Magazine article The New Yorker

HARD GUY; THE SPORTING SCENE Series: 3/4

Magazine article The New Yorker

HARD GUY; THE SPORTING SCENE Series: 3/4

Article excerpt

New York may be a bastion of liberalism and, in its own gruff way, a sanctuary for leniency, if no longer for licentiousness, but it has always had a soft spot for the autocrat, the unyielding hard-ass--Rudy Giuliani, Martha Stewart, Don Corleone. This is particularly true of the city's pro-sports franchises, whose most memorable (and successful) figures--the brusque Giants and Jets coach Bill Parcells, the egomaniacal Knicks coach Pat Riley, and, of course, the Boss, George Steinbrenner--have often been power-hungry taskmasters and my-way-or-the-highway Machiavellis.

Tom Coughlin, the new head coach of the Giants, is a disciplinarian cut from old Catholic-school cloth. His nicknames include Tom the Tyrant, Major Tom, the General, and the Principal (which is what he looks like). His favorite movie, needless to say, is "Patton." In a recent Sports Illustrated poll, current and former players voted him the worst coach in the National Football League. Three Giants have filed grievances--still pending--with their union, the Players Association, because they were fined for being a couple of minutes early to team meetings, which is, by Coughlin's accounting, late. ("Meetings start five minutes early," Coughlin has said, and, as if to confuse matters more, he has ordered the clocks in the Giants' locker room set five minutes ahead.) Last spring, several more Giants registered complaints with the union, saying that Coach Coughlin had violated off-season training restrictions with a gruelling workout schedule. (They won a two-day reprieve.) Among pro football's many Dracos, "Coughlin stands alone," a Players Association spokesman said last week.

For example, here are a few of Major Tom's rules, which he laid out in a seven-page PowerPoint presentation in August: no crossed legs; no slouching; no long hair; no beards; no jewelry; no hats (in meetings); no TV (within ninety minutes of game time); no cell phones (when Coach is around); no ankle socks (when on the field); no white socks (when on the road); no T-shirts (after hotel check-in).

"I've had friends of mine call me and say, 'God, it must be awful for you there,' " Ernie Accorsi, the Giants' general manager (and, therefore, Coughlin's commanding officer), said the other day, referring to the commotion that his new coach has caused. "No, it's not awful. It's wonderful." Coughlin had just coached the team to two consecutive victories--no small feat for the Giants, who finished in last place in 2003. Accorsi went on, "When we interviewed him the first time, I raised the question of 'Look, you come here with a reputation of a lot of rules that might become annoying to players. How do you answer that criticism?' He said the right thing, as far as I was concerned. He said, 'All I want is for them to take their jobs as seriously as I take mine when they're on the job. Other than that, as long as they live by the rules of this country, they can do what they want. …

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