Several veteran New York Giants players are contesting the strict policies of new coach Tom Coughlin through the players' union as the team, which lost decisively two days ago to the Philadelphia Eagles, prepares to play the Washington Redskins on Sunday.
A top NFL Players Association official said yesterday the union is confident that it will overturn fines assessed to three Giants players by Coughlin recently for arriving at a team meeting early, but not early enough to suit Coughlin.
"To my knowledge, this is the first time a coach has ever fined a player for arriving early to a team meeting, and once these cases are arbitrated, I am sure it will be the last," said Richard Berthelsen, the union's general counsel.
According to the grievances being filed with an arbitrator by the union on the players' behalf to appeal the fines, Giants linebackers Carlos Emmons and Barrett Green, and cornerback Terry Cousin arrived between 11:09 and 11:11 a.m. for a recent special teams meeting scheduled to begin at 11:15. When the players arrived in the meeting room and sat down, they were told to get out because they were late. Two days later, they were fined $500 apiece by Coughlin, who regularly begins meetings early if most players are on hand.
It was only the latest sign that some Giants players are resisting Coughlin's methods of discipline and that the union regards Coughlin's treatment of his players as problematic. The Giants lost two days of offseason practices in May after an investigation by the league and the union determined that the team had violated the rules governing such workouts. He reportedly violated time limits on offseason workouts imposed by the collective bargaining agreement.
Giants defensive end Michael Strahan was not involved in the latest episode, but Fox reported Sunday that Strahan also was prepared to appeal a fine by Coughlin. He reportedly showed up a few minutes early for a meeting last week, finding that the meeting was under way and the doors to the room had been shut. Strahan declined to comment when asked about the incident after the Giants' 31-17 loss at Philadelphia in their season opener, their first regular season game under Coughlin.
According to a Giants spokesman, Coughlin was asked about the matter during a news conference yesterday and declined to comment.
Coughlin was hired by the Giants in January to replace Jim Fassel, under whom the club lost its final eight games last season. In Coughlin's previous NFL coaching stop in Jacksonville, he earned a reputation as one of the league's most rigid taskmasters while leading the Jaguars to AFC title games in the 1996 and '99 seasons.
While he was in Jacksonville, Coughlin's rules included no slouching in meetings; no bending over or kneeling on the field; no removing of the helmet or unbuckling of the chin strap; and no tape on the outside of shoes during practices or games. He barred sunglasses on the sideline, even for coaches.
In January 1999, before a playoff game against New England, Jaguars rookies Cordell Taylor and Tavian Banks were a half-hour late for a team meeting after being in an auto accident on their way to the team hotel. A Jaguars official picked up the players and they were taken to a hospital later that night. Coughlin fined them $500 each.
He despises injuries and mental gaffes. He had a line drawn in front of the Jaguars' practice field and called everything on the other side the "concentration zone." He has said that he has softened some of his rules over the years, but many remain in effect for the Giants. Violating the dress code on the road -- a collared shirt and slacks or dress shorts, and no white athletic socks -- still draws a fine, as does having a cell phone ring during a team meeting.
Giants veterans seem to be resisting, just as Redskins veterans resisted the no-nonsense approach of former coach Marty Schottenheimer during an 0-5 beginning in 2001 that preceded an 8-3 finish. Coughlin became the first Giants coach since Bill Parcells in 1983 to lose his debut. Ray Handley, Dan Reeves and Fassel each won his first game with the team.
"We lost to a good football team," Emmons said in the Giants' postgame locker room Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. "There are no excuses to be made. We got our butts kicked."
The Eagles had five sacks Sunday and Giants quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Eli Manning fumbled three times. Warner lost a fumble on a botched exchange with center Shaun O'Hara at the Philadelphia 1-yard line. "That can't happen," Coughlin said after the game. "That cannot happen."
Giants cornerbacks Will Allen and Will Peterson struggled in particular as Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens caught three of quarterback Donovan McNabb's four touchdown passes.
"Defensive football, first of all, is alignment football," Coughlin said. "I don't think we aligned very well. . . . We have some issues there that we have to work out. We had people who were supposed to be in an outside alignment, and they ended up on the inside. There were switches that we worked on all week long, but they were able to confuse us on it. I think this is a good reality check. . . . Will Allen is a better football player than that, and I think he'll come back from this."
Warner said that Coughlin's postgame message Sunday was not delivered in anger. Coughlin had seen the Giants' resolve to win, Warner said, but was frustrated by their mistakes.
Coughlin said: "The thing that I'm most interested in our team right now is how we respond to this. . . . We have our work cut out for us, obviously. Despite that, I'm not discouraged. . . . This is about pride and about wearing that blue jersey, and about being determined to take what we did [Sunday] and do something about it. . . . There were some positives, and there were some negatives. We've got to get the negatives figured out.''