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Diner morning news: Why Coughlin took the blame

Giants coach needs to improve the culture. This is a start. Michael Lombardi

Print This November 12, 2009, 10:29 AM EST

QUOTE: “A boss creates fear, a leader confidence. A boss fixes blame, a leader corrects mistakes. A boss knows all, a leader asks questions. A boss makes work drudgery, a leader makes it interesting.” -- Russell H. Ewing

Happy birthday to Matt “I Love Me Some Texans” Bowen. We all wish him well, especially because we know he’s suffering after Iowa’s loss last week, the Bears’ lack of defense, the fact his Cubbies have no chance at all and his beloved Texans couldn’t find a way to make a field goal against the Colts. At least he has “Eight in the Box,” which has helped him learn about the talents of “Mad Men” actress January Jones (she’s hosting “Saturday Night Live” this week).

Have a great day, Matt. Things will get better for the Chicago sports teams — they just have to. Go Hawkeyes…

If you were a head coach in the NFL and your team played its best game of the season, dominating in almost every area, but lost at the end — a loss that extended your losing streak to four, what would you do? Easy. Take the burden of the loss and place it on your shoulders. That’s exactly what Tom Coughlin did Wednesday: “Thought it was perfectly clear, but let me express it so no longer does anyone else receive any type of blame,” Coughlin said. “The blame goes right here. That's all.”

Was the loss Coughlin’s fault? Not really, but right now he has a very fragile team lacking in confidence. He knows he needs his team to play at the level it played last Sunday in order to win. To ensure that same type of performance, he took the burden of losing off his players. He can walk into the meeting rooms and honestly tell his team that he was the reason they lost a game when they played so well. This kind of honesty from a leader is called “management of self,” which means that the leader is willing to accept blame and be honest with his team. It also allows him to be critical of his followers when the time is right, assuring that the criticism is heard.

This is a smart move on Coughlin’s part. This method of leadership doesn’t work unless the team plays well -- because to accept the blame, Coughlin has to know (which is clear on the film) that his team played well. Walking into the meeting room and accepting blame for a poor effort makes the leader weak and worthless. We see this all the time. We hear a coach say, “This loss is on me. This loss is my fault,” when the team played poorly from the start. To exclude the players from criticism when the team plays poorly is not the kind of leadership that will enhance the leader’s profile with the players. He looks like a fool in the locker room, and the players get the sense that no matter how badly they play, the coach will shoulder the blame. This is not a culture he wants to create.

This doesn’t mean when the team plays poorly the coach blames just the players. He has to include everyone because he must send the message to the team that the performance was not acceptable. Blame is not something many want to hear, but when the leader blames himself first, then others, he can get his team to listen and, most important, hear his words of wisdom.

One thing Coughlin learned last week is that his end-of-the-half defense is not capable of closing out the game. The Giants rank 31st in the NFL in points allowed at the end of the half, so this has to alter his play calling and thought process at the end of each half. Also, Coughlin learned that he must spend more time in his weekly preparation on his red zone defense because it’s last in the NFL in this phase. The successful teams in the second half of the season do well because they know who they are as a team. They focus on their strengths, spend more time on their weaknesses and improve in the most critical aspects that determine the outcome of most games. They don’t try to be something they’re not. They are who they are. They accept this and move forward.

Every member of the Giants organization is looking for answers to why they’ve lost four in a row. Self-analysis is not easy after a loss, but it’s even tougher after four straight losses. Coughlin knows he has to get more from his team — but the Chargers game was a start toward recovery that he needs to build on. A loss is a loss, but some losses are different that others, and clearly that game was the first the Giants had played well in the past month.

To create a positive self-analysis culture, Coughlin must be able to remove the distractions, remove the questions of why and remove the doubt that his team is capable of winning. Placing the blame at his feet is the first step. Then he can demand excellence from the players, coaches and staff. He may shoulder the blame, but he’s going to become more demanding – of everyone.

Follow me on Twitter: michaelombardi

Check out the Giants Team Page at the NFP.

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