Standing Tall

When you're one of the league's top wide receivers, it's obvious that your vision is never in doubt. Yet during an offensive meeting last season, Plaxico Burress had to do a double-take. Yes, indeed, his detail-oriented coordinator John Hufnagel had on two different shoes.

"We were watching film and I looked down and he had two different shoes on," Burress laughed. "I looked again and he had a gray shoe and a white shoe, but it was the same Reebok running shoe. I looked at (Amani Toomer) and he started laughing and Toom told him he had on two different shoes.

"He said ‘Oh, I didn't have my glasses on.' That was real funny."

However, fast forward a year and you'll find something not so funny as another Giants star – Jeremy Shockey – criticized the Giants coaching staff, in particular the offense.

Hufnagel, in his third year as New York's offensive coordinator, didn't want to continue a war of words with his tight end.

"It's something that Tom (Coughlin) has commented on with the player," Hufnagel said. "I just keep coaching. The less talk about it the better."

When asked if he was bothered by Shockey's slinging, Hufnagel responded, "It's irrelevant."

Hufnagel directed the third-highest scoring offense in the league last season and the second-highest in Giants history, a unit that scored 422 points, up from 243 the year before he took over.

Those close to him say he hasn't been affected in the least by the recent public criticism.

"John's been fine," RBs coach Jerald Ingram said. "He's just trying to make sure that they stay focused and that all the little details get handled. He's trying to stay as steady as an offensive coordinator can be. As a coach, you understand that they're frustrated. It's just like your wife yelling at you – you don't know why she's yelling, but she is. So you just ignore what was said.

"That's what makes John a true professional. He handles things very well. He's been there before as both a player and a coach and he has enough experience to realize it's just frustration. You don't take those things personally."

Tight ends coach Mike Pope agreed that Hufnagel has nothing to prove – nor worry about.

"He's a very, very, very solid and smart coach," Pope stated. "He sees everything that's going on. He's so rock solid and steady that it hasn't affected him at all. He has so much confidence from his playing and coaching days that he knows what he's doing. He knows this offense inside and out and everything that's going on in it.

"You're only insecure if there's something to be insecure about. He's doing his job and he's doing it extremely well."

With the offense hardly firing on all cylinders in the early going before the bye, some could take issue with Pope's statement. However, Hufnagel doesn't agree that the supposed slow starts are an issue.

"We had a horrible start against Seattle – there was no question about it," he said. "Against Philly we scored on our opening drive. Then we got the ball on the 34-yard line the next time we got the ball and we drove the length of the field again and unfortunately we missed a field goal. The third time we got the ball we did score the touchdown. And so I hate to say that all three games are a slow start, just that the last one was horrible."

In the NFL's version of ‘you're only as good as your last game' the bye week was not a good time to be a Giants coordinator. Tim Lewis came under intense fire for how the defense has failed to come together. As for Hufnagel, well, no one much cares how good his offense performed the last two seasons right about now.

"There is only one true number that counts, and that is that we have won one game and lost two," Hufnagel said. "We need to find the formula to get back to winning football games. And the number that I am concerned with is the amount of turnovers that we have offensively. And we have to fix that problem and find the answer to the problem. We know the answer – it's just as I said, secure the ball, protect the ball, don't put our defense in bad situations."

Hufnagel has made a career out of keeping himself and his team out of bad situations. An All-American quarterback at Penn State in 1972, Hufnagel played three seasons with the Broncos before embarking on a 12-year CFL career. His claim to fame as a coach came in 2003 when he was the QBs coach for Tom Brady and the Super Bowl champion Patriots.

Through it all, it's been Hufnagel's attention to detail that set him apart.

"He's one of those offensive guru stickler types that pounds home the precision part of it," veteran OT Bob Whitfield said. "He's more of a tactician type of guy versus a rah-rah guy that runs up and down the sideline. You know that if your (butt) is an inch away from where it's supposed to be, he's going to let you know about that inch."

"He's one of those coaches that just wants to get his job done," Burress added. "He always tries to put everyone in the right position. He's kind of a quiet, perfectionist type."

His players certainly appreciate the fact that Hufnagel is willing to stand up and take the blame when applicable.

"When we give him our all even if things don't go our way, he recognizes that and tells us he appreciates it," Burress said. "That makes you want to go out and do well for him.

"One thing that he does is takes the blame on himself. A lot of men – and a lot of coaches – are not willing to do that. He'll break down plays in meetings and point out where he was wrong. I respect him for that."

Whitfield agreed.

"He's going to let us know when it's him, and he's going to let us know when it's us," he said. "That's a good cohesion to have between players and coaches. Then you can always trust each other. If he puts you in a bad situation by maybe an error in judgment on a play, he'll tell you that he (screwed) that call up. I respect that about him."

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