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In retirement, former Giants defensive end Michael Strahan sees the true value of Tom Coughlin's ways

Mr. P

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There was a time Michael Strahan despised nearly everything about Tom Coughlin's ways. That time was 2004, when Strahan and his teammates believed Coughlin was acting more like a dictator than the new coach of the Giants.


By the end of the 2006 season, one could hear in Strahan’s voice the star defensive end was beginning to see the method to Coughlin’s madness.


One year later, Strahan had bought into Coughlin’s philosophy completely on the team’s road to the Super Bowl.


And now, in 2010, he realizes his former coach is practically a guru. And not just on football.


“There’s been an evolution of Tom Coughlin,” Strahan said Tuesday on a conference call in regard to his being inducted into the Giants’ Ring of Honor this Sunday. “The evolution of being from the point where, I felt early on, (he was) almost unbearable, to the point where you realize – and he’s right now that I really can sit back away from the game of football and go … it’s kind of like your parents. My parents told me so much stuff that I would go to my grave, at that point in time when they were telling me, (thinking) they were wrong. And now, I look back and think how right they were.


“And he was right in his approach of how he came to the Giants, what he was trying to do and how he was trying to set it up. And he was right in his approach when I left of how, ‘Okay, now I can back off because the guys I’ve got here I know are dedicated to what they’re doing.’”


Strahan has become a Coughlin defender – one that would have seemed incredibly unlikely six years ago. And when he looks at the Giants, he sees issues with the players and leadership, not with the guy at the top many are beginning to question once again.

penalties092810.jpgMike Garafolo/The Star-LedgerA sign hanging in the Giants auditorium warning players of the dangers of penalties is proof of Michael Strahan's saying Tom Coughlin is "very disciplined' in his coaching style.


“Now all of a sudden he can’t coach? I don’t think that’s the case,” Strahan said. “I think these guys have to get on the same page. As a coach, you can only do so much. You’ve got to have some guys who are your leaders who control the situation and police each other.


“As a player you’ve got to respect your teammates and yourself to not do some of the things that have been done of late to get the team in trouble, get them down or get them penalized. And a lot of that is on the players, not the coach because he’s a very disciplined coach who wants to win. ‘Everybody wants to be coached,’ and all the sayings he used to put up and all of the quotes, I look back now and I think he was right, a hundred percent right. I hope it works out and I hope these guys respond.”


Strahan saw how he and his teammates responded once Coughlin “relaxed on fining guys because their socks are a little too short and not long enough.” That was three years ago when Coughlin decided to show his human side to the players, the media and, well, to pretty much everyone during a complete image overhaul.


But Strahan said Coughlin never relaxed his standards on what he asked of the players on the field. His expectations, Strahan said, were never lowered. And now, having stepped away from the game, Strahan realizes why.


“I had a feeling, with a lot of stuff he wanted you to do and with a lot of the things he tried to put into your mind, he wasn’t saying them for himself,” Strahan said. “A lot of stuff he was saying were life lessons. Lessons a lot of the guys, when they’re out of the game of football, will look back and will appreciate. That to me is a sign of a coach who really cares about you when you didn’t think he did.


“When you leave the game, you actually think about what he was saying and that it really helps your life after. That’s what he’s trying to do. But his coaching style hasn’t changed that much.”


* * * *


The way Strahan was fawning over Coughlin and his passion for leadership, one would think he was really missing the game of football. And one would be correct – to a point.


“I don’t miss it enough to come back and play,” Strahan said with a laugh. “Do I miss football? Yes. Do I miss the guys? Absolutely, one hundred percent. Do I miss the physical competition? Absolutely. But do I miss waking up on Monday after a game? Nah, not at all, not at all.


“But do I wish I could come in the locker room, suit up and come out of that tunnel like Superman and try to inspire the Giants to play better? Absolutely.”


Giants VP of communications Pat Hanlon, in wrapping up the call, then noted Strahan clearly doesn’t miss training camp.


“Everybody gets on me about missing training camp,” an exasperated Strahan replied. “I missed one training camp in 15 years. I deserved that.”


He then added, “And to be honest, I would have missed two because I wasn’t coming to that last one, either.”


* * * *


Strahan sounds like he’s trying to negotiate a way out of his halftime and postgame show responsibilities with Fox to attend Sunday night’s Ring of Honor ceremony.


“It’s kind of hard being here on the West Coast having the Fox show, especially this week when our second game we have is Redskins-Eagles,” Strahan said. “Wouldn’t that be something, if two NFC East teams keep me from coming?”


* * * *


And finally, the best of the rest of Strahan’s conference call. Not surprisingly, he was talkative, informative and entertaining:


(On the Giants right now)

“When you watch on TV, you see a team with talent, but you also see a team that misses opportunities and doesn’t capitalize on talent they have. And they’re not the only ones. This past week was the first time the Cowboys did it. And for the Giants, it’s one of those things, for every team you have a very short window of opportunity. And whenever you have that window, you’d better take advantage of it. And in the case of the Giants, it’s not so much them losing games. Good teams lose games. That happens sometimes. You lose close games, sometimes you get blown out. It’s the way that they’re losing. You just want to see a team that may be losing but they’re competitive, where you can look and say, ‘Okay, this is a reason and that’s a reason.’ But for the Giants, when I look at the games, I go, ‘It seems like they’re coming unraveled at times they usually are able to handle it.’ You can’t get down a little bit in the game and give the other team that momentum to finish you off. You have to take that back and right now they’re not taking that back. They have a lot of new guys out there but somebody has to stand up at some point and kind of take control of the team as a player. Coaches can only do so much. That’s something I truly learned. A coach is great; I had three great coaches and all three of them were winners, but the players really run the team. So the players are the ones that really have to set that mindset in practice and in games and on the field where the coaches don’t have access to you in the huddle in the middle of the game on the field. That’s players and their attitudes and somebody needs to step up and take that role on and not be afraid of it.”


(On what he’d tell this current team if he was the leader)

“You know what, I’d come to work and have fun, first of all. And then, when we come to work on Sundays, the same thing – it’s fun. You put all your hard work in during the week. You have fun. But when you get on that field in practice, you run to the ball, you focus in practice and on your assignments and do all those things so when the game comes around on Sunday, that’s your fun day. That’s the day you go out there and don’t worry about, ‘Okay, I need to put my foot here and my hand there and make sure my technique is right,’ because you put in all that work during the week. So when you get out there on Sudnay, it’s a time to say, ‘Now we put in all the hard work; this is where we get to hit somebody and have a good time doing it.’ You joke, but at the same time, when things aren’t going right, I wasn’t afraid to get down somebody’s throat. And when things were going good, I wasn’t afraid to tell guys, ‘Stop smiling now because it’s not over. We still have another two minutes to go and we’re up by 21 points. I’ve lost games like that before.’ So you have to be able to let guys know this is a job but this is a job you’re very fortunate you have. So put everything into it every day because at some point, you don’t know when it could be, you’re not going to strap up these pads anymore and it’s going to be over and you’re going to miss it. … At one point you’re going to look back and regret if you didn’t put everything into this and enjoy it."

strahana092810.jpgStar-Ledger File PhotoFormer Giants defensive end Michael Strahan says he misses everything about football except the physical toll the game took on his body.


(On who can be a leader among the current Giants)

“To be honest with you, I don’t know. I think (Justin) Tuck can do it, I think Osi (Umenyiora) can do it. I just think Osi’s had too many bad experiences and battling back from injuries and all of that stuff that it’s hard now with him. I know there are guys there who can do it, and they have a lot of new guys I feel can do it from what I know about them from afar. I just hope that, with Antrel Rolle, I just hope because of what he said and because of the scrutiny he’s gotten from it, that it doesn’t make him shy away from being a leader. You guys aren’t going to always write great things, aren’t going to always like what the players say. And you know what, guys can’t worry about that. Who are they trying to please, you? Or are they trying to win football games and get their team inspired. That’s the bottom line, once I stopped caring about what was being written and what was being said about me every day, and the only thing I worried about was the guys in the locker room, that’s when my leadership skills increased."


(On whether the current D-line should be the best in the NFL)

"They have a lot of talent. When I watch them, I’m watching (Mathias) Kiwanuka play well, (Barry) Cofield and all those guys, they’re playing well. When I watch Osi and Tuck, they’re playing well. They’re putting in a lot of effort out there. Sometimes you don’t always have the stats or the numbers, sacks come and go. The shameful thing about playing defensive line is if you don’t have sacks then you’re not playing well. That’s the biggest garbage because there are so many guys getting sacks who really couldn’t play their way out of a paper bag. So I look at the guys and I see them making plays and doing some things or trying, but sometimes the results aren’t there. Should they be the best line in the league? If you go player-for-player, they’re about as talented, if not more talented, than anybody else. But it’s hard to say what you should do; at some point, it happens or it doesn’t. We hit a very hot streak in 2007, where our confidence was at an all-time high. That’s what you need first before anything else – you need confidence. And I think those guys are fighting for it now as a team, not just as a defensive line.”


(On when he felt it click for the ’07 team)

“Probably mid- to later in the season. We had some good games but our consistency was up and down. But then, it got to the point where we had fun and challenged each other. It became a competition to see who could make the most plays, who could make the most tackles, who could get to the quarterback, who could just be the most disruptive, who could get the most compliments in the meeting. It was just the biggest competition, not just in the games but in practice. We had drills, and in the drills we would pit teams together, basically pick guys – ‘I want him, I want him.’ – and we’d go against each other in our drills to warm up. We were competitive at everything we did. That was our fun part and, when we got out there on Sunday, it wasn’t, ‘Okay, I’m going to get five sacks.’ I was like, ‘I’ll meet you at the quarterback. Let’s just be disruptive. Let’s do whatever we have to do to win this game that’s on our back.’ We knew, because of all the work we put in during the week, when Sunday rolled around, we didn’t feel like anybody could mess with us because we knew we were that good when we all played together. When we were individuals, eh, it’s okay. But when we all played together, we knew we were better than anybody else.”


(On the chemistry on the D-line in ’07)

“I think it was something natural for all us. You know what, I was the old guy. I’m the old guy out there looking at these young guys telling them they can’t play with me. And they’re the young guys looking at me and calling me old. So it was like we were all just competing for the sake of our manhood and because that’s just something that’s in us, we’re all competitive. I wasn’t going to let them call me old and they weren’t going to let me show them up. So when we got out there on Sundays … like Tuck and I would always have a little playful banter. He would call me ‘old man,’ and I would say, ‘Okay, I’m old but you just remember as long as I’m here you’ll always be a backup.’ That was our joke. Now, was that true? Could he have taken over, started and done better than me at that point? Yeah, probably so. Osi used to talk about how he was the better athlete than me, better looking than me. All that’s false, but he believed it. We used to go into our defensive meeting and Osi would have rapping contests on Friday. We’d rap about each other. We were able to be serious but yet have fun, do things that brought energy to us and do things that brought us closer as friends. And as a team on a Friday, I would go out and Friday was our day to have fun. It brought us together and we did a lot of stuff off the field together as well that brought us together as teammates and as friends so when we got on the field on Sunday, I wasn’t playing football to play football, I was playing for my friends and guys I felt like were family. And that goes a lot further than just doing a game plan or running around, trying to tackle somebody. It actually had purpose and meaning behind what you were doing.”



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