Coughlin is man for Giants job


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Odessa Turner was standing in the San Francisco 49ers' locker room the other day, talking about Tom Coughlin.

And what he had to say should convince you that Coughlin is the man the New York Giants need now to help them recover from the failed Ray Handley era, which came to a merciful end yesterday.

Turner, the former Giants wide receiver, was talking about how grateful he feels now that he has another chance to win a Super Bowl, and about how instrumental Coughlin was in giving him the opportunity.

"I owe everything to Tom Coughlin," Turner said. "If it weren't for Tom Coughlin, I don't think I'd be standing here right now. I don't think I'd be in football."

Had you asked Turner about Coughlin two years ago, he might not have spoken in such glowing terms. Back then, Coughlin was the Giants wide receivers coach, and Turner wasn't exactly thrilled to be his pupil. So Turner probably would have sprinkled in a few expletive deleteds in any assessment of Coughlin, who is a stern taskmaster.

Just as several players on the Boston College Eagles probably would do if they gave you an honest answer about how they perceive their coach.

But those players might want to listen to what Turner has to say about Coughlin now, because that's probably how they're going to feel in a few years.

"He's a great teacher, and I guess I didn't realize it until now," Turner said. "His techniques work. Maybe you don't know it at the time you're with him, but they work."

Such is the effect Coughlin has on his players. They despise him when they're around him, yet they end up loving him for what he gives them. And that's how the Giants will feel about Coughlin if general manager George Young does the right thing and offers him Handley's old job.

Right now, this Giants team has a bunch of Odessa Turners -- underachievers with a desperate need for discipline and direction. Coughlin will give them those two things, and they will hate him for it. But eventually, they will win because of it, and in the end, Coughlin will be revered. Just as he is at Boston College, where he has revived a fallen team in only two years and brought the Eagles into tomorrow's Hall of Fame game against Tennessee.

Yes, there are other candidates who also might lift the Giants out of their Handley-induced funk, but all indications point to Coughlin as Young's choice.

Even if that's the case, Coughlin isn't saying.

"There's been no contact," he said yesterday in Tampa, Fla. "If there were to be, I'd deal with that at that time. I'm not going to be a distraction."

While Coughlin stands at or near the top of Young's list, there are others who also figure into the general manager's interview schedule:

* Bill Parcells is out there waiting for a call, but Young apparently is wondering if Parcells could be the same coach after quitting in May 1991.

* Dan Reeves was fired Monday by the Denver Broncos, and he brings 12 years and three Super Bowl appearances to the table. Young probably will interview Reeves, although Reeves may want too much authority over the entire football operation for Young's liking.

* Dave Wannstedt is out there, too, and Young almost certainly will consider the Dallas Cowboys' talented defensive coordinator. Wannstedt would jump at the chance.

"I have not been contacted, but it would be something I'd have to look at," Wannstedt said yesterday.

Something he'd have to look at? Try something he's been waiting a lifetime for.

"[Shoot] yeah, I'd be interested," Wannstedt told a friend.

* Florida coach Steve Spurrier, almost always mentioned these days as a possible NFL head coach, could be on Young's list, but surely not very high. Young doesn't know him well enough, and Spurrier is in the midst of a comfortable, long-term contract.

Young insists he would not hesitate to bring Parcells back if he thought he was the right choice to revive the franchise. But the general manager kept stressing the word "commitment" yesterday when asked about what he was looking for in a head coach, and you couldn't help but get the feeling he was questioning whether Parcells would have the commitment to come back and begin the difficult rebuilding process.

Young should talk to Parcells about returning, but the feeling here all along has been that trying to reach back into the past when looking to the future isn't the right way to go.

That's another reason Coughlin seems like the logical -- and the correct -- choice. He is a driven coach who drives his players to the point where they hate him and then love him.

Even Pepper Johnson, the Giants' outspoken leader whose power base might be eroded with a strong-willed coach, would like to see Coughlin come in and clean things up.

"I'd like to see a guy who's strict and will keep the younger guys in their place," Johnson said last night. "I think Tom Coughlin would be good for the Giants."

Coughlin is no Vince Lombardi -- although a picture of the great Packers coach hangs on his office wall at Boston College. No one is Vince Lombardi.

Coughlin is obsessed with winning, and he wills his players into believing they can win. Right now, that's what the Giants need to pick up after Handley.

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