Giants coach Jim Fassel didn’t say much at halftime last Sunday, even though his team was down 24-7 to the vastly inferior Dallas Cowboys at Giants Stadium. He had said it all the week before.
“I’m gonna change whatever we need to change, change whatever I can—what I’m doing in practice, how much we meet during the week,” he told the press after Big Blue’s embarrassing 35-21 loss at Washington on October 28. “Everything. That’s not a threat. It’s a promise.”
Of course, this wasn’t the first time that Fassel, who first made his mark in 2000 by guaranteeing to the press that his team would make the playoffs, had felt the need to challenge his team publicly. After three largely mediocre seasons at the helm in the Meadowlands heading into last season, the coach seemed to figure that his team would respond to media tirades. And his players did. After the Guarantee, they went on to win five straight and roll to the Super Bowl.
As a result, with a disappointing 4-4 record following Sunday’s 27-24 come-from-behind win against the Cowboys, his players should expect to hear—or read—more of the following:
• “Some guys on this team are going to get a wake-up call pretty quick.”—August 18, 2000, following a bad preseason loss to the Jets
• “If I don’t see improvement, if I don’t see a commitment week to week, I’m going to be pissed.” —August 25, 2001, following a preseason loss to the Jets
• “I am not happy right now. Our offense can’t be satisfied with field goals. We have got to do something to turn things around on the offensive side of the ball.” —October 22, 2001, following a last-minute 10-9 home loss to the Eagles.
In these days of long-term deals and salary caps, NFL coaches don’t have a lot of flexibility with starting lineups. Most teams can’t afford to have suitable replacements on the roster who are ready to take over, and the Giants are no exception.
Yet Fassel has still been able to push the right buttons. Following his postgame tirade last November, for example, he moved defensive starters Mike Barrow, Jessie Armstead, Jason Sehorn, and Shaun Williams into special-teams duty. This accomplished two things: First, it shored up a weakness by moving proven players into roles previously dominated by young, lowly regarded players. And second it reminded his stars: You’re not above doing the dirty work. With the Giants’ kick-return teams in disarray this season, expect some defensive starters to assume double duty again soon. His decision to keep wideout Amani Toomer out of the starting lineup for a couple of games early last season refocused the talented receiver.
This year, with star defensive tackle Keith Hamilton out with a shoulder injury, the coach has been forced to use a variety of second-line players. Against Philly and Washington, it was rookie free agent Lance Legree, who was largely ineffective. Sunday, Fassel tabbed rookie Ross Kolodziej as the starter, but he brought in unheralded second-year pro Frank Ferrara in the fourth quarter. The fresh Ferrara had a huge sack in the final two minutes of regulation to stall a Dallas drive and help force overtime.
“It’s not your best players playing better that makes the difference. It’s the worst players on the team playing better, the backups, the guys on special teams,” veteran Giant offensive lineman Glenn Parker told the Voice after Sunday’s game. “Maybe [Fassel’s press conference remarks] scare some of those guys. Maybe they feel the pressure and play better. A coach needs to do that sometimes.”
Some, apparently, more than others.