Coughlin opens up

It's all very simple in the world according to Tom Coughlin. You abide by the rules because, well, this football business is all about conformity.

You accept criticism as long as it's productive because, well, isn't this all about trying to get better? And, you don't get all bent out of shape and huffy when your mistakes are pointed out to you because, well, how in the world are you going to improve otherwise?

What passes for common sense to Coughlin was at times met with resistance last season by the Giants, a team that went 6-10 in the inaugural season for the coach who commanded so much of the attention. Now hitting his stride for his second season with the Giants, Coughlin is hoping the focus and discussion will be far less about him and his methods and more about how his philosophy works and not irks. And, oh yes, more about winning.

That's the goal for all concerned, which makes Coughlin no different than any other NFL coach toiling through those exhausting 15-hour days. Of course, the prevailing perception is that Coughlin IS different and after a difficult year of transition, it's a perception Coughlin insists has little bearing in reality.

"A lot of what we do, we have our routine and regardless of how it happens to be from [the media's] standpoint or from the players standpoint, they take to a certain extent some degree of comfort in the fact that they know exactly what to do, when they're supposed to do it,'' Coughlin said recently. "That's football. What I really do have to convince the players of, if you want to go there, is that I've really thought this thing through pretty well and everything I do I think can help us win, I'm not asking you do to something that hasn't been tried and true, and if it is, if it's something that's not I'll be the first one to recognize it. If I don't you're more than welcome to come in, sit down and tell me about it, it will between you and I and guess what, I may not agree with you but you're gonna have every opportunity to tell me and when you get up and leave I don't harbor anything against you. I'm not vindictive, I don't operate like that, I don't have grudges, that's not the way I am.''

A year ago, Coughlin was so busy putting together a coaching staff and getting acclimated to his new surroundings that he barely conversed with his new players. He WAS busy, of course, but some of his distance was calculated, as if to establish an immediate departure from the Jim Fassel regime. Heading into year No. 2, Coughlin's program is already in place and following the first extensive wave of free agency, he agreed to nine separate 30-minute interview sessions with members of the print media over a three-day period.

Did a kindler, gentler Coughlin emerge? Hardly. He's not changing, but he did seek to dispel the pervading notion that he's too demanding, too picky, too petty.

"Just to sit back and say 'This guy is just hard on players,' I disagree with that,'' Coughlin insisted. "You've got 'X' amount of time to do it the way it has to be done and you got to get it right. It's amazing, even our own wives don't really understand what we do and the amount of hours that are involved in it. You can't substitute, 'Oh, I'm gonna go to lunch at this time today.' You don't get a chance to do that, you can't play the shell game, it doesn't work that way.

"It's not really who I am or what I'm all about,'' Coughlin said of the negative image. "For example, one of the big things the players, I hope, have discovered about me is that everything I do is an attempt at trying to find the best way for us to prepare to win. What I'm really interested in is guys who think like I think, in terms of preparation and focus and determination to not be thin-skinned, to go ahead and allow the corrections to take place and to go ahead and say "I can do this better.'

"What I don't like is getting blasted by someone who hasn't taken the time to do the research. I guess you can go downstairs [into the locker room] and find any number of negative things you want to, but doesn't someone have the ability [in the media] to figure out what's important and what isn't? I've asked players, for example, at the end of the year, 'Tell me about all these rules I have that are so hard to handle.' Usually silence. And I'll say 'The hardest one is being where you have to be, when you're supposed to be there, five minutes early? That's the hardest one?' I'm constantly amazed at that.''

In the free agent recruiting game, Coughlin said "not one guy'' confronted him about his methods. The Giants believe they struck gold with the additions of linebacker Antonio Pierce, right tackle Kareem McKenzie and receiver Plaxico Burress, proving once again that money is worth more than reputation.

"There's no personal vendetta here, there's nothing like that,'' Coughlin said. "By the end of the year last year, we're about to play our 16th game, our Saturday night meeting, the whole team was 10 minutes early, every one of 'em was sitting in there.''

Asked if he is willing to meet the players half-way on some issues, Coughlin added "What is it that has to be met halfway? It's not petty, it really isn't. What I do take energy to do is I want to be constant and consistent in corrections and I don't want anybody to take it personal, but that's just the way it is. I want my coaches to be thorough that way. If I was a player I'd want to know that somebody out there is looking out for me to make sure I'm doing things the way I should be doing them.''

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