Straight Talk with Jim Sabo

Coughlin's calm assistants good balance to fiery leader. Obviously, the big news this week is the passing of Wellington Mara. Do you have any remembrances of him you would like to share with us?

I do. There are not many men in sports I would refer to as Mister, but Mr. Mara is at the head of that list. To me, he is worthy of that sign of respect. I viewed Mr. Mara as a man with great compassion and dignity. And when all is said and done and the story of our lives is written, what better traits can one have than those?

Back in the mid-‘80s I was hospitalized with a serious medical problem. Complications from surgery put me in a life or death situation. Obviously, while spending nearly three months lying in bed I had plenty of time to think about my life and examine my own conscience. One of the things that came to mind was my relationship with my father, who had just passed away the year before. One of the things I remember most was the times we went together to Yankee Stadium to watch the Giants play. I never felt closer to my father than I did on those Sundays. Those games created some of the greatest memories I have about being with my father, memories I will never forget.

I don't know why, but I decided to write to Mr. Mara and tell him what those games meant to me. So, one day I wrote him a handwritten letter describing my memories and telling him how I regretted not having built as many memorable moments with my own sons. Within one week, Mr. Mara responded with a letter and the opportunity for us to get season tickets again. You would not believe how much that picked up my spirits. I know that his act of kindness helped speed my recovery. I will always be grateful to this compassionate, dignified, family man. Our family will miss him very much. Godspeed Mr. Mara.

What will the impact of his passing be on the league in general and the Giants' specifically?

Mr. Mara has been described as the conscience of the NFL. As more and more of the fathers of the league leave us, the NFL becomes more in the hands of the Jerry Jones and Daniel Snyder type owners. These are the owners without the foresight of what is best for the league and whose major concern is lining their own pockets with cash. Do you think for one minute that the league would have revenue sharing today if it were left to owners like Jones and Snyder? There would be no Green Bay or Tennessee or Jacksonville and others where the markets are so small they could not sustain themselves. The NFL would be exactly like Major League Baseball where the rich survive and the so-called small market teams have no hope of winning. Mr. Mara was the voice of reason. Mr. Mara was a true sportsman. He was passionate about winning, but he also recognized and embraced competition.

As far as the Giants are concerned, they appear to be in good hands with John Mara. He's been active and involved with the Giants operation. Our hope is that the apple didn't fall far from the tree. It is our belief that in this case it didn't. Just being around Mr. Mara for so long, John had to absorb many of the same ideals and knowledge of how to run the team with dignity.

Let's change the subject and talk about the state of coaching. What is your overall assessment of the Giants' coaching staff?

Our first observation is that things have calmed down a great deal from last season. There does not seem to be nearly as much turmoil as we had in the past. With the exception of the one hiccup in San Diego when Plaxico Burress was benched, things appear to be going smoothly. That really is a good sign because it clearly indicates that the players are beginning to buy into Tom Coughlin's message and methods.

Turmoil between coaches and players is never a good thing, so it was important that it got squared away. The significant thing here is that it was the players that changed. They realized it was either going to be the coach's way or the highway. We have never been in favor of the so-called "player's coach." The latest example of that type of coaching, where the head coach wants to be friends with the players, is Mike Tice and the Minnesota Love Boats. While trying to be a "good guy," Tice let his team spin out of control. Anything is possible in this day and age, but could you ever imagine that type of thing happening with the Giants? We would bet the ranch it wouldn't.

What's your take on the assistant coaches?

Originally, when Tom Coughlin put his staff together last year, it appeared that he had to settle in some areas because his first choices were not available. We were always under the impression that he would upgrade the staff as he went along, but there have not been a lot of changes so far. Continuity is a good thing and we can see that it is beginning to work here.

An interesting dynamic appears to be growing with the staff. One thing we believe is essential is a good balance between coaches. Tom Coughlin is a firebrand. He's a motivational coach. Many times that type came from the assistant ranks. Of recent vintage they had Denny Marcin and before him Lamar Leachman. They were fiery guys, the yellers and screamers if you will. The balance to that are the nurturing coaches, the technicians who can coach players up. The team tells you what you need. Some players need a kick in the butt; others need an arm around the shoulder. Players respond in different ways; that's why coaching balance is so important. The ideal assistant coach is one who can be both motivational and also be an "X and Os" type coach. That however is very rare.

The other essential is to have players who can lead. Nothing is better than when players constructively critique other players. On this team that leadership has to come from guys like Tiki Barber and Michael Strahan. Jeremy Shockey could become one of those leaders; we've seen marked improvement in his maturity. Eli Manning is starting to show it as well, but his personality is such that it may not be a natural thing for him to do. We saw some of it when Burress failed to lay out for a ball against the Broncos and the pass was picked off. Manning showed his displeasure on the field, but what would have been even better is if he made a point to say something to Plax when they got to the sideline. Bill Parcells had guys like George Martin and Maurice Carthon who could go to the players and help get the coaches' ideas across.

The most important thing Coughlin can do is develop players like that and Barber and Strahan are the most logical choices. We believe he has those type coaches on his staff too. Guys like Mike Sweatman, John Hufnagel, Tim Lewis and Mike Pope all have styles that are dissimilar to Coughlin. That's where the balance comes in and can be effective.

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