Coughlin Enlists Help

If the Giants locker room this season devolves into an environment where negative energy thrives, where distractions run rampant and finger-pointing ensues, if the Giants inner sanctum becomes a place where the losing touch leaves fingerprints for all to see, let the blame fall where it surely will deserve to fall.

Directly on the players who reside inside.

There will be those who again thirst for Tom Coughlin's head and condemn him for a poisonous atmosphere, even though Coughlin this season has taken an unprecedented step (for him) to keep unrest on the other side of the door and give harmony room to grow. In the past, Coughlin no doubt was guilty as charged when it came to turning a deaf ear on the emotional needs of his team. Personal interaction and relationship building are not his strengths but he has looked his weakness in the eye and decided to change rather than stubbornly carry on.

New in year No. 4 for Coughlin as head coach of the Giants is a 10-man Leadership Council he created to serve as a liaison between himself and his players. At other times in his coaching career Coughlin has assembled informal groups to help in dealing with team issues but this is the first time he's ever formally gone so far as to hand-pick players he trusts and respects and give them significant responsibility.

"I think it was a tremendous gesture on his part to allow us the opportunity to take a little bit of ownership in this team,'' said center Shaun O'Hara, one of the chosen 10. "Allow us to have some sort of input. Obviously the inmates aren't running the prison. But it kind of makes us feel like it is a little bit more our team, we're all working together, as opposed to player vs. coach and coach vs. player.''

Coughlin said he wanted to put together a council consisting of players who represent "a good cross-section of the team in terms of experience, position and personality.'' He's done just that, going with four defensive players, five players from the offensive side of the ball and one punter, Jeff Feagles, who at 41 years old is entering his 20th NFL season and has seen it all.

There are obvious choices such as O'Hara and linebacker Antonio Pierce. There's an ultimate team player in left tackle David Diehl. There's a rising young star in defensive end Osi Umenyiora and a rising younger star in linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka. Eli Manning, by virtue of his role as the quarterback, is a member of the group. So is Michael Strahan, who despite his recent holdout is a forceful presence among his peers. Receiver Amani Toomer is a calming force and a proven veteran who made the list, as did tight end Jeremy Shockey, who in his own firebrand way deeply cares about winning.

"It's a good mix, and a good group to represent the team,'' right guard Chris Snee said.

And it didn't take the Leadership Council long to make an impact. Their first official act was to convince Coughlin to replace the changing of the team captains for every game to the nomination of permanent season-long captains. The chosen five were Manning, O'Hara, Pierce, Strahan and Feagles.

"I think it is one of the biggest honors you can get as far as football," Pierce said. "You talk about MVPs, you talk about all that stuff, but to be voted team captain by all your peers, the coaches don't have anything to say about it really, I think it is an accomplishment. It is really humbling."

Coughlin considered creating this council for several months and late in the summer, while at the team hotel prior to the preseason game against the Jets, he instructed the 10 players to meet with him. That's when he informed them of his intentions.

"The only way we succeed is if we function as one and we can't function as one unless we're on the same page,'' Coughlin explained. "This council is another tool that we, the players and me, can use to make sure we are communicating efficiently and that the proper information is being communicated. In both directions. It's a two-way street.''

No one was forced into service. "He gave us the opportunity to get out if we don't want to be on it,'' Feagles said. "I'm impressed with it, it all goes with this whole theory that Tom is changing; he's opening it up a little bit to being able to have players go to him with suggestions. He can always say no.''

The goal is not for Coughlin to continually say no. Members of the council will be able to air whatever gripes they have directly to Coughlin – "We're actually getting some face time with the big guy,'' O'Hara said – and Coughlin will be able to circulate his message throughout the locker room by way of having established veterans making the delivery.

"He's trying to do as best he can to keep this team a team and not have the problems that we had last year with guys bickering and arguing and calling each other out,'' Pierce explained.

"What we're hoping to accomplish with it is the players who are aspiring to be leaders on this team can handle situations on our own and not bother Coach with issues we should be able to handle,'' O'Hara said. "Not that we're going to be initiating any Code Reds or anything, but it's kind of allowing us to try to handle things amongst the players.''

Whenever the subject of team unrest arises, Coughlin often counters with a singular message: My door is always open. He now finally realizes his availability is not enough.

"Tom said to us his door has been open for a long time,'' Feagles said, "and nobody walked through it, basically. Guys are sometimes scared to go up there, younger guys, we have a lot of young guys on this team.''

If that's the case, then that young player can air his gripes or concerns to one of the members of the council, who then will relay the message directly to Coughlin. Conversely, if Coughlin wants to send a message he now can ask the council to hammer it home.

Long ago, Bill Parcells had "his guys'' in the locker room who cleaned up any mess created by the players. In his own way, Coughlin is attempting the same thing.

"Sometimes players are more receptive if other players come to speak to 'em,'' Snee said. "He's kind of changing his ways a little bit, and I think it's good for the team.''

This won't be all fun and games. Off-field turmoil and rampant distractions wreaked havoc with the Giants last season. To avoid a repeat performance, Coughlin has enlisted the help of 10 Giants he hopes can make a difference.

"I appreciate the fact you're thought of in that light,'' O'Hara said, "but at the same time there's a responsibility that comes with it. It's not just let's go up there and crack open bottles and waste time. It's something for the betterment of the team. The responsibility's going to come on us now to put that fire out before it really starts to grow.''

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