Coughlin unfazed by late-season turmoil

Tom Coughlin didn't hesitate for a second when he was asked the question. He didn't even appear to blink. And he only needed one word to sum up what he'd do differently if he had this whole, long, tumultuous season to do over again. <BR><BR> "Nothing," he said.

Nobody was surprised at his answer, least of all his players who had a very difficult season of adjustment under their new, disciplinarian, dictatorial coach. It took a while for the Giants to get used to his thick rulebook, his frosty personality, his long workdays, and the pressure he puts on his players. It's safe to say, by all the reports of turmoil, that some of them never did.

But through it all, Coughlin remained an unbending, unyielding man of his convictions, who believes everything should be done his way simply because he's right. He has the full support of the Giants organization, despite his 6-10 record. And no one in the Giants' front office wants him to change a thing.

"He has to be himself," Giants GM Ernie Accorsi said. "I don't tell people how to act. I think he is a good coach. And I'll say this: I have been around a long time and I have never seen a team play harder than this team played. That is a tribute to the head coach. That is his job. People can talk all they want about his personality. His job is to get players to play smart and play hard. I don't know what more you could ever ask of a coach, than to get that kind of effort out of this team."

There is no doubt the Giants played hard for Coughlin, especially in the last three games of the season. And that's something they didn't do at all for former coach Jim Fassel during his miserable final two months. It didn't appear that anybody quit on Coughlin in the locker room, and most players when asked were willing to throw him their support.

But there is also no doubt that a sizeable portion of the locker room falls into one of two categories: Players who hate their coach and want out as soon as possible, or players who worry that Coughlin's tough-love style will eventually tear the team apart. Many players wonder if the Giants will be able to attract any free agents to come play for Coughlin. And many more hope when the offseason program begins in late March that Coughlin learns his lesson and tones his old-school act down.

"It gets tedious," left tackle Luke Petitgout said. "Certainly you get tired of hearing it, just like anything. You're a grown man. It's just like a parent yapping at you. Sometimes enough is enough."

Not everyone feels that way, but even some of Coughlin's staunchest supporters admit he's not for everyone.

"My honest evaluation is you have to have a level of maturity to play for Coach Coughlin," running back Tiki Barber said. "If all you care about is winning then you should come here. Coach Coughlin has a philosophy, and if you buy into it and find ways to be on time and wear a suit and tie and all these things, you realize that all he cares about is winning. If you can deal with that, and you have the level of maturity to deal with that, he won't have a problem with you and you'll have a great time here."

Did anyone have a great time under Coughlin this season? Almost immediately he found dissenters when a group of 7-10 players complained to the NFLPA about rules violations in his offseason workout program – violations that ended up costing the Giants a couple of days of workouts. He also still has a grievance pending for fines he levied on four players right before the Giants' season opener for not being early enough to a team meeting.

He also had a very public spat with linebacker Barrett Green that led to him being relegated to special teams duty for an entire game. Then later in the year he had a similar disagreement with cornerback Will Peterson, who skipped a practice in an apparent protest and was benched for the first quarter of a game. That was followed by a New York Post report in which several unnamed players spoke of a locker room in turmoil. A few days later, in the New York Daily News, several players wondered whether all the apparent turmoil would scare free agents away.

"You worry about that, yeah," receiver Amani Toomer said. "It's a great organization. But what goes on in the day-to-day things, it's just different. It's not like other teams. You've just really got to ask yourself, ‘Is it worth it?' "

Truth be told, whether it's worth it or not likely depends on the Giants' record. In the midst of a 6-10 season that included an eight-game losing streak, it probably doesn't seem worth it at all. But if somehow next season, Coughlin can turn the Giants into winners, does anyone really think the complaining will be as loud?

"I've never been on a losing team where guys aren't complaining," center Shaun O'Hara said. "That's just the way it is. When you're losing everybody gets frustrated, everybody gets tired of it. The biggest thing is people start pointing fingers and people on the outside want to find out ‘Who's fault is it? What's going on?' "

That pretty much summed up Coughlin's feelings on his controversial first season. He is a man focused on winning. He believes in discipline. And he believes that is the key to success. He will not change, adjust or even tweak his philosophies.

Whether anyone likes it or not.

"First of all, in reference to who cares for me and who doesn't care for me, we've lost eight games in a row," Coughlin said before his team rallied with a win in their season finale. "I think sometimes the media needs to look at that. There are frustrations. There's frustration among individual players. I think you see some of that come out at this time of the year.

"Do I pay attention to it? I don't read it, but I do know about it. Does it affect me? It doesn't affect my work at all. It bothers me, but it doesn't affect my work."

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