John Mara, the longtime and well-respected owner of the Giants, put it best earlier this week when he said that Tom Coughlin was one of the most under appreciated coaches in the New York sports world. Coughlin is showing the rest of the country now why his New York Giants went from an afterthought at 7-7 into the NFC East champs. The Giants head coach never lost faith in his team this season despite all the injuries and inconsistency. He also contends that the mediocrity of the NFC East race throughout most of the season was the key factor in giving the G-Men enough time to recover and make a push for a Super Bowl run. Tom Coughlin joined ESPN Chicago with Carmen, Jurko & Harry to discuss the pros and cons of having a bye week prior to the Super Bowl, what he told the New York Giants when they were 7-7 this season, Eli Manning silencing the critics, Eli improving since the 2007 Super Bowl title and how he wants to be remembered as an NFL coach.
Do you like this week off between NFC/AFC Championship Sunday and the Super Bowl?
“Well there’s no choice about this one. You either play every week, which has really proven for us the better thing to do, but this is a week in which you’re given two weeks to prepare. You do have to be smart and you got some guys that do damage if they were pushed even further, but could show a strong recovery rate if you allow to get them some time to rest. However I think it is important that you practice this week. Practice hard. No game on Sunday, so you need to get your three solid good days in and it gives you a chance to instill a great majority of your game plan.”
What did you tell your team when you were 7-7 and on the outside looking in?
“Well we told them all year keep fighting, just keep fighting, keep battling, believe in each other. We stay together as a team. There were no fragments. There was no pointing of the finger or any of that nature. We just one of the key factors was that we started getting healthy. We got some guys back. We felt better about our team. We also were always in contention for the NFC East Championship and that was the key right there: The [NFC East] Division Championship title was a key thing we were involved in. We were always very close and as you followed it throughout the course of the year we started with big games, probably with 5 or 6 games to go in the schedule, so that was important to us as well. The main thing was we stuck together. We hung in there. We persevered. We stayed very closely knit as a team. We started to trust and believe each other and our defense started play together and it helped our confidence.”
What do you think Eli Manning has proved to the rest of the country watching football this season?
“He’s been outstanding. He’s taken his team on his shoulders. He’s moved his team. He’s been a reliable leader. He’s been a big player in clutch situations. He’s put us in positions to win many games earlier in the year when it came down to the very last play. Eli has done all the things that the great ones do in terms of putting their team in position. He’s been…his play this year has been outstanding and we certainly owe a lot to him in terms of how he’s performed and better yet how he’s handled it all and what he has done for his team. At one point in time when they [media] were into that nonsense about the top five quarterbacks, he said ‘Look I am trying to be the best I can be and help my team win.’ I thought that was a great answer.”
How much better is Eli Manning now than four years ago?
“He was pretty darn good four years ago when he was MVP of the Super Bowl, but he’s just always very steadily improved. He works very hard at his game. He takes great pride in it. He’s worked very hard with his receiving core, which is a relatively young group of guys. You don’t get that transition in our league, but he’s helped to develop the Victor Cruz’s, Hakeem Nicks’s, the Mario Manningham’s along the way. He’s helped to develop them. He’s spent an awful amount of time doing that, trying to get on the same page with everybody, trying to create something for the receivers, a knowledge of exactly what he was looking for. He’s done a real good job of that. He really has done a very, very good job and in this past off-season when we could not function because of the work stoppage he was working with the receivers.”
How should you be remembered as an NFL head coach if you knock off Tom Brady and Bill Belichick a second time in the Super Bowl?
“I don’t worry about that. What is important is for our team to do the very best we can for our guys to feel very, very good about each other, for us to have great preparation. I want to make sure that our guys are as well prepared as they possibly can be and then go give it everything you got. As we always say here: ‘Leave no regrets on the field. Take it all out there every play for 60 minutes. Just give it everything you can.’ That’s what we should be proud of at this time. Where I come from I just want to help the players be the best players they can be.”