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The Coaching Circle


As a young athlete and later as a coach climbing the professional ladder, Tom Coughlin drew upon the wisdom of many men he played with and worked for. They included Mike Ornato and Bill Carey at Waterloo High School in upstate New York, Ben Schwartzwalder and Frank Maloney at Syracuse University, and Marion Campbell, and, particularly, Bill Parcells in the NFL.

"I would call Parcells about anything," Coughlin said this week. "When I went to the college game (as the head coach at Boston College) I did a lot of that, or I did some of it. Obviously we weren't stepping on each other's toes over anything. When I got into the pro game there was a little less of that because you have the tendency…if you have a specific question, that's fine, but there's very little talk about anything other than that. You don't talk about personnel. You don't talk about any of that stuff."

Coughlin has coached for more than 40 years and he long ago crossed the line from protégé to mentor. Coaches now call him for advice and counsel, most notably those who worked for him. Coughlin's coaching tree has several successful branches; 11 of his former assistants moved on to become head coaches in the NFL, college football or in Canada. On Monday night he will stand across the field from one of them, Steve Spagnuolo, the Giants' defensive coordinator in 2007 and '08 and now the head coach of the St. Louis Rams.

The two men like and admire each other and Spagnuolo – the architect of the defense that helped the Giants win Super Bowl XLII – often calls Coughlin to pick his brain on numerous topics.

"I have a great deal of respect for Coach Coughlin," Spagnuolo said on a conference call this week. "I am totally indebted to the fact that he gave me an opportunity to be a coordinator in this league and I benefited greatly from working for two terrific head coaches (including Philadelphia's Andy Reid, whose Eagles beat St. Louis in last week's opener). Had I only been in one system, that being Philadelphia for those eight years, and been blessed enough to get this kind of job, it would have been functioned as one. I was so lucky that I got to work with someone like Tom, who showed different ways to do it. I was really fortunate when I came here, I could pull from two places. There is a lot that goes on here that has a New York Giant flavor to it.

"I won't lie to you, I always keep an eye on the Giants scores. My experience there, we will never forget, my wife and I, it is well documented that we moved on and are hoping to do the same thing here with the Rams. This is a people business and I was very close to a lot of people there, coaches, players, administrators, all of them. Any opportunity I get to check up on them, I do. I enjoy that part of it and I always have."

Coughlin has influenced coaches throughout the football world. The list of his assistants with the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Giants who became NFL head coaches includes Kevin Gilbride, Dick Jauron, Chris Palmer, Tony Sparano, Bobby Petrino, Lane Kiffin, Perry Fewell, Dom Capers and Spagnuolo. Fewell was an interim head coach with Buffalo two years ago. Capers was a head coach in Carolina before working with Coughlin and a head coach in Houston after his stint in Jacksonville (1999-2000).

Randy Edsall, Kiffin and Petrino worked for Coughlin prior to becoming head coaches of major college programs.

Former Giants offensive coordinator John Hufnagel is the head coach of the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League.

Gilbride and Fewell are currently on Coughlin's staff as the Giants' offensive and defensive coordinator, respectively. Coughlin keeps in touch with other coaches on that list.

"There's always a relationship," he said. "I'll help them as much as I can as long as it doesn't have anything to do with interfering with our team."

Perhaps none of those coaches outside the Giants organization communicates with Coughlin as frequently as Spagnuolo.

"Tom and I, we talked a great number of times now that we are updated into (this) century; we text to keep up with each other," Spagnuolo said. "I am very close to Tom. Typically here, if something comes up and I need another opinion on how it has been done or what somebody thinks, I immediately pick up the phone and talk to Coach Coughlin. He is a great resource and has always been terrific with that. Coach has never been one to try to hide anything for a competitive edge. He has always been one to share. He has some great insights and has been doing it for a long time. I respect that and really appreciate it."

"You never say anything that's going to hurt you," Coughlin said. "You may lie a little, but you don't say anything. You're talking about the mechanics or how to adjust your schedule, how are you going to apply the time that is allowed to you to your practices, meetings, etc. Those are the kinds of things."

Spagnuolo was asked to cite a specific instance of receiving assistance from Coughlin.

"I think we talked about how you are going to handle the lockout when it ends, schedules and practices," Spagnuolo said. "I may have talked to him during the season last year and asked if he had taken them out of pads yet or when are you cutting back reps. Just little things, especially the first year I went through it and you would be surprised at how many decisions you make that you don't even think about when you are a coordinator or a position coach. You have things every day that you have to decide on and nobody has done it better than Tom. When I was going through it for the first time and now, things will pop up for the first time and I have no problem calling coach and he is great about getting back and sharing his thoughts."

But not this week. As Parcells often said, "You coach against your friends all the time in this business." Because the NFL is such a competitive league, friendships are put on hiatus when two men who would normally enjoy spending time together square off.

Coughlin and Spagnuolo are each a little edgy this week after losing their season openers. Both want to avoid the dreaded 0-2 start. Not that such a beginning would be insurmountable. In 2007, Spagnuolo's first year with the Giants, the team lost its first two games. Less than five months later, it was celebrating a victory in Super Bowl XLII.

"Tom is one of the premier and elite head football coaches in this league and anybody who sees it otherwise is wrong in what they are seeing. I think he has proven it time and time again,
but we are in this business and we know what it is all about. Tom accepts it and he understands it. I have no doubt that Tom will fight through whatever is going on right now. I hope he doesn't figure it out this week, but I have too much respect for Tom and I believe a lot of other people do, too.

"The Giants organization and Coach Coughlin, in particular, are a very resilient group. My past and observing him and being there, when things don't look great and people think their backs are against the wall, etc., they have always come out and responded to Coach Coughlin and how he approaches things. They always come out that next game and have been a tough team to play. I was almost hoping for them to win last week. That way we didn't have to face them the other way. I didn't want them to be upset and facing them the way they are right now. I know the players in that locker room and the coaches on that staff will have their football team ready to play Monday night. We have to somehow find a way to match that." 

Both sides could derive advantages from the Spagnuolo connection. The Rams' defense employs former Giants Fred Robbins, Craig Dahl, James Butler and Bryan Kehl. But Coughlin and Gilbride are well aware of Spagnuolo's defensive schemes.

"Will there be some familiarity between some systems, yes, but we are three years removed and they've changed some things and we have changed some things," Spagnuolo said. "There will be some they will recognize and some they won't. But it really comes back to the players and them executing. I still live by the theory, if you could exchange each other's playbooks during the week and go and play the game, it still comes back to the players. You don't know what they are going to call and on what down, etc. I think there are some advantages on both sides maybe and being familiar with personnel and scheme, but it really comes down to how the players execute on Monday night."

It will still be interesting to watch these two friends and head coaches match wits with each other.

*The Giants on Saturday issued their final injury report before Monday night's game against St. Louis at MetLife Stadium. Defensive end Justin Tuck, who missed last week's season-opener in Washington with a neck injury, practiced all week on a limited basis and is listed as questionable. Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, who suffered a bone bruise to his knee early in the Washington game but finished the contest, practiced on a limited basis yesterday and today and is also listed as questionable. Nicks participated in individual drills only on Friday. On Saturday, he participated in individuals plus the team portion of practice. Cornerback Prince Amukamara (foot), tight end Travis Beckum (hamstring) and defensive end Osi Umenyiora (knee) will not play against the Rams.

*The Rams final pregame injury report lists defensive end C.J. AhYou (wrist) as out; wide receiver Danny Amendola (elbow) is doubtful; running back Steven Jackson (quad), who has not practiced this week, and tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (calf) are questionable; quarterback Sam Bradford (right finger), cornerback Bradley Fletcher (toe), linebacker Josh Hull (hamstring) and tackle Jason Smith (ankle) are probable.

*The Giants re-signed defensive end Justin Trattou to the team's practice squad today. Trattou was on the practice squad prior to the Washington game and signed to the 53-man roster last Saturday and then played against the Redskins. When the team signed veteran wide receiver Brandon Stokley on Thursday, Trattou was waived. To make room for Trattou on the practice squad, the Giants terminated the contract of quarterback Ryan Perrilloux.

*The Giants are hosting a Monday night game for the first time in the eight-year Coughlin era (not counting the 2005 game against New Orleans in Giants Stadium in which the Saints were the home team). They have been the visitors in their last nine Monday night games (including that Saints game), most recently in a 21-3 victory over Minnesota in Detroit last Dec. 13, a game that was changed from a Sunday afternoon affair in Minneapolis after the Metrodome roof collapsed in a blizzard.

The last time the Giants were the home team on a Monday night was Sept. 15, 2003, when they lost to the Dallas Cowboys in overtime, 35-32. They lost their last two Monday night home games, including a 10-9 defeat to Philadelphia in 2001. The Giants' last Monday night home victory was a 13-10 triumph over the Cowboys on Oct. 18, 1999. That is the Giants' only home victory on a Monday night since 1991.

*The Giants won the last four games against the Rams, in 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2008, a streak that immediately followed a five-game St. Louis winning streak in the series. The Giants are 13-25 in regular season game games vs. the Rams, which includes a 5-6 mark in Giants Stadium.

*Members of the Giants 1986 Super Bowl team will sign autographs for fans prior to Monday night's game in MetLife Stadium. The autograph session will take place from 7-8 p.m. and will be located at the stadium's four main entrances: MetLife, Verizon, Budweiser, and Pepsi Gates. All fans in line will receive a commemorative 25th anniversary 5"x7" autograph card. Fans are requested not to bring personal items to get autographed. 

Several members from the '86 team will participate in a fan Q&A session on the MetLife stage, located on the West Plaza. Hosted by NBC-4's Bruce Beck, the Q&A will take place in concurrence with the autograph session.

The 1986 champions will be honored with a special halftime ceremony on Monday night. Fans can also relive and celebrate the unforgettable year throughout the season. The Giants have produced and will host a series of events, activities, memorabilia and programming, commemorating the 1986 Super Bowl winning team.

*The Giants encourage fans to arrive early and be patient about entering the stadium on Monday night. The enhanced security procedures at the stadium gates recommended by the NFL will increase the comfort and safety of fans at the game, but will require some additional time for inspections at the gates. Fans are asked to come early, enjoy the best tailgating tradition in the NFL, and take advantage of the video boards and other new amenities outside MetLife Stadium.

In order to accommodate this security enhancement, guests are asked to arrive earlier than normal to avoid longer security lines at the checkpoints. Guests may refuse inspections; however, stadium management reserves the right to refuse entry.

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