- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Kurt Warner didn’t mean it the way it sounded.

The quarterback was talking about the New York Giants and the team’s relationship with its hard-driving new coach, Tom Coughlin.

“He’s the head coach vs. the team,” Warner said. “I don’t know if a lot of guys over the course of his career have had that type of [close] relationship [with Coughlin], not because of personalities but because that’s how he feels he needs to run the ship.”

Coach vs. team is right. The Giants spent the seven previous years under laid-back Jim Fassel, and the boot camp atmosphere of Coughlin has not worn well.

Players complained in May that Coughlin’s “mandatory” workouts violated league rules, leading to an investigation and the cancellation of two days of offseason practices.

Nickel back Terry Cousin and linebackers Carlos Emmons and Barrett Green asked the NFL Players Association to file grievances on their behalf after being fined $500 each by Coughlin for not being early enough — not late, but not early enough — to a recent meeting. Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Strahan was fined $1,000 for the same reason.

Despite those situations, halfback Tiki Barber, the Giants’ union representative, said the media have blown the tension between Coughlin and his players out of proportion.

“The majority of the players understand what the program is about,” said Coughlin, who abruptly ended his Monday press conference when asked about his punctuality rule. “I don’t think there has been a difficult adjustment at all. This has been a group that has been fairly receptive. We have certain things that I believe in, and that’s the way it’s going to be.

“One of them obviously is to be punctual. I want them to know the things that we accept from today’s society and the things that there are no compromise on.”

Washington Redskins defensive end Renaldo Wynn, who played for Coughlin in Jacksonville from 1997 to 2001, advised some of his buddies on the Giants what to expect this season.

“It’s not going to be a comfortable situation, but take some of the stress off yourself and don’t be ‘that guy,’” Wynn said. “I was never ‘that guy.’ I learned from other guys’ mistakes. If you’re not five minutes early, you’re late. With other coaches, if the meeting starts at 7, it starts at 7.

“It’s not going to be a fun week of practice for those guys. … I knew there would probably be some problems with the Giants because they weren’t used to it. It seems like they’re having a tough time dealing with it. You’ve just got to take it all in stride. You can’t let it affect you psychologically, just try to get through it the best way you can.”

Coughlin’s demands go beyond punctuality.

Wynn said it was Coughlin’s rules governing dress that really got to him. He still shakes his head about the coach’s intransigence on white socks and on proper attire for hanging out at the hotel.

“You want to relax when you’re in the hotel, but if you were outside of your room, you better have on a collared shirt, slacks and shoes,” Wynn said.

Coughlin’s ways worked in Jacksonville, where he took the Jaguars to the AFC Championship game in 1996 in just their second season of existence. He compiled a 38-15 record the next three years, a span that concluded with a second appearance in the conference championship game.

Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell also played for Coughlin in Jacksonville.

“Most of the credit for our early success in Jacksonville goes to the discipline and hard work that he instilled in us,” Brunell said. “If there’s one guy that gave me a shot in this league it was Coach Coughlin. He’s a great man, a great coach, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for him.”

The Giants lost their final eight games last season, finished 4-12 — the team’s worst record in 21 years — and definitely were in need of a coaching change.

“It’s a different situation than a lot of guys have dealt with in the past,” Warner said. “We’re still getting used to how Coach Coughlin runs his team and how he wants things done. But the bottom line is when you start winning, everything becomes a little easier. You stop worrying about all the little things.”

That’s assuming the Giants, weak on defense and in the offensive line, start winning.

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