Ring of Honor inductee Tiki Barber
Q: What it means to be named to the Ring of Honor…
A: It's an honor. I have a lot of pride for what I accomplished when I was with the New York Giants and I was happy to be able to play my entire career with such a storied franchise but I'm also humbled because of all the other great names that are going up there and all of those people who have done so much not only for this team, but the league – in particular Mr. Mara and Mr. Tisch, who you all know that I was close with both of them. That I had a chance to get to know them and play under them is something that I'll never forget. This weekend I'll be coming to the stadium for the first time and taking part in the Giants legacy that I helped build and I'm excited for it.
Q: In modern day football guys rarely spend their whole careers with one organization. How much does that mean to you to have been a Giant for your whole career?
A: That meant a lot and I never really wanted to leave New York, even when I became a free agent after 2000. I tried as best as I could to stay and keep it under the radar – my contract demands – because that wasn't what was important, it was important to rebuild who I had started as as a New York Giant. As you guys know, I had lots of ups and downs from being injured early to having success in the Super Bowl season and going to a fumbling problem and then ultimately becoming who I was at the end of my career, so I was glad that all of those people who supported me along the way were there for me to see me be successful.
Q: What kind of reception do you think that you'll get when you come back?
A: I have no idea. I know that I get individual receptions from people on the street – it's always gracious and thankful for the memories that I have provided and I would expect the same, but I don't give people grief for their opinions. You guys know, I've had plenty of mine. We'll see. Only time will tell.
Q: Do you take pride in being outspoken? Any regrets that you were perceived as a spokesman and a critic?
A: It's part of being in a leadership role, part of being someone who is very honest and will answer any question that is asked of me. I never hid – I never hid from my mistakes, I never hid from the games that I had contributed to losing and at the same time, if you're going to take my opinion there, you also have to take my opinion when I have something controversial to say – never meaning to be controversial, just really trying to tell the truth as I experienced it.
Q: Do you see some of the fumbling problems that you had in Ahmad Bradshaw and can they be fixed?
A: Of course they are. Fumbling is all about ball awareness and having a sense of, not only mentally, but physically where the ball is. It's not just Ahmad, it's every back in the NFL. You've seen Ricky Williams over the last couple of weeks put a few on the ground. It happens when you don't have a dedicated focus on keeping the ball in front of you and, more importantly, keeping your elbow to your side. It's easily fixable and he has the best coach to do it – Jerald Ingram was instrumental in fixing my problem.
Q: How do you see the leadership on this team?
A: Well, I'm nowhere near the locker room, so I wouldn't have a clue, but it presents itself when you have the kind of the mistakes and lack of discipline amongst the players that we've seen over the – that we particularly saw last week there – and this is a young…not a young team, they're a veteran team, but they're a young group together and it takes time. It's still early in the season, we're only three weeks in, so you can't pass ultimate judgment. There are still opportunities for guys to step up, but it's hard to do unless you start making plays. Playmaking ability is what gives you credibility as a leader and when they get are doing that consistently, that's when the leaders will emerge.
Q: Do the captains – Eli, Tuck, Blackburn – have the personalities to lead this team?
A: Different people lead in different ways. I wasn't a fiery type. In fact, before games, you could find me in the training room. Michael Strahan was that guy, Antonio Pierce was that guy who were vocal and loud and aggressive, but you need both types. So, like I said, it's hard to find those guys until they gain credibility as playmakers. Jim Skipper, my rookie year, he used to tell me all of these things and I think that most of them stuck with me – one of the things that he always said was, "I have no prejudice against any player except for non-ballers." And when you find a baller, that's when you find a guy who can be a leader for your team and I became a leader because I started playing well. Early in my career I wasn't one.
Q: You've said that you think Coughlin is losing control in the locker room. How does he fix that?
A: I don't know if Tom – I'm not in the locker room, so I don't know. I don't talk to the players as much as I used to, so I don't know what the feeling is. Tom can get the locker room back by having guys disseminate his message correctly. Tom is a great coach, we all know that. He's been one since his days at Boston College and now he has to rely on the truth that he knows, being able to get it to guys that can disseminate it to rest of the team and have them believe in it. That's how coaches become successful. It's not about…it is about the Xs and Ox, but it's not so much about the Xs and Os for the head coach, it's about finding ways to motivate 53 different personalities.
Q: Who were those when you were there?
A: It was obvious. It was the guys you just mentioned – Jessie Armstead, even though you could half understand him, Keith Hamilton, even though he was cussing every other word, it was me, trying to be intellectual and reason with guys, it was Strahan with his fiery temper, and Amani, basically led by example. Amani wouldn't get up and yell at you and scream at you and say we've got to do this and that, but he'd pull you aside and say, look, man-to-man, one-on-one, this is what we need to do to win and when you have a collection of guys that can do all of those things, not just one – I mean, you can't get lost in looking for one or two leaders – it's got to be five or six or seven guys who have a strong confidence in themselves as players and everyone around them believes that they're going to carry them to success. That's when you become leaders and it's not just one guy.
Q: Any sense of who could do that now?
A: There's a lot of guys that could do that. Obviously the offensive line has been together for a long time. I think that Shaun O'Hara is that guy, but oviously he's been on the shelf, which is counter to what I've been saying. Eli is certainly that guy. Justin Tuck is that guy. Mathias Kiwanuka – I mean, the playmakers, the guys you can see – I think Corey Webster at this point has to find a way to be a leader because we know that he has the ability and the personality to have influence over the rest of the team.
Q: How talented is this team?
A: I think it's very talented. They're not losing for lack of talent. They're losing from lack of execution and consistency. And again, it's early in the year, three weeks in, they've played two bad games in a row, but it doesn't make the season, particularly given what the NFC East is doing right now. Save the Eagles, the Giants have as good of a chance as anybody.
Q: What makes you say that Coughlin is facing a crisis?
A: He's at a crisis because the perception is that he's losing his team. I mean, we all know that – especially in New York – once the media…the perception becomes reality and you start fighting against it. When you're fighting against something that's not necessarily real, you make it real. That's why he's at a crisis. He needs to figure out a way to get control of the situation, whether it's playing better and not making mistakes, whether it's having a group of players like he did in previous years stand up and take accountability for what's going on, not pushing the blame by saying we should've, we could've, we didn't, just coming out and saying, we played poorly, we need to take responsibility for it.
Q: Last week there were five personal fouls in the game. Is that a reflection of the players or the coaches?
A: I think it's a reflection of the player. You can't let the other team one-up you and I think that against the Titans, that's what happened. We all know how Jeff Fisher coaches. We know the mentality of his playmakers. When Pacman Jones was there, all he would do was yell and agitate you, trying to get into your system emotionally and that's how the Tennessee Titans play football. It's how they always have played football. So, that's on the players to control themselves.
Q: Are there any parallels between this and what happened to Jim Fassel toward the end of his career.
A: Well, I think that Jim…there are some parallels, but Jim's biggest downfall was the lack of healthy players. It's hard to win when your starters are sitting on the sidelines and especially once the pressure hits you, it's almost impossible to win when your starters are on the sideline and you have sub-rate players having to save your job. It's frustrating as a coach because you almost feel helpless.
Q: What type of evolution have you seen in Tom Coughlin?
A: I've never – and I would challenge anyone to this – I've never said that Tom is a bad coach. I think he's a great coach. My issue with him – and he knows what it is because we had plenty of discussions, some civil, some not, about how you treat people. I think his biggest evolution has been in how he has respected his players and how he's gotten them to play for him. That's why they won the Super Bowl in 2007 and I think that now the team and he need to find that mutual center of respect and success will come their way.
Q: Doesn't it fall on the players to take control of the locker room?
A: Players are accountable insofar as they can tell the right message. Teams that have divided messages, meaning one guy is saying this, two guys are saying this, fifteen guys are saying another thing – that's when teams get lost. That's when locker rooms get lost. But, when you have a coach who has players who can disseminate one single message – it's simple, it's to the point, it's direct – that's when a coach "takes control of a locker room." It's a hard thing to pin down and put your finger on, but that's essentially what it is. I think that in 2007, Tom and his players had that. I can give you a perfect example: When my brother's team won the Super Bowl in 2002, we used to talk and we'd have these conversations and I'd listen to him and I'd say, "What are you talking about? This doesn't sound like you. It sounds like you're just regurgitating everything that Jon Gruden has told you." But it was true and everyone in that locker room had that same mantra and lockstep rhetoric and that's why they were successful. That's what needs to be gained, at least in my opinion, with the New York Giants.