Since 2007, the season the Giants won the Super Bowl, Tom Coughlin has transformed his personality and leadership style to be a kinder, gentler coach. It was a conscious decision, leaving the gruff disciplinarian behind in favor of someone who could relate to the players.
For 2 1/2 years, that change paid off for the Giants, who seemed more relaxed and played better. After winning the Super Bowl, they went 12-4 in 2008 and this year started out 5-0. But after the collapse that left them 8-8 this season, when the team's physical and mental toughness seemed to disappear at times, Coughlin might be rethinking his new persona and considering an about-face.
"I think that the adjustments that were made from my standpoint [in 2007], I thought at that point in time really helped our football team come together," Coughlin said Monday. "Whatever my thoughts are about how to continue to build on that going forward, I will do. Who knows what that may be? We definitely have to regain some of our hard-nosed toughness, the physical aspect of the game, and that will be accomplished."
So no more Mr. Nice Guy? Is Tyrant Tom coming back to the Giants?
"I think you always have to change and adjust, and after I evaluate everything, if I think some change is in order, then I will adapt that myself," he said. "There is no ego here, OK. I am here to serve. I have to find the best way that I can do that."
But if he does plan on drinking the Mr. Hyde potion again, Coughlin didn't do it before he met with the team Monday morning. Several players noted the tone of that address - particularly after two dreadful performances - as surprisingly optimistic.
"Coach Coughlin didn't want to beat us up too much because we already feel bad," receiver Steve Smith said. "He said you could go in and talk to him and he wants to see where guys' heads are at, what you're thinking, so we can try and prevent some of the things that happened this year."
Coughlin admitted to not piling on, but said he didn't think he was too easy on the team in the last meeting or at any time this season.
"I do try and take the position where it's an honest assessment, but they get beaten up by the world outside," Coughlin said of the final address. "There is always going to be a form of encouragement from me."
Perhaps the disappointment of the 2009 season will nudge him back to the coach the Giants hired in 2004 to come in and whip Jim Fassel's mess back into shape. At the very least, Coughlin said he is confident the team can regain its lost identity as a physical and mentally tough team, and he will lead them there.
"We have to revitalize," he said. "We have good people. They do want to be as good as they can be. We may have lost sight here or there of the direct course as to how to get there, but we will be sure to bring that to their attention."