Coughlin, Reese look to recreate combine success

INDIANAPOLIS -- Here is Tom Coughlin, head coach of the Super Bowl champion New York Giants, back at the place where it all began.

No, he's not standing on Alumni Field at Boston College, nor is he back traversing the sidelines of Jacksonville's Alltel Stadium. He's in Indianapolis, at the annual NFL Scouting Combine. You know, the place where his championship team was initially conceived.

The national media were not the only people to take notice of the role played by the Giants' 2007 rookie class in their successful Super Bowl run. Here at the NFL combine, an annual gathering of front office personnel, opposing scouts have recognized the contributions the Giants' young talent made throughout the season and the playoffs. Read more...

It was just one year ago that Coughlin was here, clinging to a one-year contract extension, coming off an 8-8 season in which his team -- decimated by injuries -- had just been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs for the second consecutive year, answering questions about what some considered his old-fashioned coaching style and his young, unproven quarterback.

If you had told Coughlin all that would occur in the span of a year -- the critical contributions of six of his rookie players throughout the playoffs, the poised play of his quarterback down the stretch, the four playoff road games his team would win, culminating in an unlikely victory over an undefeated Patriots team that would propel him to a forthcoming multi-year contract -- would he have believed any of it?

"I had it all mapped out," says a grinning Coughlin, standing before the throng of media assembled at the 2008 combine. "I knew this would be taking place."

Though he is known around the league and in media circles for his biting sarcasm, most people here would tell you that such good-natured humor was not evident in Coughlin a year ago.

Not after local and national reporters were calling for his head on a stick.

Not after Tiki Barber labeled him an unreasonable disciplinarian and the motivation behind his early retirement.

Not after the likes of Barber and tight end Jeremy Shockey repeatedly claimed Coughlin had been "out-coached" in critical losses to the Panthers and the Seahawks.

But now? Following the Giants' improbable journey to victory in Super Bowl XLII, general manager Jerry Reese says such public criticism is likely to be a thing of the past.

"I think we can put that stuff to bed," said Reese. "I think any of our players would go to bat for our head coach, so I don't think that's an issue."

Nor does there appear to be any more doubt among members of the Giants' front office concerning Coughlin's coaching ability. Both Reese and Giants president and CEO John Mara say a multi-year contract extension for Coughlin is nearing completion.

If anyone understands the difference that a year and a world championship makes, it's Reese, the first-year GM who is getting all the praise he deserves for drafting the rookies who were so integral to the Giants' success down the stretch.

Last year at this time, Reese had his hands full, playing the dual role of general manager taking over for the retired Ernie Accorsi and director of player personnel (the position he'd previously held for four seasons). Between the delay in draft preparation caused by the Super Bowl and his lack of college scouting this past season, Reese admits his role at the combine is somewhat different this year.

"It's a little bit easier this time for me because last year at this time I was doing two jobs," he said. "Last year I knew everybody (prospects) here. This time, I haven't been able to go out and see players like I usually do. But I'll catch up. Before April I'll know who they are and catch up."

But Reese isn't complaining. The shortage of prep time due to the Giants' lengthy playoff run is one problem he would hope to have following every season. Reese is doing all he can to keep his and the Giants' success in the proper perspective.

"You get a lot of 'attaboys,' you get a lot of pats on the back," Reese said about the reception from his peers. "You try to run through people so you can watch the players, but everybody is happy for us. It's exciting to be on top in this environment right now, but you can't keep patting yourself on the back. You have to move on and get ready for a new season."

Nor is Reese developing a big head about achieving so much success in just his first season as general manager, and he's doing his best to remain humble.

"It's the luck of the draw," he said. "Some guys can work for 30 years and never get a chance. I come in the first year and we're lucky enough to win it. That's just how it goes sometimes."

The success of this past season doesn't mean Reese and Coughlin can take their foot off the gas. They'll work just as hard, if not harder due to the shorter window before the draft, to put a championship team back on the field.

"You really don't ever stop," said Coughlin. "We got back (from the Super Bowl) on a Monday night. We had our exit meetings on Tuesday morning. We had our magnificent experience in the canyon of champions over there in New York. We had a great session with the team back at the Meadowlands with the fans.

"All of a sudden the next day we had to do rankings and evaluations, write-ups and needs and things of that nature. So we went right ahead and did that. And then, as we got back, we continued along those lines with the information about the combine and free agency."

And so Coughlin and his staff are back at the combine, back where it all started, sifting through the hundred of invitees and looking for the next Kevin Boss or Ahmad Bradshaw.

But Reese cautions that there is no formula to the Giants' sudden success in developing young players.

"The template is different every year; just sometimes you hit more than you miss," he said. "Last year we hit more than we missed. You don't get them all right, you just want to get more right than you get wrong."

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