- Ohm Youngmisuk, ESPN Staff Writer
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Michael Strahan has heard the criticism of Tom Coughlin.
Strahan is aware of questions about whether the New York Giants head coach has lost the team and the rumors swirling of Bill Cowher being interested in replacing Coughlin if the squad struggles and fails to make the playoffs again.
Coughlin's former captain said Tuesday that the head coach is not the problem, despite Coughlin trying to take responsibility for the Giants' 29-10 meltdown on Sunday. The Giants had 11 penalties, five of which were personal fouls that came after the whistle in a loss to Tennessee.
Coughlin won a Super Bowl in 2007, but now his seat is awfully warm after a 1-2 start following an 8-8 collapse last year.
"Now all of a sudden he can't coach? I don't think that is the case," said Strahan, now a Fox analyst who will be recognized as one of 30 players inducted into the Giants' new Ring of Honor on Sunday night. "He has to just get these guys on the same page. As a coach you can only do so much, and you got to have some guys who are your leaders who can kind of control the situation and police each other."
Strahan used to hate the control Coughlin exerted over everything. When Coughlin first arrived in 2004, he ruled the team with an iron fist and that wasn't welcomed by every player.
But Strahan eventually bought into Coughlin's methods and now he sees Coughlin in the same light as he views his parents: They were right about what they said, even though Strahan initially might've thought they were crazy.
"I read and see all this stuff ... losing control of the team," Strahan said. "There has been an evolution of Tom Coughlin, an evolution of being to the point where I felt early on it was almost unbearable to the point of where you realize he is right now."
Strahan used to hate showing up to meetings on "Coughlin time," which was several minutes earlier than the scheduled time for the meeting. And he despised how Coughlin oversaw every aspect, almost like a dictator.
But then he saw the head coach lighten up.
"I don't think he has gone too far from where he was," Strahan said. "He may have relaxed on fining guys on whether their socks are too short or not long enough. ... OK that is one thing. His biggest change is he showed a human side to where he will laugh with you and encourage you more than he probably did at a first. But as far as his demands on you to win and be the best player you can be, that is the same."
Strahan hopes new players like Antrel Rolle will see that. Rolle questioned the team's "controlled" atmosphere and was concerned about the leadership in the locker room after a Week 2 loss in Indianapolis. Rolle took criticism for his comments, but the veteran safety was being a leader, voicing his concerns.
"I hope that he stays the guy he is and the player and competitor he is, because at some point you can't let everybody's opinion beat you down on being a leader," Strahan said of Rolle. "I think he's saying what a lot of us were thinking -- don't look like they are having fun, not looking inspired, undisciplined and all that stuff. I hope he doesn't let that [criticism] hit him and make him shut up.
"[Don't] be outspoken to where you defy Coach Coughlin, because that is not necessary, or where you break up the team or make the team choose sides or blow it up from the inside. [But] at some point you need to get checked when you are not playing well."
But who will be the one to check the Giants inside the locker room? Eli Manning, Justin Tuck and Chase Blackburn are the team captains and lead by example, but none are in the mold of Strahan or Antonio Pierce, the last two vocal leaders of the team.
Strahan talked to Tuck before the season started about being more of a leader, and he wants his friend to come out of his humble and polite shell if the team needs it.
"When things aren't going right I wasn't afraid to get down somebody's throat," Strahan said. "And when things were going good, I wasn't afraid to tell guys stop smiling now, it is not over.
"Probably half of you guys [in the media] thought I was arrogant and hard to deal with and being a jerk. In a sense it was required," Strahan added. "Guys know you are humble, but guys need to know that you care and you have to grab them by the collar sometimes. And when it comes to dealing with the media and being nice and humble, everything is not about always saying the right things and not always about looking right to the media. ... Who gives a (hoot) about that? It is about winning football games."
And Strahan's old team hasn't been doing nearly enough of that lately. But Strahan says it's not the head coach's fault.
"They have a lot of new guys out there and somebody has to stand up at some point and kind of take control of the team as a player," Strahan said. "Because coaches can only do so much. That is something I truly learned. The players really run the team. Somebody needs to step up and take that [leadership] role on and not be afraid of it."
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