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Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Coughlin gets one-year extension from Giants news services

CALDWELL, N.J. -- Tom Coughlin was given a one-year reprieve to turn the New York Giants into a legitimate contender.

The Sheriff Stays
Tom Coughlin
Now that Giants players know for certain that Tom Coughlin will return as coach in 2007, will they move forward? Their up-and-ultimately-down season was fraught with internal strife that filled the back pages for months:

• Sept. 24: Tight end Jeremy Shockey criticizes Coughlin after the Giants fell behind by 35 points early before losing to Seattle 42-30. "We got outplayed and outcoached. Write that down," he says.

• Sept. 25: Defensive coordinator Tim Lewis takes the blame for the team's then-position as one of the worst defenses in the NFL. "I can't screw it up, and right now I am screwing it up."

• Oct. 17: Tiki Barber becomes a supreme distraction when confirming that he is "leaning toward" retiring after the season. "I've been considering [retirement] for a few years now." The next day, Barber did not back off his comments, saying he was firm in his decision.

• Oct. 22: Linebacker LaVar Arrington suffers a torn left Achilles tendon in a 36-22 victory over the host Cowboys. Four days later Arrington is placed on IR, ending his season.

• Nov. 5: Wide receiver Plaxico Burress was ruled inactive against the Texans because of back spasms.

• Nov. 5: Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Strahan suffers a foot injury in the second quarter of a 14-10 win over the Texans.

• Nov. 9: Leading into an NFC showdown vs. unbeaten Chicago, Burress, who earlier in the season referred to Terrell Owens as a "coward," stoked the Bears by calling their cornerbacks "very beatable." Burress is held to 48 yards receiving and Eli Manning finishes without a TD pass. The 38-20 loss starts a four-game losing streak that sends the Giants to 6-6.

• Nov. 9: Giants all-time leading receiver Amani Toomer is stunned when told by doctors that he needs season-ending surgery to repair a partially torn left ACL.

• Nov. 22: Barber is critical of the Giants' play-calling, saying abandoning the running game in a 26-10 loss at Jacksonville was a slap in his face and a sure way to lose more games. Only 14 running plays were called in the game. After New York was shut out by Carolina in the previous year's playoffs, he said the team was outcoached.

• Nov. 27: Following a fourth-quarter meltdown at Tennessee, a players-only meeting is held after Coughlin speaks to the team about having its heart cut out in a 24-21 loss in which the Titans scored all of their points in the final 9:35.

• Nov. 27: Strahan says of Burress, who had given up on a deep fourth-quarter pass during the Giants' collapse vs. Tennessee, "It's a shame. You can't give up. You can't quit, because you're not quitting on yourself, you're quitting on everybody. I don't quite understand what his lack of motivation is in those types of situations. But I'm going to try to see what it is."

• Nov. 29: After telling reporters that he would share details of a follow-up conversation with Burress, Strahan declines, then does his best to intimidate an ESPN reporter who attempts to question him about what he said about Burress.

• Dec. 26: Facing a must-win game at Washington to keep their postseason hopes alive, Coughlin relieves offensive coordinator John Hufnagel of his play-calling duties. Quarterbacks coach Kevin Gilbride calls the plays, and the Giants beat the Redskins 34-28 to finish 8-8.

• Dec. 31: The Giants qualify for the playoffs when St. Louis, Houston and Carolina post wins in early games.

• Jan. 8: Patriots executive Scott Pioli turns down a request to interview for the general manager's job. GM Ernie Accorsi is scheduled to retire later in January.

• Jan. 10: The Giants announce Coughlin will return as coach. With one year remaining on his original four-year contract, he agrees to a one-year extension.

While the team's owners didn't give him an ultimatum, their message was clear.

"I think he knows we need to do better, that our expectations are much higher," co-owner John Mara said in a conference call Wednesday. "I think we have enough talent on this roster to do better."

Mara and co-owner Jonathan Tisch gave the 60-year-old coach a one-year contract extension through 2008, an agreement reached just days after the Giants were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs for the second straight season.

It was a disappointing finish for a team that won the NFC East in 2005 with an 11-5 mark and thought it had a Super Bowl shot coming into this season. A 6-2 first-half fueled those expectations.

However, injuries to seven-time Pro Bowler Michael Strahan and leading receiver Amani Toomer, dumb mistakes and a subpar second half by quarterback Eli Manning led to a 2-6 finish that caused fan unrest and put Coughlin's job in jeopardy after New York's 23-20 playoff loss to the Eagles in Philadelphia on Sunday.

In the two days that followed, Tisch and Mara talked football and future plans with Coughlin, and he convinced them he could make Manning better and the team a winner.

"He has a vision and he understands how that vision can now move forward," Tisch said. "He did not have to save his job. He did not have to talk us into anything."

Retaining Coughlin provides stability to a team whose co-owners, Wellington Mara and Bob Tisch, died within weeks of each other in late 2005 and which will lose general manager Ernie Accorsi to retirement next week.

However, Bill Parcells won't be filling Accorsi's job. The Cowboys coach reacted angrily Tuesday to a report that he he reached out to the Giants about the position.

"There is absolutely nothing to it," Parcells told the New York Daily News from Dallas. "Absolutely nothing. There has been no contact, either directly or through an intermediary. Whoever said it is a liar."

The meetings between Coughlin and ownership started Monday evening and continued through most of the day Tuesday. Tuesday's meetings were back and forth whether Coughlin would be back, but members of the Mara and Tisch families talked to some of the players still cleaning out their lockers in Giants Stadium and found solid support for keeping Coughlin.

The owners didn't ask Coughlin to make any changes and they said they were satisfied he was the right man to lead the Giants.

"Tom Coughlin is our coach for 2007 and hopefully for many years after that," Mara said. "That is the final decision."

Hopefully is the key word, though. If there is another disappointment, the Giants might be knocking on the door of former Steelers coach Bill Cowher or Notre Dame boss Charlie Weis.

"When I become convinced that somebody in this organization is not capable of doing the job any longer then we are not going to hesitate to take action," Mara said. "That is not the case here. I believe that Tom is an excellent coach and I believe that we will win with him."

Coughlin, who was to earn $3 million in 2007, appreciated the decision but said he wasn't surprised.

"I did not have any feeling I wasn't going to be retained," Coughlin said in a separate conference call.

Terms of the one-year extension weren't immediately available.

Strahan, who missed eight of the last nine games, middle linebacker Antonio Pierce and Pro Bowl tight end Jeremy Shockey all welcomed Coughlin back for a fourth season.

"Like I've been saying, the coach is the real deal," Pierce said. "He's a good coach and he does a good job and we all share in what happened this season."

Some fans, probably those who called for Coughlin's job in the wake of a 30-7 loss to the Saints on Dec. 24, won't be happy with the decision, Mara acknowledged.

"I am certainly sensitive to what the fans think," Mara said. "I have received a lot of mail. But at the end of the day, you can't make decisions on what the fans say, but what your eyes tell you and what your experience in the game tells you."

Coughlin, who has a 25-23 record with the Giants, plans to meet individually with his coaching staff in the next week. Change is probable.

Coughlin made one move down the stretch, relieving offensive coordinator John Hufnagel after the Saints game and giving quarterbacks coach Kevin Gilbride the play-calling duties.

Despite reports that players were tuning out their no-nonsense coach, Mara insists Coughlin still has the respect of the team.

"I don't buy that," Mara said. "I think there is substantial support for him."

Strahan agreed.

"I know the perception is that he is unapproachable and distant from his players, but that's not the case," he said. "I had some of my best conversations with him this season, and he showed me how much he cared about me as a person and as a player."

Mara said a major part of the interview process was listening to what Coughlin had to say about Manning, and he was satisfied with the answers.

"Eli needs to play more consistently," Mara added. "He would be the first one to admit that. Something that I have been concerned about is his play over the second half of the season. There is nobody in this building that doubts his ability and that feels like he is not the guy to lead us to where we want to get to. But he has to play more consistently."

Coughlin believes Manning will improve next year, his third as the starter.

"He is the quarterback of the future, and certainly we have work to do there in consistency, in offensive point production, along those lines, but I'm very confident that we will achieve in that area," Coughlin said.

Before joining the Giants, Coughlin was Jacksonville's head coach from 1995-2002 and went 72-64.

Information from The Associated Press and senior writers Len Pasquarelli and John Clayton was used in this report.