Barber: Coughlin's demands pushed retirement

Updated: February 14, 2007, 2:30 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW YORK -- Tiki Barber spent part of his first day as a full-time media personality criticizing his former boss at his last day job.

Cruel to be Kind?
Tiki Barber gained nearly as many yards and scored nearly as many TDs in three years under Tom Coughlin as he did in seven seasons under Jim Fassel. Here's a comparison.
(* Yards, TDs are rushing only.)
Coach Jim Fassel
1997-2003
Tom Coughlin
2004-2006
Games 106 48
Starts 63 46
*Yards 5,409 5,040
*YPC 4.59 5.01
*TDs 28 27

Barber, who will work on NBC's "Today Show" and on the network's Sunday night football coverage, said his problems with New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin had "started to take its toll on me" and that it was an "act of God' that the physical demands Coughlin placed on him did not result in serious injuries.

"Coach Coughlin is very hard-nosed, and I didn't get a lot of time off, couldn't sit down and rest myself, and so it was a constant grind -- a physical grind on me that started to take its toll," Barber told reporters Tuesday after his introduction as the newest correspondent of the "Today Show."

"The grind took its toll on me and really forced me to start thinking about what I wanted to do next. And that's not a bad thing. That's a good thing, for me at least. Maybe not for the Giants, because they lose one of their great players, but for me, it is," Barber said.

He spurned offers from Fox and ABC/Disney to take the NBC job.

"My dream has always been to be on the 'Today Show,' " Barber said.

Barber, 31, retired as a Pro Bowl running back, scoring a touchdown in the NFL all-star game last weekend. Barber and his disciplinarian coach had their rough patches, particularly when Barber said the Giants were outcoached after a playoff loss a season ago.

Barber said Coughlin's physical demands wore him down -- and that over time the coach came to understand that.

"There'd be days where I couldn't move on Tuesday or Wednesday at practice, and he'd get mad at me for going half-speed," Barber said. "And I told him, 'Coach, I can't do it. I'm gonna be out here, I'm never gonna miss a practice, but I can't give you what you want all the time.' And he understood."

"There'd be days where I couldn't move on Tuesday or Wednesday at practice, and he'd get mad at me for going half-speed. And I told him, 'Coach, I can't do it. I'm gonna be out here, I'm never gonna miss a practice, but I can't give you what you want all the time.' And he understood."
-- Tiki Barber on Tom Coughlin

"We were in full pads for 17 weeks, and with the amount of injuries that we had, it just takes a toll on you. You just physically don't want to be out there when your body feels the way you do in full pads," Barber told reporters. "And while it probably doesn't have a really detrimental effect on how you practice or how you play, it does on your mind. And if you lose your mind in this game, you lose a lot. And that's something that [Coughlin] has to realize. And I think he does [now]."

Barber acknowledged that he had some of his best seasons under Coughlin, and that he might not have done so without him. But he still thinks Coughlin needs to change his approach.

"He has changed in little ways, but I think he still has to more," Barber said. "The game has changed, players are different, and you have to understand them and get to know them in order to encourage and motivate them to be successful. We'll see what happens this season."

Barber laid the groundwork for a broadcasting career while still active in the NFL. He was a correspondent for the Fox News Channel morning program "Fox & Friends," and has two programs on Sirius Satellite Radio, one on general topics and another on football that he does with his twin brother, Ronde Barber of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Few other novice broadcasters would get such a lavish introduction to their new business: a news conference attended by NBC Universal President and Chief Executive Jeff Zucker, the presidents of NBC News and Sports, and "Today" co-host Matt Lauer.

Zucker compared Barber to Joe Garagiola, another "Today" personality with a sports background, and former Giants star and longtime broadcaster Frank Gifford.

Barber "pops through the screen" and is incredibly popular with women, who make up the bulk of the "Today Show" audience, Zucker said.

"He's incredibly handsome, he's incredibly charming, he's incredibly personable and he's incredibly smart," he said, "and that's a rare quality."

NBC News President Steve Capus also said Barber came with a backup.

"On those days when you're not feeling well, we'll just call Tampa Bay and get your brother," Capus said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.