Q: When the Giants host the Cowboys Wednesday night, it will be your 17th season-opening game as an NFL head coach. What kind of emotions does that stir in you?
Coughlin: “It’s a mixture of all kinds of emotions. When you’re standing there, especially just before the national anthem, and afterwards many times in these situations there’s been a flyover, which really creates even more excitement. The idea of patriotism and the emotion that goes with standing there and being grateful for the opportunity that you’ve been given to coach the great game of football, to be in the National Football League. To have so much passion involved in the game and to have very, very strong feelings about the way the game is played and the people that played for you and the people that you work for and I think those are the things that I would say just in a wink of an eye that it all passes in front of you. You think about your family; you’re always so grateful when your family is there with you. A couple of my kids are spread out, but most of the time they’re there for the opening game and that’s a good feeling, too. Those are the thoughts. The start of the new season and all that goes into that. You’ve gone full circle now in terms of the conclusion of one season, all the work that occurs in the offseason, training camp and you’re ready to embark again on something special. I heard somebody the other day say that a football season is a sprint and a baseball season is a marathon. I have news for you, the NFL season is a marathon as well. When you consider what these 32 teams go through during the course of the year, just from the standpoint of trying to stay healthy, that’s some journey.”
Q: Your theme this year is “Build the Bridge.” With a 30 percent roster turnover, can you have a carryover from the end of last season to the beginning of this one?
Coughlin: “I think there is, and I think your veteran players look at it that way. They perhaps don’t recognize or notice as much as we do as coaches the number of new faces that are involved. For me, the way in which we finished last year and the way in which the players were, the way in which they practiced and performed and met and focused, I’m in search of that again. What’s really extremely rewarding for me is being around that kind of focus, that kind of concentration, that kind of cooperation, that kind of complete goal awareness on the part of everybody, and that’s what I’d like to think would happen again. But you have an education. You’ve got to coach these newcomers and these youngsters and you try to do it a little bit and you do have to involve something of the past to do it, although you’re certainly not referring to that aspect of it for anything other than the bridge over to the new season. The good examples we bring forward and the not-so-good examples we challenge with.”
Q: The cliché is that teams defending championships have a target on their backs. That might help get an opponent motivated, but is it true once a game begins?
Coughlin: “I think during the course of the week, where that really makes sense to me, is that I think everybody looks at the team that was the world champion and they say to themselves, ‘This is an important game for us no matter when it occurs during the course of the season, because it’s going to declare whether or not we can think of ourselves as a possible contender.’ That’s what that’s all about. If you play well against the team that was the world champion the year before, then it’s reasonable to think that you’re a pretty good football team and that you have a chance to be a contender.”
Q: When you first became a head coach, you had so many more training camp practices to get to know your team. With fewer practices before the opener, do you still have a good handle on what kind of team you have?
Coughlin: “You certainly have a handle on what you have. As a coach, you do have a strong feeling for what you have. However, recognizing what you have and having it become a cohesive unit, that’s another issue. That’s what you’re striving for. You’re striving to create that harmony again between offense, defense and special teams. When each specific group is evaluated, you have different levels of achievement, different levels of execution and that’s where you are. You may have a pretty good feel for what you have, but how does it mesh together at this point in time and what can your expectation level be going forward? You look throughout the league at the different teams. For example, I think each team in our division has improved.”
Q: Is there more mystery in an opening game because a lot of the teams are unveiling their offenses and defenses for the first time? Do you have to make more adjustments on the fly in an opening game?
Coughlin: “No, I don’t think so. I think there are going to be things that happen that have not been seen before and things maybe that haven’t been planned for, but I think if someone has a little bit of a track record at a particular spot and you bring that emphasis, you have a pretty good idea of what’s going to take place. You may not have the percentages as correctly worked out as you think.”
Q: You were asked a question at your news conference this week about how
Coughlin: “I think Eli has that unique ability to, because of the position he plays and because he’s always been in that spot, he’s had to have great composure, great poise. He’s had to be able to concentrate and deal with multitasking and because, whether you like it or not, in this game you’re confronted with that, anyway. You must be good at it, otherwise you’re not going to be happy in terms of the balance that you present in your life. There are going to be certain areas that, quite frankly, you’re not very good at. But for Eli, I think he has a unique ability to go from one segment to another and give it his full attention and in so doing, you find out the real person. You sense the sincerity and you can tell a little bit more about the personality and you can understand how intelligent he is and that kind of thing and I think that’s what he’s been able to do. I don’t know that all of us can quite deal like that in terms of keeping distractions to a minimum, but he seems to be able to do it. Although I’ve said many times, I know inside he churns a lot more than people can see on the outside.”
Q: You’ve talked a lot about improving the rushing attack this year.
Coughlin: “That’s part of the utilization of people for what their skill level is. We can use certain people for certain things and that’s what we’re going to have to do as you develop each individual’s ability to comprehend and execute the various responsibilities of the position, namely the pass protection and being a good route runner out of the backfield.”
Q: Have you seen Bradshaw take on a leadership role with the younger players?
Coughlin: “He has taken that role on and he’s done a good job with it. He takes pride in it and he can be unique in the way that he works with some of those young guys, because he’ll go ahead and compliment them. But by the same token, if he sees something that he feels needs to be emphasized, he’s not afraid to say it to them. I do think that’s been helpful.”
Q: Ahmad is not the biggest guy in the world, but he frequently runs between the tackles. Do you admire his ability to do that?
Coughlin: “I do. I admire his toughness and I think he gives of himself. He sacrifices and he’s just as physical, really when you watch him, as any back in the game. You would argue that he seemed to do as well in goal line and short yardage as anybody we’ve had and that includes Brandon (Jacobs’) success level. I always think that’s a tribute to just the constitution and disposition of the individual. He can put himself in a mental position where he can be ornery now. As long as he stays positive, that’s okay, that part of it. He is a guy that you can rely on as a tough son of a gun. He’ll pass protect with the best of them.”
Q: What comes to mind when you think of the Cowboys’ offense.
Coughlin: “They do have an explosive team. They have talent at the skill positions, the running back position. A healthy (DeMarco)
Q: And their defense?
Coughlin: “They’re a pressure team, that’s for sure. At least that’s how they play us. “
Q: When you start a season, do you think it’s going to be a battle for 17 weeks?
Coughlin: “There isn’t any question. It’s one week at a time, but you know it’s one week, one battle and all you need to do is look at that schedule and you understand why I’m saying that. We believe firmly that in order to get where we want to go, you have to play the best and beat the best. And we don’t have to look very far, because they’re right on our schedule.”