Tom Coughlin is rarely candid. But the New York Giants head coach began plugging his new book this week, and thus there exists an incentive for the old-school Coughlin to open up and discuss his experiences, his goals and his general thoughts on the Giants.
Tom Coughlin joined Michael Kay on ESPN Radio New York to discuss myriad topics from his time with the Giants thus far, including his relationship with all-time great Michael Strahan, the special feeling he has for the 2011 Super Bowl team, his efforts to improve his image and relationships earlier in his time with the Giants and the difficulties of having to sacrifice good players because of the business aspect of the game. And of course he was asked to chime in on impending restricted free agent Victor Cruz and his partner in crime, Hakeem Nicks. Finally, he addressed Osi Umenyiora’s future, as well as his own.
On his relationship with Michael Strahan going from bad to good:
“We had two very strong-willed people who eventually came to the realization we’re both after the same thing. And some of the things that he accused me of being — ridiculous and idiotic — in the very beginning, he started to say, ‘Hmm.’ … The way that we conducted our business started to sink in for him and it started to make sense. … He was the classic, ‘I got fined because I was three minutes early but I was five minutes late,’ and you know nobody could follow it anyway. But that’s exactly what took place. So Michael and I, over the course of the years — because, first of all, what’s there not to like? He practiced as hard as he could, he ran full speed every day, he was good in meetings, he was great in the defensive line room, he was great as a team captain. He had a magnetic personality, he was a natural born leader. He had played forever and played well, not just against the pass but against the run as well, so what’s not to like? So what we did is, I think it was probably after the ’06 season, he held out one training camp, he came back right on schedule for the start of the regular season, and I formed a leadership council. The leadership council decided at this point in time we would like to elect a captain, instead of having me appoint game captains. So the team elected Michael captain, so Michael was in that responsible role. Then we had the leadership council and he took part in that. And what the leadership council was designed to do was for the players in the council to take my message as best they could back to the players so there would be one understanding of what I was trying to say. He did a great job of that.”
On the 2011 Super Bowl team:
“They were all in. They were probably the best I’ve ever seen. They focused, they paid attention, they listened, they responded, they practiced well. They used to bust my chops about, ‘OK, you’ve gotta be on the line at 2:37.’ They were out there at 2:20 ready to go. One of those type of things. When we got to Indianapolis it was unbelievable the way they functioned and worked and focused and stayed zoomed in on the game. So it was a very, very special team. But one of the things that really struck me … later in life, John Wooden said that the top of the pyramid, which was competitive greatness, he would have substituted love for. Without love, you don’t get to where you want to be. And that started to strike us as we got closer and closer to the Super Bowl. And the week that we were out there, as I was putting my notes together for the night before the big game, the biggest game of a lot of people’s lives, that struck me as something that I felt very close to this team. And I felt like I’m old school, I was raised a whole different way. Sarcasm was part of the way that I was coached as a kid and so on and so forth. But here in this day and age with this group of kids, I never felt closer to ‘em. And so it came to me that that’s what was represented. And I talked about the whole coaching staff loved them for the way that they put their backs up against the wall and came out and performed week in and week out. And I said, ‘I’m man enough to tell you I love you.’”
On working on his image and his relationships with players and the media prior to that 2007 Super Bowl season:
“My wife told me this. Judy would say to me, ‘You know what? They hate ya. You’re gonna have to do something about it. You can’t continue like this.’ … I didn’t read it. I don’t read it as such. But there’s no question that they had animosity towards me, and I had it towards them. But here’s what happened, it was really significant: When Pat [Hanlon] pointed out what we were gonna do, he said, ‘You’re going to have to sit down and talk to each one of these people, the print media people, and you’re going to have to talk about what you like about them. Take the gloves off. What do they not like about you? What do you not like about them? What can you do about it going forward?’ … I’ll never forget Neil Best was waiting for me at 6:30 in the morning and we talk probably an hour and a half. And he brought up a lot of things, I brought up a lot of things. But I was struck by a couple things. One was that these were men who were trying to do a job. I’m a blue-collar guy. They’re blue-collar guys. I was struck by the fact that they wanted to do their job to the best of their ability. … I realized, ‘You know what? These guys are working on a job. I’m in the way of them performing their job to the best of their ability. I’m blue collar, they’re blue collar. I’ve gotta do a better job of treating them with respect and communicating with them.’ And that’s really what happened in that offseason is this got all out in the open, we talked about this. And the changes didn’t stop there, that’s where the leadership council came from. … because I wanted them to realize, ‘Yeah, he is human. He does have some degree of understanding. He’s not gonna sacrifice what his goals are, what his objectives are, what his principles are, what his values are, but in certain ways he can adjust.’”
On having to release veteran contributors like Ahmad Bradshaw, who was cut earlier this offseason:
“Very difficult, very difficult. … When Ahmad came into my office, he’s crying big crocodile tears and I’m crying, and he’s going back and forth with his head from one shoulder to the other. … I love the guy. We locked horns a bunch, but he’s a ferocious competitor and as tough as nails. There are a lot of people that couldn’t even step on the field with his issues, and he wouldn’t even be able to walk on Monday but he’d find a way to do it on Friday and he’d play on Sunday. But just as tough as nails. So that hurt, that really did hurt. … But Ahmad said it best: It’s the business part of the game. As long as you have the collective bargaining agreement and you have a salary cap, decisions are gonna have to be made. And when decisions are made, they’re made sometimes on production, they’re made sometimes on depth, they’re made sometimes because, quite frankly, ownership and management feels like we can’t afford to pay these guys. … If it was up to me, we’d keep them all. But that’s not even a good business sense.”
On Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz:
“Hakeem had a scope on the knee; the knee was sound. Everything was fine, he had to do a little cleanup. So I think he’s gonna come back and be the guy he was two years ago. And Victor, we have the contract issue with Victor. He’s a great kid, he’s local. It’s been a marvelous thing to see this story evolve here as a New York Giant. I don’t wanna see it change and I’m hoping that his people feel the same way.”
On Osi Umenyiora’s status:
“Osi’s a free agent. I’m sure he’s gonna try the market first. I love the guy. He’s come back and played for us and played hard and played through some things as well. He’s one of the outstanding players that have been in our program for the last few years. But it’ll be a business decision for Osi.”
On how much time he has left on the sideline:
“Right now I’m healthy, my wife is healthy. I’m excited about the challenge coming forward. We do deal with it one year at a time; that’s all I’ve ever done. But I’d like to think that we could go on here and, God willing, we’re going to be excited about it.”