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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Giant Mistake

The New York Giants announced that they're going to let Coach Tom Coughlin remain on his job for another year. The ownership cited that in talking with players, it was clear to them that Coach Coughlin hadn't lost control of the team. Pundits also have surmised that this ownership doesn't like to fire coaches and perhaps doesn't think that there's a candidate out there who is better than Coughlin.

On "Mike and Mike in the Morning" on ESPN Radio, there was an excellent conversation this morning among Mike Greenberg, Mike Golic and Mark Schlereth regarding Coughlin. That conversation, in part, focused on the players who commented about Coughlin. Those whose names were mentioned were unanimous in their standing behind their coach (among them Jeremy Shockey, Michael Strahan and Antonio Pierce). Anonymous players were quoted as saying that Coughlin was a bad coach whose teams faded down the stretch and who focused on minutiae instead of bigger-picture things. Greenberg was skeptical of the anonymous players, Golic disdainful (because they weren't "man enough" to let their names be used), but Schlereth was surprisingly refreshing and frank about them. Schlereth said that these were the only reliable sources, because those who let their names be used weren't going to say anything controversial and that the anonymous players were going to be telling the truth (I agree).

Here's my take:

1. Getting input from the players was ill-advised at best and stupid at worst. If you sponsored a school breakfast program and gave the kids hot chocolate, chocolate bars and chocolate cupcakes for breakfast, my guess is that if you polled the kids they'd say, "we love it." But elementary schools aren't democracies, and that breakfast isn't nutritious and is guaranteed to have kids suffer from sugar lows and wreak all sorts of havoc on their ability to learn. Analogously, who really cares what the players think about Coughlin, given how dysfunctional the Giants seemed this past season? The team looked undisciplined. Too many players spoke out of turn (including Shockey, Strahan and even Tiki Barber), and there were too many dumb penalties (although a Stanford alum, Bob Whitfield's behavior against the Eagles in the game at the Meadowlands was anything but smart). Sure, the players will say that they support Coughlin -- because they ignored him and ran right over him. Why ask for someone who might suffer less nonsense and even kick a star off the team because he wasn't thinking team first? You know this guy, and you have taken advantage of him. It's just like letting the little ones have chocoloate for breakfast.

2. He's a lame duck. The veterans didn't show sufficient leadership last season to help enforce the discipline, and why should they now? After all, unless the Giants have a great year, this guy is gone. My guess is that if the Giants get off to a bad start, things will deteriorate quickly in New York (even if players are told, "well, still, you're playing for a job next year, so you had better play well."). You don't want to create a lame-duck situation unnecessarily, and the Giants' ownership didn't need to do this.

3. The team was undisciplined. The team needs better mentoring of its quarterback. The team needs a better offensive coordinator than either John Hufnagle (who should not have been let go the way he was before the end of the season, but this treatment was emblematic of an organization that, from the head coach on down, was adroit at throwing team members under the bus) or Kevin Gilbride (who has had a long NFL career but wouldn't surface on a list of the Top 15 offensive coordinators of the past 10 years). Someone needs to tell all wideouts that they should do what other teams do in the off-season -- and go where Eli wants them to to work on routes. Forget Shockey's going "to the U" or Plaxico's going to whatever planet that he invented (it probably sits in the galaxy right near Lovetron, the one that Darryl Dawkins created). The last time I checked, the "U" had its problems in teaching functionality. So do the Giants, and retaining Coughlin won't help things any.

4. Coughlin's comportment. Coughlin is a good man, a knowledgeable football man, and he has been a good coach. But he looked spent, and his histrionics on the sideline reflected poor leadership. You can't act that way with professionals and get away with it. His body language suggested that he was sick and tired of the entire situation and that perhaps it's time for a change. Compare him to Bill Parcells, who looks tired and spent and devoid of the fight that he used to reserve for sportswriters. Parcells needs either a change of scenery (that is, away from T.O. and Jerry Jones) or a change of career (read: retirement). Coughlin won't change, and that's not good for the Giants.

5. The suggestion that there's "no one good enough" to replace Coughlin. Huh? For those of us old enough to remember, in the mid-1970's the Philadelphia Eagles were a bad football team. They had so many coaches from 1966 to 1975 that I can't remember all of them (there was Joe Kuharich, Jerry Williams, Mike McCormack, Ed Khyat, and probably one or two more). At any rate, in 1976 then-owner Leonard Tose approached five different people about coaching the Eagles before settling on his sixth choice, an energetic young coach who had just helped his UCLA squad pull off an upset in the Rose Bowl. His name: Dick Vermeil. The point: there are always great coaches out there waiting to be tapped, and they all don't have to be sitting head coaches at either the college or pro level. Andy Reid is an excellent head coach (okay, not perfect, but very good), and he wasn't a coordinator at the time the Eagles hired him. There has to be someone out there if the Giants were to look in the right places. I don't know whether ownership has suggested this, but if they or anyone out there has, they're just dead wrong.

If you're a fan of anyone else in the NFC East other than the Giants, you should be happy with this move. If you're an Eagles' fan, you have to like the Birds' chances to win the division next year. Why? First, who knows whether Bill Parcells will be back in Dallas, but T.O. once again has proved to be a huge distraction, and perhaps the bloom has fallen of the rose that is Tony Romo. Second, despite all of the money that Dan Snyder has thrown at the Redskins and their coaches, they just aren't that good. Joe Gibbs hasn't been able to rekindle the mojo that made him the best coach on the planet in the 1980's. Finally, the Giants, while they have talent, have some big worries. Will Eli develop? Who will replace Tiki? And can Tom Coughlin really rally this team to an good season? The Eagles, comparatively, have fewer question marks (assuming that Donovan McNabb returns on time).

I know a bunch of Giants fans, and they went into last Sunday's game against the Eagles with mixed feelings. On the one hand, they wanted their hometown team to win. On the other hand, they thought that a loss would have a silver lining -- the termination of Coughlin's contract. To them, they've now lost twice, as they fear that the 2007 season will be a lost season under Tom Coughlin.

And they might well just be right.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a Birds fan, you should feel about Coughlin as I did about John Cooper at OSU and Gerry Faust at Notre Dame -- the longer he stays the better for your team!


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