The Young Dinosaur
Tom Coughlin looked no worse for the wear at the recent league meetings. Despite coming off back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since the end of his Jacksonville tenure (when he had three straight from 2000-02), the Giants’ head coach appeared relaxed as he noshed on breakfast and swapped tales of high technology with reporters, including his distrust of Apple’s Siri.
But after going 7-9 in 2013 and 6-10 a season ago, Coughlin is anything but tranquil heading into off-season workouts.
“How does it sit with me? It doesn't sit well,” he said. “It's very frustrating, very difficult to live with, quite frankly, and the losses stay with you forever. So that's where I am.”
Coughlin, at 68 the oldest head coach in the NFL, didn’t give much if any thought to retirement before his 12th season with the Giants, mostly because of the recent disappointment.
“It's more the competitive aspect of it, not finalizing things,” he said. “It's just the nature of disappointment and the competitiveness and wanting to do something about it and realizing the only place you can is on the field. You can't talk about it, you've got to win on the field. And seeing things that quite frankly in the past we've been very good at, now [that we’re not] it just drives me nuts. Why isn't our two-minute offense better than it is? We've been top of the league for years in that area. And there were some games this year when there was enough time left on the clock. Dallas! You have a minute to go, take the ball down and score and win. So those things. Those things are frustrating.”
This will be the second season that offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo gets to work with Eli Manning and install his scheme. The return of slot receiver Victor Cruz (torn patellar tendon) should help immensely, and the Giants signed former Patriots running back Shane Vereen to help stress opposing defenses.
One the defensive side, Coughlin fired coordinator Perry Fewell and brought back Steve Spagnuolo, who was in charge of the Giants’ defense when they won the Super Bowl in 2007. This is one of those rare instances when a seated coach fires coordinators in back-to-back seasons but retains his job (thanks to astute readers for pointing out that Lovie Smith also did it, with the Bears). Coughlin replaced both in 2007 and the results spoke for themselves.
Coughlin has been impressed with how Spagnuolo has grown as a coach after being the head coach of the Rams and then an assistant with the Ravens (Coughlin didn’t mention Spagnuolo’s one-year stint with the Saints when he was coordinator when Sean Payton was suspended for the bounty scandal).
“He's definitely grown with his experiences,” Coughlin said. “Defensively he's expanded his thoughts how he believes it should be played, etc, etc. All good things. But the basic individual, with the energy and enthusiasm and the excitement, spontaneity, personality, the cooperative aspect way in which he goes about his business, those are all the same.”
There has been change with the Giants, but Coughlin will stay true to his beliefs that go back to when he was an assistant with the Giants under Bill Parcells, coaching with the likes of Bill Belichick.
“You constantly learn, you're constantly aware, you're constantly trying to decide what's best for your team on a daily basis and you make your decisions based on that,” Coughlin said. “I don't have a problem with change as you well know. I'm not one of those that says, 'This is the way we did it yesterday, we're not going to change.' Whatever is in the best interest of our team, and I'm convinced of it, I will openly embrace it. The team that just won the Super Bowl [Belichick’s Patriots] has done it the way things were done in the NFL for years.
“I'm not sure what has to be validated or what doesn't other than the fact that winning is the bottom line however you do it. I don't have any problem with the way in which some people are preparing. I don't have any problem with that at all. I certainly don't think that necessarily says it hasn't been done right for a lot of years. When you stop and think about where this thing has come, we used to wear pads twice a day. Now it's almost criminal.
“I don't believe in throwing the ball every down. I understand what you have [as far as talent], but I still believe in balance and I think the physical nature and aspect of the game is still very prevalent, and I think you better be able to stop the run. The only way you can get the proper amount of opportunities is to practice that way, make sure that your defensive team has an opportunity to see the running game on a consistent daily basis in training camp. I'm not going to leave that aspect of it.”
So expect the same Coughlin-led Giants, and the same style of play that made them two-time Super Bowl champions under his watch.
“I'm one of the younger dinosaurs,” he said. “I'm excited about what I do, you know?”
1. According to Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti told season ticket holders that the NFL was “stupid” not to have a domestic violence policy before high-profile incidents arose last year. “I think that we were pretty stupid not to recognize domestic violence as a category by itself,” Bisciotti said in a conference call. “No other infractions—failed drug tests, bar fights or DUIs—nothing to me should rise to that level. I'm embarrassed to say that they were lumped together. So, I'm happy that we found ourselves comfortable taking that categorically and putting it at the top of the list as something that is just unacceptable.” Who put the new, “strengthened” personal conduct policy in place in 2007? Roger Goodell, one year after becoming commissioner.
2. At nearly the same time owner Robert Kraft was testifying at the trial of former tight end Aaron Hernandez, who is accused of murdering Odin Lloyd and is awaiting trial for another double murder, the Patriots made a contract offer to former Raiders, Ravens and Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain, according to the Boston Herald. The same McClain who settled a lawsuit from a fellow Alabama student who alleged McClain intentionally hit him with a car in 2008? And the same McClain who was convicted of disorderly conduct in a gun-related incident (the latter is being appealed)? That’s surprising, to say the least.
3. Dallas has done such a good job getting its financials in order after years of careless cap management that it was disappointing to see them exercise the option that converted $16 million of Tony Romo’s $17 million base salary this season into a bonus that added $3.2 million to their cap through 2019. It won’t be a problem should Romo, who turns 35 later this month, stay healthy through the 2017 season. But if he doesn’t (and Romo had two back surgeries in less than a year following the abrupt end to his ’13 season), the Cowboys are in big trouble. OverTheCap.com has them for $32 million and $19 million in dead cap from Romo in 2016 and ’17.
4. Interesting move by the Broncos and coach Gary Kubiak to trade for Ravens center Gino Gradkowski, who Kubiak knows from his stint as Baltimore’s offensive coordinator last season. The year before Kubiak’s arrival, the Ravens thought they were just fine at center after the retirement of Matt Birk because of Gradkowski’s presence. Things did not go well in 2013, and the Ravens traded for another center in 2014, burying Gradkowski on the depth chart.
5. We shouldn’t care which players attend the draft; it’s their personal choice. But I’m sure the NFL isn’t thrilled that the top two quarterbacks, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota (plus top tight end Maxx Williams), won’t be attending the first “off-site” draft in Chicago. I would be surprised if Park Avenue isn’t kicking around ideas to change this for future drafts. I don’t think there’s any way to mandate attendance, but they could offer substantial appearance fees. Right now, the NFL offers only flights and accommodations, according to one prominent agent. Then the players are subject to several media and fan obligations. “It’s a pain in the butt,” said the agent.
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