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New coach rules with an iron fist - The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

New coach rules with an iron fist
Date: 01-07-2004, Wednesday
Section: SPORTS
Edtion: All Editions.=.Two Star B. Two Star P. One Star B

Before the Giants had slid his nameplate onto his office door, Tom Coughlin had muscled his first power play on management, declaring himself Giants' coach and issuing a statement to an Associated Press reporter promising to restore the franchise's 'tradition of physically controlling the line of scrimmage.'

Just the kind of tough, no-nonsense football declaration out of the crusty coach who would move Giants' training camp to Junction, Texas, if Wellington Mara and Bob Tisch could only get out of that agreement with Albany.

Only, there was one problem, Ernie Accorsi countered a little later on Tuesday afternoon.

'It's not just the contract is not signed,' the Giants' GM said.

'There is no agreement.'

This didn't take long, did it? Bear Coughlin was taking over the franchise. So accustomed to complete autonomy in his eight seasons lording over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Coughlin just marched into the Meadowlands and hired himself. Even if this misstep belonged to his overzealous agent, consider it a foreshadowing of conflicts threatening to play out within the franchise.

When the Maras, Tisch, and Accorsi stand shoulder to shoulder with Coughlin today to make official his four-year, $12 million contract, they'll speak reverently of the Giants' way, the separation of decision-making authority born out of the most archaic NFL tradition.

This is fine with him, Coughlin will say. He respects the structure. He can live with it.

Just understand: As much as any coach in the sport, including his mentor, Bill Parcells, Coughlin has a history of craving control.

'I don't need to have that,' Coughlin told the Boston Globe a month ago. 'What I need to have is feeling good about the people who are making those decisions.'

Right, right. Just wait until Accorsi presents him his first Jeff Hatch on draft day, or his buddy Joe Paterno sells him on some slow-footed linebacker out of Penn State. Just wait. This isn't going to be Jim Fassel, understanding that his staying power directly correlated to his general agreeability. Gentleman Jim and his goofy grin are gone. Here comes Terrible Tom and his miserable, menacing way.

He's no Fassel, but chances are, Coughlin had to play the part in the interview process. He is threatening to general managers. Why do you think so few invited him to sit down for interviews? Besides the fact that the rest of the NFL knew it was political posturing on the part of the Giants to say they were seriously considering defensive coordinators Romeo Crennel and Lovie Smith - this was Coughlin's job, all the way - league executives feared Coughlin.

Nobody wanted to get into a power struggle with him. Why bother, when it's just easier to hire someone else.

With little leverage as an unemployed coach, Coughlin was wise to go easy on his personal demands for his next job. Owners hire fired coaches, but they don't hire fired emperors. No past GM/coach gets the dual role on the rebound and Coughlin knew it. Out of work, Coughlin couldn't dare command his past power, especially with his eye on the Giants' job. Coughlin isn't a stranger to the rigid Giants' chain of command. An assistant from 1988 to 1990, he has seen with his own eyes the struggle for player personnel control between Bill Parcells and the late George Young.

Without the promise of power, Coughlin wouldn't leave Boston College for the Giants in 1993. He waited until Jacksonville turned an expansion franchise over to him. Owner Wayne Weaver let Coughlin decide everything top to bottom in the organization. Within two seasons, Coughlin had the Jaguars within a whisper of the Super Bowl. He won with his players, his vision, his iron fist.

Truth be told, Coughlin has a far superior player personnel rsum than Accorsi. In just the Jags' second season, he had them in the AFC title game. He was responsible for everything there. And everyone. Nobody flushed a toilet in the Jaguars' practice complex without checking Coughlin's guidelines for jiggling the handle.

They had four straight winning seasons, including two trips to the conference championship, before Coughlin and ownership's lust to mortgage everything for a Super Bowl capped out the Jags like Layden's Knicks.

This time, they didn't hire this coach to crunch numbers, just bones. Now, Club Gent is officially over at Giants Stadium. Tom Coughlin marched into Giants Stadium, declared himself the coach before his bosses even did, and set one stone-cold, serious tone for his tenure. Maybe he doesn't have complete control of the Giants today, but check back tomorrow. All he knows is one way.


E-mail: wojnarowski@northjersey.com


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