Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post noted that there were two versions of Tom Coughlin when he was head coach of the New York Giants. The first version was one that was as hard as they come, unrelenting, unwilling, severe, harsh, overly disciplinary – a dictator, a tyrant. The second version was the more pliable, more flexible, more tender – a diplomat, a father figure. When did Tom “adjust” the first version to become the second?
If you ask Giants all-time leading rusher and potential Hall of Famer Tiki Barber, he’ll say it was his retirement announcement in October 2006. At the time, it was because he wanted to preserve his physical stature and pursue a broadcasting career. Then Barber wrote in his 2007 memoir that he would still be playing if Tom Coughlin weren’t head coach. Before Tom Coughlin, Tiki fumbled more than a virgin on prom night, so the backlash from the media and fans on Barber was strong.
Inside the Loud House
Vaccaro notes that the low point of Tom Coughlin 1.0 came in one of the biggest blown leads in Giants franchise history, when his team was up 21 points over the Tennessee Titans with 10 minutes left to play in the fourth quarter and allowed them to win 24-21, due to one play.
Giants linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka had Titans quarterback Vince Young in a bear hug on 4th down, all he had to do was take him to the ground for a game-clinching sack. Instead, Kiwanuka let Young go and the mobile QB scrambled for a first down and eventually threw the game-tying score. Eli Manning would throw an interception to Adam Pacman Jones and the Titans won a field goal with seconds left. If you’re into reliving really embarrassing moments, you can watch the video below.
By the way, how ridiculous is the video’s title. “Vince Young is a god”. Not “Mathias Kiwanuka is a human who makes mistakes”. Anyway, the 2006 Giants went 8-8, made the playoffs and lost in their Wild Card game against the Eagles for their second consecutive one-and-done postseason.
After Barber retired and before the 2007 season, Tiki said Eli Manning’s motivational pre-game speeches sounded “almost comical” and questioned his leadership skills. Eli responded with…
"“I’m not going to lose any sleep about what Tiki has to say…I guess I could have questioned his leadership skills last year with calling out the coach and having articles about him retiring in the middle of the season, and [how] he’s lost the heart [to play]. As a quarterback you’re reading that your running back has lost the heart to play the game and it’s about the 10th week. I can see that a little bit at times.”"
Then, Eli and the 2007 Giants went out and won the Super Bowl. Those who followed the story and Tom Coughlin’s career know that after the 2006 season, Coughlin reached out to his top players and acquiesced a bit. It wasn’t necessarily waving the white flag, but the move was an inclusive one, one that signaled to the rest of the team that Tom wasn’t blind or deaf to the grumblings and mumblings. Coughlin acknowledged that his rules and policies were grating and wearing thin on his players. Would that have happened if Tiki Barber hadn’t retired and been so vocal?
At Tom Coughlin’s farewell press conference this past week, it was as emotional as they come. Tom choked up when talking about his wife and then told Eli it wasn’t the quarterback’s fault. Even Eli had trouble holding back the tears. From that came an outpouring of emotion and affection and reflection on the coach’s career, his habits, idiosyncrasies, beliefs, and mantras. Then, Tiki Barber gave his two cents, stating Coughlin was “a pain in the ass” who treated his players like “problem children”. The backlash came yet again and Barber called the vitriolic response “pathetic“.
Whatever your opinion is on Tiki Barber (most likely you boo when his name is mentioned), you can’t deny that changes were made following his dishonorable exit. If Barber hadn’t spoken out and prematurely left the game he loved, would Tom Coughlin have adjusted? It’s no secret that a lot of players took issue with Tiki’s outspoken nature, but without it, would Tom Coughlin have become one of the greatest Giants coaches of all-time on par with Bill Parcells? Giants fans and the Giants organization might owe a begrudging debt of gratitude.