Bob Glauber has been Newsday's national football columnist since 1992. He was Newsday's football writer covering the Jets
Practice had ended a few minutes earlier, and Tom Coughlin walked alone from the sprawling fields toward his office, an animated look on his face. There wasn't the slightest hint of self pity in his expression, despite an 0-5 record that would test the soul of any coach, no less one who has a pair of Super Bowl rings.
Coughlin was asked what he can possibly do to pull his team out of an unprecedented funk. He looked at his questioner with a defiant expression on his face. Then the words came spewing out.
"Yeah, you go back to work as hard as you possibly can, you get 'em all to practice and perform the way they're supposed to, and transfer that practice to the game field," Coughlin said Tuesday. "What else are you gonna do? It's not like, 'OK, let me look this one up.' "
Which is exactly the point: For a coach who prides himself on having an answer for everything that faces his football team, Coughlin has no frame of reference this time. Not from his own experience -- his worst start was 0-4 for the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars in 1995, but they won in Week 5 -- and not in NFL history. Or at least the kind of history he'd like to be a part of: No team has ever recovered from an 0-5 start to make the playoffs.
Impossible feat for his Giants? Perhaps. But he's unwilling to give up.
"I'll write it for you," Coughlin quipped, suggesting that he might be the one to create that unlikely achievement.
So what's the answer? Or, better still, is there an answer?
"I know what it is, and it's simple," Coughlin said. "It's not hard."
"You gotta work your ever-loving [butt] off, harder than ever," he said. "You gotta stay together. You gotta go out on the field, you gotta play the thing. You can't play with a lack of confidence, even though you haven't had success. You've gotta play as hard as you can. Make something happen for yourself. There's no other way."
Coughlin was so animated as he laid out his thoughts that he inadvertently knocked over his questioner's tape recorder. As the machine fell toward the ground, Coughlin continued his thought, looking him straight in the eye.
"Big players have to make big plays in big games," he said. Recorder retrieved, Coughlin is told most of his big players haven't played big so far. "But they've got to," he said. "They've got to. That's the only way we're going to fight our way out of this. More. We need more."
Coughlin headed for his office, but not before glancing at the fallen tape recorder. "What'd that cost, a dollar fifty?"
The man hasn't lost his sense of resolve . . . or his sense of humor.
But the only way he will truly smile is with the satisfaction of getting his first win. He's hoping it comes on Thursday in Chicago against the Bears. For a Giants team that has given up 31 or more points in each of its first five games, the feeling of victory can't come soon enough.
And Coughlin's big players know it.
"That's what you need," Eli Manning said in response to Coughlin's challenge. "You need your stars to step up and play at a high level and make the plays that we're expected to make."
Manning is at the top of that list. With an unseemly 12 interceptions through the five losses, Manning understands he has to stop turning the ball over and start scoring points. There's simply no other way.
"Obviously, we want it," Manning said. "You try to make a play on every play that you have out there. Do your job and hope that will lead to a win. I know the situation we're in. I'm not happy with our performances. We know we have to fix it. We have to play better. That's what we expect of ourselves, and that's what the fans expect."
Making matters even tougher, the Giants are on the road on a short week, although Manning said there is some benefit to the compressed time frame.
"I think it's good, just to get your mind off of ," he said. "Just get focused on a game, and you don't have two days to kind of dwell on the last game, so you just get back to work."
Plenty of work ahead. And no precedent for the Giants getting to January after the hole they've dug the first five games. But the coach and the quarterback aren't thinking that far ahead.
"Just get the first one," Coughlin said. "Just the first one."