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Giants' Coughlin has mellowed but retains that old-school approach

COMMENTARY

February 03, 2008|David Steele | Baltimore Sun

PHOENIX -- The go-to theme for any tale about Tom Coughlin during Super Bowl week has been this: The New York Giants coach has changed.

He has softened his demeanor, toned down his approach to his players and bonded better, and they've taken their transformed relationship to the Super Bowl.

Right? Sure. Until Plaxico Burress started making predictions.

Whether the storm stirred up by Burress' claim of a 23-17 Giants victory over the New England Patriots has altered Coughlin's new philosophy is anyone's guess. But on the surface, it sure looks as if the gruff Coughlin who appeared to be whip-cracking his way out of a job early this season is back. (Illustrative New York tabloid back-page headline from Wednesday: "Tom to Giants: Quiet!")

This much is certain, though: Since Burress spoke up, Coughlin has veered from answering questions about his "new" attitude to offering chilly responses to Burress' prediction. Clearly, it's not a matter of Coughlin being either one or the other. He's both. He wouldn't be the coach he has been this season if he weren't.

That's why he patiently explained, time and time again, what in his mind was different about how he has worked with the Giants' players this season as opposed to past years, when they underachieved and rebelled against him. Remember, he infamously declared that for team meetings on time was late and five minutes early was on time.

Had his philosophy really changed? "It's the same, but I think you grow, and you learn, and you adapt and you adjust," Coughlin said. "And you'd better do that. That is what this game is all about. I think this year, I've tried to do a much better job of communicating to the players, through our leadership council [of veteran players], what my intentions were -- 'What is my thinking?' not just, 'What are we going to do?'

"And wherever I could, I would ask for input on certain things. This year is the first time I've done that."

Sounds like a major shift. (It also sounds similar to what Brian Billick was ordered to do with the Ravens by owner Steve Bisciotti after the 2005 season, to a fairly successful result the next year). But Coughlin said it wasn't as hard as it's been made out to be publicly.

"I made up my mind I was going to do it, and the players were not going to feel uncomfortable because of me," he said. "I was going to make them feel comfortable, and feel that they could contribute, and they did, and they have."

The Giants' players feel so comfortable about it, they don't hesitate to give Coughlin his due credit. They don't minimize his changes at all. Michael Strahan said that it was great enough that the coach should be rewarded right away with a contract extension.

"Eli [Manning] has played well, Brandon Jacobs, along with all the guys on these podiums, have played well," Strahan said from atop his own perch on media day Tuesday. "But if [Coughlin] didn't change, we wouldn't be here."

Of course, as much as Burress' mild disruption got under Coughlin's skin, it can easily be perceived as proof of how confident the Giants are in themselves, in one another and in their coach. Burress, in fact, personifies much of that, as this season he became the productive, tough, reliable receiver he had seemed capable of being, rather than the flighty, fragile, potential-laden one he had been.

Progress like that, individually and collectively, ought to lead naturally to a statement like Burress' -- at least Burress sees it that way and justifiably so.

"You think of some things in life, as far as professional sports or playing in this game -- it's OK to want to win, think big and dream," he said.

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