Coughlin's Training Camp Not For Squeamish
July 28, 2004
By JOHN ALTAVILLA, Courant Staff Writer
In dismissing his team at the end of their final June workout, Giants coach Tom Coughlin urged players to care for themselves during their vacations. He asked them to do what was necessary to recharge while making sure not to neglect what physical and technical progress was made since the voluntary workout program began in March.
Encased in the friendly message was a subtle reminder that once the Giants report to training camp Thursday at the University of Albany, minds and bodies will belong to him. Both are certain to be tested by a coach determined to alter the mind-set he inherited in the wake of a 4-12 season.
During his season out of work in 2003, Coughlin fine-tuned his philosophy about what it takes during the summer to make a team strong in December. The Giants will be his guinea pigs.
"I made some solid observations by watching and being at other team's training camps," Coughlin said. "I noticed how they worked. These are things that I think are very interesting and really should be recognized by this team and other teams around the league."
Coughlin said Dick Vermeil's practices in Kansas City were long and often hard and were frequently conducted in pads.
"They had only seven starters miss games last season. That's from a commitment to hard work and the players don't complain about it," Coughlin said. "They have a vision in mind."
Coughlin gushed at the thought of how disciplined the Cowboys looked under coach Bill Parcells.
"They were in pads all the time and physical," Coughlin said. "They were learning. They went from a team with a lot of injured players watching to nobody watching practice. That was the message. If you want a team with a chance to win, you need to have players on the field. It's nonsense to miss practice for less than serious injuries."
For the players who challenged Coughlin's authority by complaining about his off-season schedule to the NFL Players Association - resulting in disciplinary action that cost Coughlin two days of work - there will be no further recourse short of retirement.
"We have many lessons to learn in training camp," Coughlin said. "We weren't able to do anything [during off-season workouts] to gauge toughness. That comes when the pads are on. The repetition of practice, hopefully in the condition of heat, will help us learn to stay focused and test our concentration level. All of those things are necessary."
Coughlin has a lot of work ahead. He must forge an offensive line around left tackle Luke Petitgout from a series of mid-level veteran free agents and young players. He must rebuild a defensive front missing three starters and a linebacking corps missing all of its mainstays. And he must figure out a way to mesh the reconstruction of Kurt Warner's career with the development of Eli Manning's.
"My goal is to be the best [quarterback], to play the way I've always played," Warner said. "I want to bring the talent and unique elements of the position to the team. I can tell there are so many elements all ready in place. They are not that far from being a championship contender, which was one of the factors that determined why I chose to sign with the Giants. I'm hoping to bring whatever I can to the table to help them get over the hump."
Coughlin must also win over his players, many of whom remain skeptical about his tactics and motivation. His greatest personal challenge probably is defensive end Michael Strahan, with whom Coughlin has jousted since Coughlin joined the Giants in January. Before he stopped talking to the media, Strahan admitted he wasn't totally compliant with Coughlin's off-season workout schedule and had no plans to change.
During a public forum in June in New York, running back Tiki Barber said what neither Coughlin nor Strahan has to this point.
"They have been going at it since Day 1," Barber said. "It goes back to when Coughlin was hired. Michael called him from the Pro Bowl and left a message and it was Coughlin's secretary who called him back. And that just started them out on the wrong foot. Michael is the consummate professional. Nobody works harder than him. But he's very set in how he gets ready for a season. And I think they have an understanding now."
Barber also has pressure. One of the NFL's most prolific fumblers the last three seasons (nine in 2003) knows Coughlin will not be as tolerant as Jim Fassel. Barber hopes a new role - and a new style of carrying - will help.
"It will be totally different for me," Barber said. "In the last few years, Coach Fassel developed a trust in me and he relied on me to make plays. But it got too much mentally and physically. Coach Coughlin said, `You're not going to get the ball 40 times a game. You are not effective that way.' And he's right.
"My role will be more like what Marshall Faulk plays with the Rams. The idea will be to find mismatches for me so I can make plays. So now Ron Dayne has to be the guy who carries the ball 20 times. He looked great in minicamp so we'll see. He has to raise the level of his game. If he can't, Coach will get somebody else."