On the heels of a devastating 2003 season with losses stemming from porous special teams, injuries, penalties, and a team flat out quitting on its coach, the Giants brass knew right away what they were looking for in a coach.
And they didn’t have to look far.
Tom Coughlin had been unemployed for only a year before the Giants came calling for him in desperate need of a disciplinarian. General Manager Ernie Accorsi was so confident he would revive the Giants bleak standing that he told Wellington Mara, “If we don’t win with this guy, I’m taking up tennis.”
A bold statement coming from a man whose team he had built was in complete disarray and would have to go under a rebuilding phase. But Accorsi, wise to the ebbs and flows of NFL life, knew Coughlin was the exact man to rebuild his player personnel around.
Coughlin’s first press conference as Giants head coach came before the inevitable changes, but his stance on transforming the Giants was clear.
His initial statement was to restore pride into an organization that was three years removed from a devastating Super Bowl loss that the team as a whole, seemingly, was unable to recover from.
Before he was even asked a question, he immediately declared that they would predicate their offense off the success of the running game, and attain defensive success as long as their big guys hold down the opponent’s rushing attack.
He reiterated that turnovers and costly penalties would be unacceptable by explaining that in today’s NFL, “More games are lost than are won.”
A short while after the press conference, he surprisingly blasted the coach he succeeded by stating the injuries suffered under Fassel’s regime were a cancer, and were more of a mental thing than anything else.
Tom Coughlin came into this job in 2004 with a vision. Through the majority of the next three seasons, this vision was denied by hostility in the locker room, an unwillingness to adapt from the softer Jim Fassel to the stricter ways of Tom Coughlin, and the underachieving of prize-quarterback Eli Manning.
Coughlin could do little more to repair the third variable in the equation. Manning was progressing at a much slower rate than the fanbase and media was expecting, and suffered through constant criticism.
However, the egos and hesitance to accept the new philosophies at the Meadowlands were an uphill battle for Coughlin. Mere months into Coughlin’s stint as a head coach came a controversy in which a group of anonymous players reported to the NFL Players’ Association complaining of workouts that were simply too vigorous. Clearly, the stench of Jim Fassel had not yet left the facility.
Coughlin’s insistence to demand all 53 players adhere to his rules protruded to even the persona of Michael Strahan, who arrived two minutes early to an 8:25 meeting, but according to Coughlin’s watch was three minutes late. The two later engaged in a heated argument and the subject was quickly put to rest
Nonetheless, the hostility remained. Through the next three seasons, personalities such as Tiki Barber, Plaxico Burress, Jeremy Shockey, and Michael Strahan participated in a conflict of some sort that involved disagreement with Coughlin’s policies. The issues were typically kept quiet, but the dissension between players and coach were blatant.
Through all of the complaining, the benefits of Coughlin’s principles have been apparent. They are currently riding a streak of four straight playoff appearances. After stressing the importance of special teams in his introduction, the Giants led the NFL in field position in 2004. While they haven’t led the league since, they have been consistently in the top 10 in this category.
Through Coughlin’s first four seasons as head coach, the Giants had just 101 turnovers in 64 games. The Giants increased on this exponentially in 2008, averaging less than one turnover a game through the regular seasonplacing them with only seven other teams in NFL history.
One of Coughlin’s stated goals was to instill the confidence in his team that they could win games in the fourth quarter. In the Giants Super Bowl season, the Giants won a multitude of close games, and lost only one game by single digits: the 38-35 season finale against the Patriots.
The list of Coughlin coming through on his initial promises can go on. The adversity he and the team persevered through to become one of the league’s elite is a reflection of Coughlin’s confidence in his philosophies.
He had to alter some of his convictions as a coach to propel the Giants to greatness, but even prior to those changes he had still done a marvelous job taking a team that had lost eight straight to end a season into a playoff caliber team.
Coughlin’s turbulent ride as a head coach has been both frustrating and frivolous. However, it is imperative to recognize him for accomplishing his stated goals from Day One.
Way to go, Coach.