By Ernie Palladino
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Don’t be fooled. The main message of zero tolerance for slackers and malcontents remained the same. And that’s just what the Giants need right now, just as they needed it back then, days after Jim Fassel’s last team finished 4-12.
Coughlin spewed fire and brimstone that day. In a speech reminiscent of something General George Patton might have showered on his troops, Coughlin promised a return to Giants pride and, rather unrealistically, a cure for the “cancer” of injuries that kept Fassel’s training room going 24 hours in that final 2003 season.
Though writers often mocked that line, especially during the inevitable periods when Coughlin’s own injury lists grew, there was no doubting its underlying meaning. It struck at the heart of his entire philosophy.
He wanted pros who would focus on the job, not on themselves. He wanted people who could play without complaint.
It got him two Super Bowl rings.
It wasn’t a perfect reign, of course. There were some horribly mean things written about the coach in 2006 as his team struggled to 8-8 and a one-and-done wild-card appearance. Michael Strahan became one of his early detractors before Coughlin won him over. Tiki Barber argued with him and became one of his biggest critics after his career ended.
But it worked for the better part of a dozen years. And if Shurmur holds true to his words, the Giants may just have found Coughlin’s worthy successor, one coach and an interim removed.
Shurmur’s opening remarks contained none of the soaring oratory Coughlin spouted that day. He evoked no visions of a helmeted leader’s harangue before the backdrop of our nation’s flag. No big-screen, George C. Scott moment.
But in a less emotional manner, Shurmur got the same point across as Coughlin did.
“I have zero tolerance for people who don’t compete,” Shurmur said. “I have zero tolerance for people who don’t give effort. And I have zero tolerance for people that show a lack of respect.”
He might well have been addressing Eli Apple, Janoris “Jackrabbit” Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in that statement. Suspensions for conduct detrimental to the team come down to a lack of respect. Giving a desultory wave to receivers on their way to the end zone goes to effort.
Ereck Flowers even contemplating pulling himself out of the final game of the 3-13 wreck that cost both Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese their jobs goes to one’s willingness to compete.
He was also speaking to Odell Beckham Jr., the otherworldly wide receiver who Coughlin and McAdoo allowed to live in an alternate universe where fights on the field, a pre-playoff junket to Florida and an end zone celebration showcasing the glories of canine urination were A-OK.
All of this will end, Shurmur intimated.
Or at least he’s going to try to eliminate it.
Coughlin talked tough. Shurmur not so much. But he wasn’t spreading love and hand-holding, either.
The messages, similar enough, made one think that only style, not substance, separate Shurmur and Coughlin. Both ran on the law-and-order platform. Both are tough on football crime. Both are big believers in discipline.
If that holds true, then Shurmur will at least create an atmosphere for winning. Of course, much other work needs doing — the refashioning of the offensive line with the “big mollies” new GM Dave Gettleman favors, finding a game-breaking running back and shoring up the linebackers and defensive front.
But it all starts with mindset.
Coughlin laid down the law in his first news conference and lasted 12 years with two Super Bowl titles. Some of his players buckled under the discipline, but in time most came to see his point.
Shurmur has a lighter touch. But if his opening remarks truly foreshadow his philosophy of conduct and competitiveness, the Giants may be looking at a quick, disciplined turnaround.
And maybe another Lombardi Trophy to add to the showcase.
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