Coach Tom Coughlin was one of Tiki Barber's favorite topics — or is it targets — in his playing days and nothing has changed in retirement.
The New York Giants all-time leading rusher says his former coach is facing a crisis because of the media perception he is losing the team after two straight one-sided losses.
Barber, who had his share of blowups with Coughlin before retiring after the 2006 season, noted that once the perception appears in the media, it somehow becomes reality.
"When you're fighting against something that's not necessarily real, you make it real," Barber said Thursday in a telephone interview to publicize his induction into the Giants' new Ring of Honor. "That's why he's at a crisis. He needs to figure out a way to get control of the situation, whether it's playing better and not making mistakes, whether it's having a group of players like he did in previous years stand up and take accountability for what's going on."
The Giants are coming off a 29-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans. They turned the ball over three times and got called for 11 penalties, including five personal fouls in a game that was one of their most undisciplined in years.
But Coughlin has gotten a good feeling in the locker room this week.
"We are determined," the 64-year-old said. "We have great resolve."
Defensive captain Justin Tuck defended the team's leadership.
"I think people have gotten leadership misunderstood," Tuck said. "Everyone thinks a good definition of leadership is how much you talk. I disagree with that. I think the leaders on this football team go out everyday and bust their butts on the practice field, the weight room, and the meeting room. That's what leadership is about. It's about leading, it isn't about talking."
Tuck said he has no problems with Coughlin or his style of coaching that stresses discipline and accountability. He refused to comment about Barber's statement but agreed Coughlin has evolved as a coach.
"When I first got here, he wasn't the coach he is now," Tuck said. "For obvious reasons he has seen some things that he has tried out and been successful and implemented them into his coaching."
Defensive tackle Barry Cofield, who was a rookie in Barber's final season, said players need to adjust to the coach.
"I think coach Coughlin is a straight shooter and that's why I respect him," Cofield said. "He's not going to be buddy-buddy to you on the field or off the field. But that's not necessarily the role of a head coach. He plays his role and he plays it all the time. He is not going to go behind your back."
Cofield believes Coughlin has progressed as a coach in the past four years, becoming more of a people person.
"The fact that he is the same guy all the time and that he sticks by his principles, I respect him," Cofield said.
Despite the losses to the Colts and Titans, Cofield said Coughlin has not changed. He hasn't panicked.
"If guys show up and we win, a lot of this stuff will get swept back under the rug," he said. "When you are losing, everything is magnified. There are always going to be issues and you always want to find a reason. Sometimes you don't play well enough to win."
Barber does not know what type of reception he will get on Sunday night. While a fan favorite during his playing days, he drew the ire of fans after criticizing Coughlin on his way out the door and then saying Eli Manning's leadership qualities made him laugh.
The joke was on Barber in 2007 when Coughlin and Manning led New York to a Super Bowl championship.
"I've never said that Tom is a bad coach," Barber said. "I think he's a great coach. My issue with him — and he knows what it is because we had plenty of discussions, some civil, some not — (is) about how you treat people. I think his biggest evolution has been in how he has respected his players and how he's gotten them to play for him.
"That's why they won the Super Bowl in 2007 and I think that now the team and he need to find that mutual center of respect and success will come their way."