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Test of time
But now that half of the regular season has amounted to a surprisingly successful start to Coughlin's tenure here, there is less apprehension about Coughlin's code of conduct than ever throughout the organization. Like they say, winning will cure almost all of what ails an NFL player. With legitimate postseason aspirations, many remaining members from a team that started tumbling toward an embarrassing last-place finish this time a year ago have realized why Coughlin enjoyed so much success in Jacksonville, especially earlier in his eight-year career as the face of the Jaguars' organization.
"You've got to admire his dedication and his hard work," punter Jeff Feagles said. "And then also, he's a great motivator. Every time he talks, he's got something to say. There's a method to his madness. I've been around a lot of coaches, but Tom, by far, is the most intense. But he gets his players to play and that's important to all of us. We all want to be able to be prepared to come out on Sunday and be able to show up and have a chance to win. He does that for us."
Feagles faced similar intensity when he played for Mike Holmgren in Seattle and Buddy Ryan in Philadelphia and Arizona, but learned immediately that what sets Coughlin apart is that his intensity doesn't decrease at all on Mondays and Tuesdays. In fact, he isn't even a little lighter on the golf course, where Feagles mingled with his new boss during Coughlin's charity golf outing in Jacksonville in the spring. Coughlin's constant no-nonsense demeanor definitely rubbed players the wrong way initially, but Feagles has noticed that even the strongest opponents of Coughlin's controlling concept have softened their respective stances.
"It's just like any new relationship," Feagles said. "There's a lot of questions at the beginning and it takes time for each one of those people to prove that what they're doing is the right thing. There's no question in my mind that Tom has always thought, from the get-go, that what he does is the right thing. So it's coming along. I think as time goes by, we all become accustomed to routine. And Tom's routine involves rules and discipline, but now that we're so far into the season I think it's just become rudimentary here. When we go on the road we know what to wear. We know what time meetings start, we know what he expects and that's the way it is.
"I enjoy playing for him. I think that what he does works well. He brings out the best in me. That, again, is what he's trying to do, get the best effort, to get the best football player to show up on Sunday. Sometimes it takes more with certain players, sometimes it doesn't."
Coughlin's conduct reminds Mike Cloud of another Bill Parcells disciple. And Bill Belichick's regimented system helped the former Patriots tailback take a Super Bowl ring away from what was sometimes a frustrating New England experience. It will be very difficult, of course, for Coughlin to replicate Belichick's remarkable run, but the comparable structural foundations for their programs are nevertheless evident.
"They're very similar," Cloud said of Belichick and Coughlin. "They (both) have their unique rules and everything. But as far as being very structured and being disciplinarians, they're both the same."
Cloud had heard about demanding Camp Coughlin over the summer, but since he was acquired from the waiver wire he hasn't found playing for the man who recruited him to Boston College to be the excruciating experience many media members deemed it initially.
"I think the papers have blown some of the things out of proportion, in terms of what they really are," Cloud continued. "But he has his rules. Every coach has specific rules and that's what makes specific coaches unique in the league. Either you're on board or you're not. And he's proven, time in and time out, that his methods have worked for him in the past and are working for him now."
True, but Coughlin could stand to become a little less stubborn.
Green certainly should've been disciplined for arriving late for a post bye-week practice, but benching the weakside linebacker for an entire game against his former team simply seemed spiteful, despite Nick Greisen's excellent effort away from his natural position. And his handling of Cloud and Ron Dayne hindered the team's offensive development, both in short-yardage situations and inside the red zone.
Coughlin finally relented on Oct. 31 in Minneapolis, where he totally unleashed Tiki Barber and Cloud. They scored two touchdowns apiece in a surprising rout of the vaunted Vikings, production that prompted many to state, "I told you so," both inside and outside the locker room. That might've been as close as we'll come to seeing him admit a mistake, especially since he still stated that a hamstring injury to Amani Toomer necessitated the activation of Willie Ponder and Dayne's de-activation that day.
But even those that Coughlin had handcuffed understood that his overdue reversal on the Dayne deal was the byproduct of sticking to the principles of the Big Blueprint to which Coughlin unfailingly adheres. He hopes to keep Barber fresh for more meaningful games in December and January, but needed Cloud's convincing and some Sunday roster needs to alter his plan slightly. However he delegates the workload from here is fine by Barber.
"He's the coach," Barber said. "I'm the player. My job is to do whatever he feels is necessary to help this team win football games."
It took some persistent prodding in the locker room, in addition to more winning than was initially anticipated, but Barber is far from alone in thinking that their often-criticized coach just might've had the right idea all along.
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