EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –** Tom Coughlin has mentored hundreds of players in his now 19 years as an NFL head coach. Scores of players helped him win two Super Bowls with the Giants. Thirty of his Jacksonville Jaguars or Giants were selected to at least one Pro Bowl. Players like Mark Brunell, Fred Taylor and Jimmy Smith set franchise records in Jacksonville, as did Eli Manning, Amani Toomer and Osi Umenyiora with the Giants.
What does the coach think of that?
"Incredible pride," he said. "It's a wonderful feeling shared by our whole staff. What a great feeling."
Coughlin had never attended a Hall of Fame induction ceremony until last year, when his close friend and former Giants coach Bill Parcells was enshrined. Now he'll be in Canton again for Strahan. The Giants will face the Buffalo Bills Sunday night in the annual Hall of Fame Game.
To Coughlin, the weekend belongs to Strahan, who holds the Giants' record and is fifth in NFL history with 141.5 sacks, including a single-season record 22.5 in 2001. Strahan played his entire 15-year career for the Giants, including his final four (2004-07) for Coughlin.
"Michael Strahan was a great football player," Coughlin said. "He had ability and was taught right from the beginning. He practiced hard, ran to the ball, was a great example for the younger guys in doing that, and excellent in the classroom. He was a dynamic leader and had one of those magnetic personalities where everyone was attracted to him. He was a superb player on the field in both the pass and the run."
When Coughlin joined the Giants in 2004, Strahan was less than thrilled. Actually, that's a Hall of Fame understatement. "I hated it," Strahan said this spring. He didn't like Coughlin's regimentation and his haste to fine players for not adhering to "Coughlin time," which is five minutes ahead of the rest of the world.
Coughlin and Strahan eventually talked through and worked out their differences. Strahan's final game was the Giants' defeat of New England in Super Bowl XLII. Now Strahan says of Coughlin, "I wouldn't play for anybody else. I absolutely love him."
"We didn't necessarily see eye-to-eye right away," Coughlin said. "But thank goodness we won Michael over. We spent some time together and went through some times that were good and bad. I think that he appreciated the fact that what we were trying to do was in the best interest of everybody and the team and being the best we could be. He became an outstanding captain and very good in the leadership council. He did a great job with us that way.
"He's definitely himself and I try to be myself. The thing that I picked up on right away is that he's one of the classic – I mean he has a great time with anybody if he wants to bust their chops, but he can take it. And they come right back at him; they can't wait to get at him and he was always gnreat with that, too. No hard feelings, in other words."
Strahan was perhaps the team's most respected and well-liked player and Coughlin said his rapport with him was a major factor in the Giants' overcoming early adversity – including Strahan's summer holdout - to win the Super Bowl.
"No doubt, I think it was because of the fact that Michael was so strong in the locker room," Coughlin said. "I think also the way in which our organization handled that summer when he didn't come right into camp and we still expressed the fact that – I know Michael and I had conversations in which I said, without a doubt, that we'd love to have him back but only if his heart was in the right place, and it was when he came back. Nobody was cheering harder in that last drive (in the Super Bowl) than Michael Strahan. (We're) very, very proud of him, a very proud day for the New York Giants."
Although Strahan is best known for terrorizing quarterbacks and his landmark sack totals, he took tremendous pride in being a complete defensive end. When discussing Strahan, his former teammates and coach never fail to mention that he was a skilled at stopping the run as he was rushing the passer.
"That is rare, very rare," Coughlin said. "Not only that, but as he got into those 14, 15 years, he took his weight down. He was probably 252-254 (pounds), still playing with that kind of power over those right tackles with that punch and that great extension against the run. (He had) just a great love of the game and competing with tremendous pride. His thought about fear of failure - I mean that's a great motivator."
Giants.com looks at Michael Strahan's trademark smile through the years.
Strahan is an atypical great player who might be more popular in retirement. His gap-tooth grin, hearty laugh and outgoing persona are seen by millions of television viewers each week on Live with Kelly and Michael, which he co-hosts with Kelly Ripa. Strahan is also a special co-host of Good Morning America. On Sundays during the football season, he is an NFL studio analyst for the FOX Network. He recently hosted the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Sports Award show.
But to Coughlin and the legion of former teammates who will be in Canton this weekend, Strahan embodies the famed Wellington Mara phrase, "Once a Giant, always a Giant."
"Couldn't be more proud of him as he made the transition out of football to life and how successful he's been in the business he's in now," Coughlin said. "To his family, mom and dad, nothing but congratulations and happiness for this wonderful, wonderful recognition. To be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is a wonderful thing and gives us another great Giant. When we go out there and pass through the Hall of Fame, we can see the bust of another great Giant football player along with all the others."