Giant New Year Must Include New Coach

You will hear the rhetoric that accompanies average teams making the playoffs. The Giants will talk about being one of six teams in the race to the Super Bowl. They will say it's anybody's postseason and, sadly, some of their fans will buy into it.

That would be a terrible, terrible mistake.

The only thing more pathetic than the Giants themselves would be their fans drumming up a Super Bowl run. Forget about it folks. It isn't happening.

We all would be much better served taking a peak at the 2007 Giants. And when you pair the ''Giants'' and ''2007'' in the same sentence, only two words should be immediately omitted: Tom Coughlin.

Anything less than two playoff wins should secure Coughlin's departure after three under-whelming seasons in East Rutherford. If there was one thing clear about this foggy season, it's that Coughlin had a terribly loose grip on this locker room. The Giants couldn't have been clearer about their disregard for Coughlin and his militaristic style.

The void in discipline extended well beyond dopey post-game words by Jeremy Shockey, or more well-thought out but just as damaging quotes from Tiki Barber, or Michael Strahan ripping Plaxico Burress on the radio before ripping the TV reporter who dared pursue the story.

Those were all terrible moments, not least because two of the principles involved, Strahan and Barber, are generally recognized as the most important voices in the locker room.

But those episodes only put grumpy faces on a greater problem plaguing the Giants. By now it's safe to say that the behind-the-scenes machinations played some role in the horribly undisciplined activity on the football field.

No ifs, ands or Bob Whitfield head butts about it, the Giants had so many Raiders moments you'd swear Al Davis had taken over the team. The second half of the season included so many dumb penalties and mental mistakes, the Giants looked like they were trying to get Coughlin fired. Five minutes early for meetings? The Giants played like they skipped the meetings altogether, especially the parts dedicated to sound mental approach.

Suggesting the Giants made a conscious effort to get rid of Coughlin would be far-fetched. But do you really think many players want Coughlin to return? Why would they? From day one Coughlin struggled to form a relationship built on mutual respect. The ink was barely dry on his contract when players grumbled about his ways. The upset would have been Coughlin succeeding long-term instead of flashing periods of production.

Once more Coughlin gave us an excellent start followed by an atrocious finish. Remember in 2004, when Coughlin created the Kurt Warner-Eli Manning debacle that led to the Giants losing eight of their last nine games? Those Giants were 5-2 when things started to go wrong.

Remember last season, when the Giants crumbled down the stretch leading to their no-show playoff performance against the Panthers? Remember this year, when the Giants managed to win six of their first eight games before collapsing like a stadium demolition?

Coughlin can't be trusted to run the Giants next season. Assuming ownership does the right thing, it's hard to imagine another team taking a chance on Coughlin as its head man.

The Giants were cruising along this season and last season when injuries hit hard. These were times when coaching leadership had to take an advanced role. These were times when players had to show their loyalty and trust in Coughlin and his staff. These were times, more than any other, when Coughlin had to have a firm hold on the program.

Instead, the Giants went out and played like they couldn't stand their coach. They played like they didn't comprehend, or believe in, a word he said. They played like they couldn't wait for him to get fired.

Coughlin didn't get a lot of help from banished offensive coordinator John Hufnagel. His play-calling lacked creativity and timeliness, and yes Tiki, there were games he should have called Barber's number much more than he did. But Hufnagel's ineptitude falls on Coughlin's lap. Coughlin gave Hufnagel the keys to the offense and Hufnagel kept putting the wrong one in the door.

Hufnagel and Coughlin should have taken a more conservative approach with Manning during his periods of regression. In its simplest forms, that would mean more Tiki and less Eli. More specifically, coaches should have reeled in Manning the way Bill Parcells once did with a Jets veteran named Vinny Testaverde. High-percentage passing and smart play-calling that kept defenses off-balance turned a mistake-prone quarterback into a polished, poised leader who would finish the 1998 season with 29 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

But the Giants kept asking Manning to win games for them when all they needed him to do was manage games. A byproduct was Manning falling in love with throwing to Burress at the expense of getting others involved. Another byproduct was Manning showing he wasn't ready to become an upper-echelon quarterback.

Coughlin's decision to hand over play-calling to Kevin Gilbride wasn't so much a panic move, as many suggested, as it was a necessary means of igniting the offense. Coughlin probably should have made the move a month earlier. But his timing was off, another example of Coughlin's shaky decision-making on and off the field.

The Mara and Tisch families can't possibly allow this guy to return. We all know the affection the late Wellington Mara had for Coughlin. He was the only candidate for the job despite others getting interviewed.

But it's hard to imagine Mr. Mara being anything other than disgusted with this team, the way he was disgusted during Jim Fassel's forgettable final run in 2003.

The Giants couldn't be in worse shape heading into the playoffs. They are undermanned with Strahan done for the season, with Shockey limping around and the offensive line nicked up. They are in even worse shape mentally.

The Giants have had a miserable second half and a coach, going on three full seasons, with the humor of a mountain lion. Time to look ahead to 2007. Pray the year brings a new coach.

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