‘From the Pressbox’
By Ernie Palladino
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Ernie is the author of “Lombardi and Landry.” He’ll be covering football throughout the season.
The day after the Redskins debacle three games ago, the players were expecting Tom Coughlin to come in ripping and roaring about how the heck a team in the running for a postseason spot play so horribly for so long a time.
Instead, he walked into the meeting room with a bag full of positives. He didn’t talk a lot about the previous game, preferring instead to preach that their playoff hopes hadn’t changed, that winning in the final two games would take them into the tournament.
So why no fire?
“Because I know the team,” Coughlin said Wednesday as the Giants began preparation for MetLife Stadium’s first playoff game in its brief history Sunday against the Falcons. “I know the people.
Did he lay off because he knew the riot act would only further demoralize his bewildered squad?
“Obviously I felt that way,” he said. “It’s not the first time I’ve done it that way.”
His players’ response — dominant victories over the Jets and Cowboys — not only got them into wild-card weekend, but underlined the difference between the coach in East Rutherford and his green-clad counterpart in Florham Park.
Coughlin knew what his players needed at a critical time in the season. Rex Ryan, by his own admission, sat unknowingly by as toxicity overcame the locker room.
Perhaps it’s a function of Coughlin having had the advantage of learning under Bill Parcells, whom he served as wide receivers coach from 1988 through the Super Bowl championship season of 1990. Parcells was often cagey like that, often saving his most blistering critiques of his team for the less-than-artistic victories rather than the unexpected and ill-timed letdowns.
This in no way demeans Ryan’s former bosses in Baltimore, Brian Billick and John Harbaugh. Both were and are outstanding coaches, but neither approaches the mental workmanship of the master mind-bender, Parcells. If Coughlin indeed ripped a page out of his old boss’ book, he couldn’t have stolen from a better one.
While he was at it, Coughlin asked for increased peer pressure from his veterans.
Parcells used to do that, too. He’d have his “guys” in the clubhouse; leaders like Harry Carson, Bart Oates, Phil Simms. Somebody stepped out of line, Parcells would pay a visit to one of those guys, sit down with him, and tell him to straighten that somebody out, and quick.
It worked well enough to lead the Giants to two Super Bowl victories in five years.
If the Giants get past the Falcons, it won’t totally be due to Coughlin’s handling of the team. And if they fail to advance for the fourth out of five playoff appearances during the coach’s reign, it won’t be because of that, either. Too many moving parts are involved to pin it on just that, like funny bounces, errant passes, and the defense’s season-long struggles against the run.
The point is, Coughlin made it easier on his team to improve over the last two games. He didn’t chew them out after a bad loss. And at the same time, he never bragged about his players, thereby placing a target directly on their backs.
Winning in the regular season is hard. Winning in the postseason is even tougher. Players don’t need any more pressure than the playoffs already pose.
If Matt Ryan, 1,300-yard runner Michael Turner, Hall-of-Famer Tony Gonzalez, and a defense led by John Abraham and his 9 ½ sacks beats the Giants, it won’t be because their coach offered up any unrealistic expectations.
He’s taken the heat off his team as best he can.
The rest is up to the players.
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