EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Go no further than Tom Coughlin if you’re looking for a reason why the New York Giants are in first place in the NFC East heading into their bye week.
The 65-year-old coach has had his team prepared for almost every contingency in a season marked by a lockout that wiped out offseason training, a rash of injuries, an internal dispute pitting Pro Bowler Osi Umenyiora and the front offense, the team’s inability to re-sign a couple key free agents and even a disappointing season-opening loss to Washington.
Through it all, Coughlin has been the constant for the Giants (4-2).
“He is just a model of consistency and to be successful you have to be consistent in the message that you are preaching to your team and they have to be willing to accept it,” defensive end Chris Canty said. “You have to attribute our success to his level of consistency. The message he has been sending has been consistent week-in, week-out. This football team has to respond to that.”
After missing the playoffs the past two years following late-season collapses, Coughlin came into this season preaching about finishing off games.
Three of the Giants four wins have come on late scores and Eli Manning, who has had a terrific season, had them in position to win late against Seattle until a late tipped ball off the hands of Victor Cruz turned into a 94-yard interception return for a touchdown that iced the game for the Seahawks.
It was an embarrassing loss that could have turned the season south for New York.
As he always does on Monday, Coughlin showed the team exactly what it did wrong without sugarcoating anything. He told them to correct the errors and get ready for the high-scoring Bills, who were coming into the game with a 4-1 record.
The Giants put the loss behind them and beat Buffalo 27-24.
“He has been great,” veteran offensive lineman David Diehl said. “For him, a guy whose life revolves around football, I am sure he was running around like crazy during the lockout. When we got here and started football and started training camp, you could see his excitement being back. Like all of us this game is about camaraderie. He has been awesome. He has been uplifting even with all the injuries. He makes sure he keeps the team positive.”
Coughlin quipped the person who might have been the happiest after the players and owners reached a new collective bargaining agreement in July was his wife, Judy, who knew not having a season would have made her husband miserable.
Coughlin was prepared either way. He spent much of June and July reporting to his office and reworking his plans for training camp and the season. Every day, he tweaked something to improve his team’s chances.
Even when the new CBA was reached, Coughlin had to adjust. First it was his practice schedule, which no longer allowed two-a-day workouts. Then it was his roster when tight end Kevin Boss signed with Oakland and Steve Smith went to Philadelphia as free agents.
Instead of complaining, Coughlin simply said “Next up,” even when there didn’t seem to be a quality replacement.
Same thing with the preseason knee injuries to cornerback Terrell Thomas and middle linebacker Jonathan Goff that ended their seasons and the holdout and subsequent knee surgery that sidelined Umenyiora for almost all of training camp and the first three games of the season.
“Players know what to expect,” backup quarterback David Carr said. “Sometimes as players we fluctuate a little bit. We’ve turned the ball over and done some things that make him not look as bright as a coach. But he has been the same steady guy. That’s what is so comforting to me. I have been away and played in places where it is not like that. To know what to expect every time you come in is a blessing as a player because this game is so rollercoaster.”
Giants running backs coach Jerald Ingram has worked for Coughlin for more than 20 years at Boston College, Jacksonville and now with the Giants.
“When you work for Tom or play for Tom, there is nothing wishy-washy,” Ingram said. “He doesn’t pull any punches. He says the same thing every week. He is that old-school guy who will tell you when it’s all said and done, it’s about discipline and doing your job as a professional on and off the field. He will tell you things you don’t want to hear. There are a lot of people who are afraid to do that. He isn’t because he wants you to be better.”
Quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan wishes people got to see the other side of Coughlin — the guy who always finds time for the kids with cancer who show up to watch a practice, or the one who loves to play with his grandchildren, or the man who always finds time for the men and women in the military.
“There are no surprises with him,” Sullivan said. “It’s not like he says ‘Look here’ (to the right) and boom, here comes a left cross. What you see is what you get.”
Coughlin has been influenced in his approach by some of the greatest coaches in the sports, Vince Lombardi and John Wooden.
Many of his little rules were skimmed from the greats, particularly his belief that players should show up five minutes before scheduled meetings. That was borrowed from Lombardi.
Walk into his office and you’ll see a number of books by Wooden, including his work on leadership and his pyramid of success.
The surprising thing about Coughlin is how much he has evolved since taking over the Giants in 2004. He never seemed to budge in his ways in his early years, but there is more give and take.
Coughlin also isn’t averse to learning. Recently he read a Fortune article about late Apple founder Steve Jobs and marked the margins of his copy with his own thoughts which he used to make a presentation to his staff and team.
“There’s no other way to say it – a benevolent dictatorship is what he ran,” Coughlin said of Jobs. “And because of that, the values, the characteristics, the virtues that he brought to the table were allowed to rise. The way in which he dealt with people and the way in which they utilized the brain power of those that they hired and how they recognized them and how they tried to allow those people new to his team to grow and develop. And also the tremendous pride that he had in his work and the way in which he demonstrated disfavor if something wasn’t up to the standards of Apple.”
Coughlin had no doubt Jobs would have made a good coach, adding he would have been smarter than most coaches.
“I’m not sure how the iPad would have been in the huddle, but he probably would have figured out how to get it in,” Coughlin said.
(Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.)