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From 7-7 to Super Bowl Champs: Behind the NY Giants Turnaround

Since the GMEN sang “we gotta’ ring” on their plane ride home there have been numerous articles dissecting the impact plays, the individual standouts, matchup breakdowns and what an opponent failed to execute versus the Giants.  But the one significant factor that developed in their turnaround from 7-7 to Super Bowl Champions was how cohesive the team became.  The groundwork for the turnaround may have started in November when a management consulting firm founded by a former US Air Force Pilot visited the NY Giants and gave them a seminar on process improvement. 

During a 4 game losing stretch and even up until the Jets win, there were many instances of blown secondary coverage and mental errors.  But through the playoffs and especially after the Super Bowl win, we heard players stating how they were playing as one and giving all the credit to the team.  The Giants players were confident in each other.  They believed in each other.  They had trust in one another.

Tom Coughlin historically has been described as a head coach who is rigid, inflexible, a disciplinarian, and “Mr. Five Minutes Early.”  In the film America’s Game- the 2007 New York Giants, Michael Strahan reminisced about the “tyrant” who players “weren’t willing to run through a wall for” when he started out with the Giants in 2004.  It is well documented that before the 2007 season Coughlin made adjustments to his approach and admitted he was intent on becoming more personable with his players. 

In Kurt Warner’s short tenure with the GMEN he witnessed the “softer” side of Coughlin when he spent time with Coughlin in his office after hours.  Warner reflected, “he could connect with his family on such an intimate level, but had no idea how to connect with his players. He was struggling badly.”  Coughlin requested Warner, “Go home and make a list of all the things you think I need to do better as a coach.”   One of Warner’s suggestions was, “rather than just make rules and enforce them, he had to show the players why a certain rule is important to him.” 

Tom Coughlin deserves much praise for his job this season keeping his team focused and playing hard to earn their 2nd title in 4 years.  The evolving change in his approach to his relationship with his players was a major factor.

While much credit is owed to Coughlin, another factor that may have had a very significant impact on the unity of this team might very well have come from outsiders.  Back in early November a global management training team, Afterburner Inc., visited the Timex performance center.  The group gave a presentation and seminar based on their recent book, The Debriefing Imperative.  The theme of the book is continuous improvement and takes methods from the U.S. Navy fighter pilot programs. The objective of the debrief is to provide “a simple means of analyzing root causes while also yielding actionable lessons and addressing organizational weakness while empowering and reinforcing strengths.”

The players learned how to review game tape in a constructive and positive manner though “a ‘nameless, rankless’ tone.”  Further, “debriefing helps build leaders by helping them learn the skills to establish greater trust between themselves and their team. Leadership must be observed and practiced in order to be mastered.” Offensive lineman David Diehl added, “there is no better person to watch film with than your peers. Football is so much about accountability and selling out for the guy next to you. You don’t want to let the guy next to you down. When you can watch film as a group, people can stand up and say, hey, that was my mistake, I was responsible. That leads to a belief in one another.”  Furthermore, “when a team thoroughly discusses each other’s contribution to the execution of a task, they come to know each other and understand each other’s unique challenges and obstacles. They uncover the complexities that challenge them and learn how better to assist each other in managing those challenges.”

We witnessed lapses in coverage within the secondary over the course of the season.  The Debriefing process asks, “how long can you survive the repetition of the same mistake? What good does it do to have members of an organization contribute to a project or planning effort and then have no connection to the outcome, no part in the post mortem? How can individuals measure themselves? Groups? Debriefing sees to it that they are intimately connected and responsible for the outcomes.”  Is it coincidental that the secondary went from a weekly film review session with a few players earlier in the season to the entire group later on?  Aaron Ross gave his take on the goal of these sessions: “It wasn’t that we couldn’t play, but we were off by a little bit here or there. We weren’t reacting to the situations and the calls the way we were supposed to and we needed to get that straight and we had to do it amongst ourselves.”  They became empowered and learned to trust each other more.  In turn they were able to tell the Giants Defensive Coach, Perry Fewell, what worked and what wasn’t working for them based on their “nameless, rankless tone” approach to game review.  Fewell admitted, “when we watch the game and critique ourselves, I had to take off the title of defensive coordinator.”

Carl Banks spoke recently on WFAN and marveled about how this team overcame a 4 game losing streak which occurred versus the 49ers, Eagles, Saints and Packers.  In Banks experience, “most guys start to question things after a 3 game loss but after 4 games guys start quitting.  I saw it in my brief time in Washington when guys started quitting after our fourth loss in a row.” Banks gives a lot of credit to Coughlin.  But the Debriefing process may have added another positive boost.  The Debriefing process “provides an appropriate means of putting the past behind us, learning and growing from it, and moving on. And, when debriefing is performed regularly, it keeps the organization focused on the present and the future rather than the past.”

In the end, the Giants organization deserves tremendous credit for taking the initiative to expose their organization to the  methods of the debriefing imperative.  Credit is also due to the coaching staff for implementing the tools and methods into their system.  We now can see why the team’s theme was “all in” during the playoffs.