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Coaches have to expunge culture of losing

At Redskins Park, the walls have been painted burgundy and gold since Joe Gibbs' return and the players' lounge remodeled, complete with plasma-screen televisions. Everyone puts in full days now, as opposed to players leaving mid-afternoon, which was not entirely uncommon last season.

The Redskins never practice without shoulder pads, and workouts are more intense than they have been in the past several years. The team also watches more film now and there are more meetings, which aren't interrupted by ringing cell phones. Oh, and everyone arrives on time now.

As a great MC once said, things done changed.

The New York Giants have a strict dress code for charter flights (suit, tie) and for the team hotel (slacks or dress shorts, button-down shirt, no jeans or T-shirts). Professional football players are to dress the part. And surely by now we all know of the rule that players be five minutes early for meetings -- or else they're late. And just to make certain there are no inconsistencies, the old second-hand clocks at Giants Stadium have been replaced by the digital variety.

To paraphrase a line from a great actor, there's a new sheriff in town, and his name is Tom Coughlin.

Times aren't the only things changing in D.C., New York, Arizona, Cincinnati, and Detroit. So are the cultures, that in most cases, have been conducive to losing for years.

You hear about it every spring. Bill Parcells is the poster coach for it, having done it wherever he's gone. Fallen franchise brings in new head coach. New coach brings in new guys. New guys bring new attitude. New attitude brings …

Actually, it brings us to a question, sort of like the chicken and the egg: which comes first -- winning or the culture of winning?

"I think they sort of go hand in hand," Lions coach Steve Mariucci said last week. "To feel like you should win, you have to earn that and deserve to feel that way."

"I think the attitude comes first," said Cardinals coach Dennis Green. "I think the attitude about your effort to win has to come first, but it would be great if you won along the way."

Though first-year coaches Coughlin, Gibbs, and Green have just three wins among them, one can see the progress of the process. The Giants already are halfway to last year's win total (4). And though they've lost back-to-back games, in Gibbs the Redskins trust. Meanwhile, the Cardinals are playing hard, having lost games by seven and three points.

Even so, it's a new beginning in the desert, where Green is attempting to do what Marvin Lewis did in Cincinnati last year -- create a winning environment for a franchise that hasn't won in years. The Cardinals as a Madden NFL 2005 "franchise" are damn hard to turn around. But Green has done this before, having built the Vikings into a playoff team overnight in the '90s. The first thing he did then was overhauled the roster and bring in "his guys," as new coaches are wont to do. Nothing about his rebuilding plans suggest that they're broken, thus Green proceeded to go about fixing Arizona's roster almost from the day he arrived.

Coughlin and Gibbs did the same this offseason. Mariucci continued the process this year. It's the first step in turning around a moribund franchise -- turning over the roster, and often the coaching staff as well.

But it isn't simply change for the sake of it.

"You have to have a significant change in personnel, in that when new players come in, they don't really worry about what the record was last year or two or three years ago," Green said. "You have to have a certain amount of change, but you're also expecting the guys that have been here to say, 'Hey, I can have some impact also.' "

Standing in the middle of the Lions' locker room last week, quarterback Joey Harrington remarked that Mariucci "definitely put his touches on the team this year. Just take a look around. New [guy], new [guy], new … new … new … new … ."

Sudden change can cause problems with the old guard. Coaches coming in with the intent of changing a club's culture often will clash with established veterans. Corey Dillon and Lewis clashed last season. Coughlin and Michael Strahan haven't exactly clicked. Green raised eyebrows by cutting starting center Pete Kendall, many believe as an act of retaliation for complaints to the NFL Players Association about the intensity of offseason workouts.

When building their programs, coaches only want players around who are with it. The new atmosphere isn't intended to be comfortable for everyone.

"People say I'm a players' coach," Green said. "I am -- as long as those players want to win. I'm a players' coach for players who want to win. I'm not a very good coach for guys that aren't that big into winning."

Added Green, "You have to be able to make tough decisions that are going to be in the best interest of the football team."

Always in a coach's best interest is to acquire players who can make a difference. A good coach such as Gibbs can make a difference, but at the end of day, it's players who have usually decided the outcome of games.

"I've never seen two environments play at the 50-yard line," Mariucci said. "We can have the greatest practice routine of all time, if we don't have the players, it's not going to work."

Fitting that coaches often refer to franchises as "programs," for free agency has given the pro game a college feel to it in that coaches act as recruiters now. A major challenge for coaches who are rebuilding franchises is to convince players not just to come aboard but to hang around through the process, provided ownership ponies up the money. That puts pressure on coaches to produce right away.

"You want to win now so the potential free agents will feel that the program is going somewhere," Green said. "There are football players who have to make a decision. We've got guys whose contracts are going to be up. Do they want to leave? Many, many players have left the Arizona Cardinals as unrestricted free agents. High draft picks, because they're normally picking high, that have gone on and done very well. Guys have to make a decision, do they think we're going to win, or are they going to catch the first train out of town?"

Damien Woody left New England for Motown and the largest contract ever given to an interior offensive lineman (six years, $31 million). An added incentive was the challenge of helping turn around a Lions franchise that has won one playoff game since 1958.

He never anticipated how frustrating the journey can be. Included in the package for which Detroit paid a $9 million signing bonus was Woody's inability to locate the "moral" victories column in the standings. Two titles in three years tend to spoil a man. Thus the Lions guard did not react particularly well Sunday to losing for the first time this season and, personally, for the first time in nearly a calendar year.

"I'm just shell-shocked right now," he said.

Culture shocked was more like it.

Michael Smith is a senior writer for ESPN.com