EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Coaching is about people, and the New York Giants' Tom Coughlin knows this. More important than any system or scheme or play sheet is the ability of a coach to know his team and his players. Without that, he cannot know how to manage them.
When you add as many new players to a team as the Giants did this offseason, a coach like Coughlin knows his task is to get to know the group as soon as possible -- and as well as possible -- so he knows which buttons to push in which situations. Coughlin is clearly feeling more comfortable with his group now, and the way he managed it this past week following an 0-2 start was proof.
"This is just a prime example of him being able to adjust to the team that he has," veteran defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka said after Sunday's 30-17 victory against the Houston Texans. "He's constantly making adjustments to try and get his team motivated, and this group responded."
What Coughlin decided to do this week was lighten the mood. Rather than hammer his players over everything they'd done wrong in the first two games, he wanted to get them to relax. So he played rap music at practice and closed one of the practices with a punt-catching competition between the offensive and defensive linemen.
"The coaches and everybody didn't get too uptight being 0-2," quarterback Eli Manning said. "We knew it was a big game, but I think with coach keeping his cool, bringing some excitement to practice with the music and the punt-off and those things, it helped the players relax. It said to us, 'We know what to do, let's just go play football. Don't worry about being perfect or doing everything exact. Play the game you love and go play fast.'"
They did play fast, especially on offense when the no-huddle was clicking and running back Rashad Jennings was fighting for extra yards. They definitely seemed able to keep their cool, and that may have been the result of the frame of mind their coach put them in for the game.
"We had some fun times on Thursday, we had the music going, we had a little punt-catch contest -- I caught mine, of course," right tackle Justin Pugh said. "It’s something where we’re having fun -- I think last year at 0-6, we were like, 'How are we gonna get out of this?' We expected to come in and win today.”
Coughlin said after the game that the focus during the day was on "staying positive the whole day, including me," and that the mood on the sideline stayed upbeat even amid the early-game mistakes that were all-too reminiscent of last week's loss. The mood Coughlin helped set in practice leading up to this game carried over, and the Giants were able to keep a game from going off the rails and falling to 0-3 for the second year in a row.
It reminds me a bit of that third week of December in 2011, after the Giants fell to 7-7 with a bad loss to Washington and the players were shocked by Coughlin's positive, upbeat, hopeful message in team meetings that week. The Giants would of course win their final two games of the year to clinch the division and go on to win Coughlin's second Super Bowl title. During that run, I remember asking Coughlin how he knew to take that approach in that spot.
"Because I know my team," was his complete answer.
That's coaching. That's Coughlin. That's why, no matter how bad things get around here from a player-personnel standpoint, I believe the Giants will always be a team that plays at least to its potential, if not better, as long as Coughlin is the one coaching them. I still don't expect this team to go to the playoffs, because I don't think it's good enough. But it's not going to fold and start losing to teams it should beat, and the main reason is that its coach won't allow it.