Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

You Can't Knock Dan Reeves for Giving the Giants a Jolt

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

You Can't Knock Dan Reeves for Giving the Giants a Jolt

Article excerpt

There were no tears shed in the New York Giants' locker room when Ray Handley was fired as head coach. Almost everyone agreed that Handley, a career assistant coach, was overmatched in the role of Bill Parcells's successor.

It wasn't that Handley didn't know football, players said. He could diagram a play well enough; he just couldn't sell it. He wasn't a leader. When things went sour, the players said, Handley lost control.

Whoever coached the Giants next, it was agreed, had to be a take-charge guy. The players talked about needing a coach who could take this veteran team, which had gone slack in two seasons under Handley, and pull it taut once again.

Discipline, that was the key.

A get-tough approach?

Most players said they would welcome it.

So what happened?

New coach Dan Reeves waived a half-dozen Giants veterans last week, including malcontent linebacker Pepper Johnson, and suddenly a number of people around the team whined about him being a meanie.

Well, guess what? You can't have it both ways.

If you want to accuse Ray Handley of letting things slide, you can't knock Reeves for making changes.

If you want to say Handley was a lousy head coach because he never took charge, then you can't knock Reeves for cutting a player (Johnson) who feuded with the coaches all summer.

Personally, I think Reeves is on the right track. The Giants needed a jolt. They needed to break up a nucleus that had grown old and stale since winning the Super Bowl in 1991. The Giants were 8-8 in their first season under Handley, 6-10 last year.

"The players treated Handley like a substitute teacher," said Harry Carson, the former Giants linebacker, now a TV analyst in New York. "It was like the real teacher (Parcells) was out sick and they didn't feel like they had to respond for Handley."

The players know that is not the case with Reeves, who spent the last 12 seasons in Denver and led the Broncos to three Super Bowls. Reeves was not the first choice of general manager George Young - Boston College coach Tom Coughlin and current Chicago coach Dave Wannstedt were offered the job before Reeves - but he probably was the best choice all along.

He made some necessary moves, phasing out veterans such as running back Ottis Anderson, defensive end Eric Dorsey and wide receiver Stephen Baker who no longer were productive. Reeves also resolved his quarterback position by naming Phil Simms the starter and opening the door for Jeff Hostetler to sign with the Los Angeles Raiders.

Reeves removed a lot of old, scarred and potentially troublesome baggage before the season ever started, which was smart. He made more decisions in his first summer on the job than Handley made in two years. Reeves defined who he was and what he wanted. Handley never did.

Case in point: Pepper Johnson.

The former Pro Bowl linebacker led the Giants in tackles last season, but he sniped constantly at the coaches. He didn't like the defensive scheme. At one point, Johnson said the players would be better off if they ignored the signals from the bench and made up their own assignments.

"Street ball," Johnson called it.

Handley's only response was to burrow his head a little deeper in the sand. Unrest? What unrest?

Reeves knew Johnson was a talent, but he also knew Johnson was moody and selfish. Things got off to a rocky start when Johnson left training camp to protest his switch from inside linebacker to outside linebacker. …

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