Former New York Giants middle linebacker Antonio Pierce made a living out of anticipating and evaluating plays on the field. And Pierce's assessment is that his old team better start winning again, pronto.
The Giants' ex-defensive captain says head coach Tom Coughlin and many others in the organization are feeling the heat from last year's 8-8 debacle.
"He's on the hot seat," Pierce said of his former head coach during an interview with NFL Network. "I think everybody in the organization is on the hot seat. You are talking about a team three years removed from the Super Bowl. There are some fires lit underneath people's butts now in that locker room and in that organization. Everybody is on high alert. It is going to be a very interesting 2010 season."
Pierce said that when owner John Mara ripped the team to the media following the season, Giants players heard the message loud and clear in the locker room.
Pierce, who was released in February after five seasons with the team following a season-ending neck injury, cited a few reasons why the Giants collapsed after a 5-0 start.
He pointed to the season-ending injuries he and safety Kenny Phillips suffered last year and the Osi Umenyiora-Bill Sheridan spat that lingered for months. Umenyiora's issues with the then-defensive coordinator began in late August, when the player unexpectedly left the team building after a meeting. The rift had a lasting impact on the defense.
"That, I think, trickled down to the rest of our season," Pierce said. "That's still on everybody's mind because everybody remembered that. Osi walking out of the team meeting. And he left the building. He came back and apologized and we moved on. We went 5-0 after that but it had an effect."
Umenyiora's benching later in the season also played a role in the Giants' disastrous season, according to Pierce.
"All those things ... that is a trickle-down effect," Pierce said. "Now you are affecting other guys on the team, because you are messing with the chemistry. If one guy is unhappy, you are talking about one of your main leaders, if he is unhappy, some other guys' feathers are getting wrinkled as well."
Players have said throughout the offseason that the defense didn't believe in Sheridan's scheme after spending the previous two seasons under the popular and successful Steve Spagnuolo.
"You've been doing things a certain way for two years and it was just fine," Pierce said of playing for Spagnuolo. "It was right. And now you are being coached and that's not right, that's not correct. And that became the problem."
Now the Giants' biggest concern is finding a replacement for Pierce at middle linebacker. Pierce was the quarterback of the defense and the Giants hope to find a successor from a cast that includes Jonathan Goff, rookie Phillip Dillard and others. So far during the Giants' offseason training activity practices, Goff has worked with the first team although Coughlin says it is still early and there will be a rotation of linebackers.
As for Pierce, the former Giants captain says his last game as a Giant may have been his final game in the NFL. Pierce, 31, suffered a herniated disc in his neck in Week 9 against San Diego and missed the rest of the season.
"It is healing but I am going to need surgery to continue playing," said Pierce, who played nine seasons for the Giants and Redskins. "That's not an option I am looking forward to. It is looking like it is going down that [retirement] path. First offseason I am having away from football and I am enjoying it."