Rather, it's the New York Giants and the fact that Tom Coughlin hasn't lost his team, much less his job. I know: the Giants start out 6-2 every year before the inevitable collapse. I also know this Sunday's game with the Cowboys may begin yet another second-half swoon. I'm not picking the Giants to beat the Cowboys. But I didn't pick them to be 6-2, either. This year figured to be different. This was the year for the Giants to start 2-6. Everything was in place for a total collapse. Tiki Barber, who had basically been the Giants' offense, wrote a book blaming the coach for his famously debated retirement. "He robbed me of what had been one of the most important things I had in my life, which was the joy I felt playing football," wrote Barber, who enjoyed his best and most fumble-free years under Coughlin. As the 2006 campaign ended, the Giants were a mess, their 23-20 playoff loss to the Eagles being the least of it. Their 6-2 start was followed by 1-6 stretch. Coughlin, never a favorite in the locker room, had been publicly criticized by Barber and Jeremy Shockey. Every indication was that the coach had lost his players, if not his owners, who took three days before deciding to bring him back. Firing coaches isn't the Giants' way. Then again, there weren't many good candidates available. As votes of confidence go, Coughlin's one-year contract extension was less than resounding. The coach knew the drill. Before the Giants, Coughlin had lost the Jacksonville Jaguars. In Inside the Helmet, written with FOXSports.com's Jay Glazer, Michael Strahan recalls the advance word on Coughlin: "The reviews I received about my new coach were horrendous... I had at least ten players call me about Tom. All but one had horrible reviews." Coughlin, for his part, didn't care what players said about him. He wasn't a players' coach, nor was he trying to be. Strahan would recall Coughlin's first year with the Giants as "psychotic." This was a coach who fined him for not being the requisite five minutes early to a team meeting. Eventually, Strahan and Coughlin reached a truce. In fact, Strahan would become something of an ally. But as the Giants convened for training camp, Strahan remained home, saying he wasn't sure if he wanted to play anymore. This did not bode well for the coach. Strahan was a seven-time pro bowler, the Giants' career sack leader. But more than that, his absence seemed to anticipate the long-awaited mutiny, an uprising with Coughlin cast according to type as Captain Queeg. Strahan eventually returned to little apparent avail. The Giants began the season 0-2, then found themselves down 17-3 at halftime to Washington. But they came back against the Redskins and haven't lost since. And in doing so, Coughlin has done something I've never seen. It doesn't matter if you're Vince Lombardi or Pat Riley or Joe Torre. Once you've lost the locker room, you've lost it forever. A coach's authority does not regenerate. The process is irreversible. Or so I thought. At the age of 61, Tom Coughlin seems to have become a different kind of coach. He eased up in practice. He deputized 11 players to form a "Leadership Council," to help players and coaches communicate. Going into a bye-week, he gave his players a full five days off. He even took the team bowling. Suddenly, guys are swearing by Tom Coughlin. "He's not beating us up like he did last season," said Plaxico Burress, who recalls practicing "in full pads for 16 weeks straight." "I never thought he was going to change," Burress told FOXSports.com's Alex Marvez. "I always thought he was going to be a hard-ass." Even Burress — who's caught more touchdowns than anyone in the NFC — wouldn't argue that the Giants' unlikely resurgence is based solely on the kinder, gentler Coughlin. It turns out that they have a better pass rush than anyone knew. Dave Diehl is more than adequate as a replacement at left tackle for Luke Petitgout. In fact, the entire offensive line has enabled Brandon Jacobs to make up for the loss of Barber. At 5.6 yards per carry, Jacobs is averaging more than Barber ever did. What's more, the Giants remain relatively healthy, even the old guys in their secondary. Most important, they've enjoyed an easy schedule. The real test begins with the Cowboys. November and December will be tougher than September and October. The Giants may yet fold in typical fashion. But no matter what happens, it won't be a typical season. You think Tiki Barber would've retired if he knew Coughlin would take him bowling? Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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