Tiki Barber: Tom Coughlin’s Ability To Change Made Him Great

Less than 24 hours after Tom Coughlin resigned as head coach of the New York Giants, Tiki Barber took time Tuesday morning to discuss his former coach and how much he meant to him.

Barber, who spent his entire 10-year career with the Giants, played for Coughlin from 2004-06 and made the Pro Bowl all three seasons. Thus, Coughlin’s dismissal was “personal” for Barber, as well as other former and current Giants. Heck, Eli Manning was nearly bought to tears discussing Coughlin earlier this week, but after missing the playoffs four years in a row, the Giants felt a change was necessary.

“They clearly love who he is as a coach,” Barber said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney, “but at the end of the day, when you lose to the Minnesota Vikings 49-17, when you lose to the Philadelphia Eagles 35-30 and don’t play well, those are the things that end up getting a coach who is right on the edge fired – or asked to step down. If they would have played better those last two games, maybe Tom Coughlin still would get another chance.”

Barber said that Coughlin brought to the Giants a discipline and an attention to detail that was missing in Jim Fassel’s final years.

“The details of being a great player – at whatever position – are often overlooked by athletes,” Barber said. “And why? Because you’ve done it since you were 12 years old, or even earlier, and you feel like you know all the answers. Well, the one thing (Coughlin) said to me – it was the first meeting I ever had with him – was, ‘I don’t care how good you are. If you’re a liability to my team, then you’re not going to play.’”

Barber’s biggest problem early in his career? He fumbled a lot. So Coughlin fixed that, always yelling for Barber to hold the ball high and tight – pretty much right under his chin, as Barber recalled.

“I set out doing it with a lot of direction from his running back coach, Jerald Ingram, and an interesting thing happened,” Barber said. “It made me a better player. It made me a non-liability as a fumbler, but it also shortened my stride length. It made me stronger and more compact as a runner. I became a Pro Bowler. I became one of the elite players in the National Football League because Tom Coughlin was a pain in the ass. In his case, he did it his way.”

Barber recalls meeting with Giants owner John Mara after his final game. Mara asked Barber what he thought of Coughlin, who was a strict disciplinarian. As a rule, Coughlin wanted players five minutes early to everything. If they were four minutes early, they were considered late. Barber recalls winking at Coughlin one time.

Coughlin chewed him out and told him to never do that again.

“(Mara) had told me before, ‘We’re not worried about Act 1; we’re worried about Act II. We know he’s going to be a pain in the butt. We know he’s going to bristle people and rub them the wrong way,’” Barber recalled. “And as much as people want to talk about how bad of a relationship I had with Tom Coughlin, there were other guys who were significantly worse, including Michael Strahan. My conversation with John ended like this: ‘You can’t fire Coach Coughlin because he’s a great coach, but he has to change.’ And with John’s urging, (Coughlin) changed. For a man at that time who was 60 years old, 61 years old maybe, to change the way that he had done signs at Boston College, at Jacksonville – to change all of that in the interest of creating familial relationships with his players – is a credit to him.

“I got a text message from Shaun O’Hara that next training camp, and I kept it for a long time – probably three or four years,” Barber continued. “And he said “Tiki, you are never going to believe who’s coaching our team. This man is a different man. He even said a joke the other day. He took us bowling the other day.’ And all of the sudden, the Giants became a team that was very well-coached. Attention to detail. Focus on the particulars. Finding a way to win games that maybe you should lose on the field to a team that was tighter than any maybe in the National Football League off the field. That, to me, is Coach Coughlin’s greatest accomplishment – because without that, he doesn’t win a Super Bowl in 2007. That doesn’t happen in 2011 without having those familial relationships with this players.

“Is Tom Coughlin a Hall-of-Famer?” Barber went on to say. “You damn sure better believe he’s a Hall-of-Famer. He’s a great coach and a great man. My biggest testament to Tom Coughlin is that he learned how to change at an old age. That’s what made him the coach everybody loves and respects and reveres – even if you can’t stand the way that he doesn’t allow you to wink at him.”

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