Coughlin and Belichick: Different cuts from same cloth

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Coughlin and Belichick: Different cuts from same cloth

INDIANAPOLIS Bill Belichick might have written the book on dour, but Tom Coughlin had the market cornered on being square.

If one coach in the NFL looks like a dark socks and sandals at the beach type, its Coughlin.

Hes always been all business. Glasses. The thinning white hair swept to the side. Fast walker. That air of slight impatience as he rocks side-to-side in press conferences that are long on business, short on laughs.

The guy who long believed five minutes early is on time and four minutes early is actually late doesnt have a cool, away-from-football alter ego like Belichick does tooling around Nantucket on his boat with Jon Bon Jovi in tow.

So its interesting to see the controlling Coughlin not just tolerating his players verbal brashness but in some cases jumping in himself.

While the Patriots are still name, rank and serial number for the most part under Belichick, the Giants make more guarantees than Bobs Furniture.

And Coughlin has at times gotten a tad brash himself. Relatively speaking. After the Giants win over the 15-1 Packers at Lambeau Field last month, Coughlin said in the postgame, I think were a dangerous team. I like where we are.

This week, while Mario Manningham and Victor Cruz have taken turns disparaging Patriots wideoutDB Julian Edelman and Antrel Rolle has been doling out guarantees, Coughlin hasnt told anyone to dummy up.

Has Coughlin changed?

Probably, but I think its important as the process of learning, Coughlin said. You learn, develop, and change every year. You have to bring a fresh approach each year to your team, especially when youve been doing it a few years in the same place. If Ive changed, its been an attempt to motivate and put us in the best possible chance that we can be.

And Coughlin seems to believe that letting his team be itself and forge its own personality is the best way for it to motivate itself. Its a supremely confident team, especially for a group that went 9-7 and had a four-game losing streak that had them on the verge of missing the playoffs.

But that confidence also allows it to forget about the bumps and then go into Lambeau or San Francisco and win.

Coughlins approach is a galaxy removed from the other head football coach in New York, Rex Ryan, whos willingness to let whatever hits his brain exit his mouth was happily adopted by his players when he joined the team in 2009 and resulted in a 2011 implosion.

But Coughlin does let the players express themselves.

Players have personalities and they are who they are, Coughlin noted. You want a certain amount of that on your football team, but you dont want someone who puts themselves in a position to hurt your team.

Coughlin has positive proof that allowing his players to be brash helps them. In 2007, they talked themselves into the notion the Patriots 18-0 coming into that Super Bowl were a dynasty that needed to be buried.

They showed up in Arizona dressed in black a funeral for the dynasty was their reasoning. And they went out and backed up their brashness with one of the greatest upsets in NFL history.

Coughlins players say he really isnt as bad as his reputation.

My first season I questioned a lot of things that Coach Coughlin was doing, said Rolle. After taking a step back and reflecting on all of it, I understand exactly why he is the way he is. I used to always wonder, I felt like he was always trying to turn us into men. Does he not know that we are men before we ever step on the football field here as a Giant? I used to ask myself questions like that. Once I matured enough and I took a step back, he is not trying to turn us into men, he is trying to help us become better men.

The buy-in from his team is apparent in the way they revere him. After the Giants beat the Patriots in November, they carried him off the field on their shoulders.

When Coach Coughlin comes up, everybody wants to talk about how rough he is, how unforgiving he is, how the reigns are pulled back pretty tight on the football team, but playing for him is golden for me, said defensive end Justin Tuck. You know exactly what to expect from him, you know what he expects from you. Its easy to go out and do your job when you dont have to go out and worry about what we are doing here, what are we doing there. I love playing for the guy, and I hope I get to play the rest of my career for him.

While Belichick are both regarded as branches on the Bill Parcells coaching tree, its not that cut-and-dried.

Belichick is more a disciple of Paul Brown, the man Belichicks father Steve emulated.

Brown is credited with saying, When you win say nothing. When you lose say less.

Belichicks passed that on to his team and they adhere to it. The penalty for too much verbosity? An uncomfortable trip to the coachs office.

While Coughlin says hes become more patient and less rigid, Belichick doesnt alter his approach too much.

Hes very consistent as a coach, said Tom Brady. On our team, there really is no separate treatment for different players. The rookies are expected to perform and act the same as the veteran guys. Its great as a player on our team because . . . you really dont have to hold the other players accountable because the head coach does it. Hes very tough. He says to us from time to time he understands that its a demanding place to play and that its really not meant for everybody.

Belichick doesnt hide his agenda.

Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis acknowledged when he came to New England that hed heard Belichick was a hard coach to play for and the hooded monster and all the stuff like that. When I got here, I realized in our first meeting, he let it all out on the line right there. You are what you are when you get here. That was it. He let it all hang.

His players will never get to hang loose with their words say nothing when you win, say less when you lose. The Giants? The muzzles are off.

The methods to their madness have brought their teams here. Whose method works best? Can the answer be both?

Fourth-round pick Mitchell joins crowded Patriots WR group

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Fourth-round pick Mitchell joins crowded Patriots WR group

FOXBORO – Damn, Patriots, back at it again with drafting the wide receivers.

At least in the instance of Malcolm Mitchell there are no questions of softness or character or coachability. The 6-foot, 198-pounder is a media relations dream. He was reading at a junior high level when he got to Georgia so he devoted himself to getting better at it and joined a woman’s book club after a conversation at a Barnes & Noble. 

He’s written a children’s book. He blew his ACL in 2013 but he did it after sprinting downfield to celebrate a teammate’s touchdown. He was a team captain at Georgia, loves to block, is a dependable third-down receiver, etc.

The questions about him will be his durability (2015 was his first season fully healthy) and the same question that dogs every receiver that comes into the Patriots system: Can he master the intricacies?

But the scouting report? Impossible to quibble with for the 112th overall pick.

This was the scouting report on Mitchell from Nolan Nawrocki, one of the most exhaustive and unflinching draft analysts in the business.

“A tough, passionate, crafty slot receiver who can be trusted to move the sticks in critical situations. Mitchell gained more confidence in his knee in his second year removed from ACL surgery. Brings similar energy, toughness and attitude as Steelers 1998 third-round pick Hines Ward. Smart and versatile enough to contribute in multiple roles perhaps even at cornerback where he began his Georgia career and could be most attractive to a veteran coaching staff such as the Patriots or Steelers.”

Where does Mitchell fit on the Patriots depth chart?

At 6-feet, 198 pounds, he’s got the short-area speed and ability to play slot where route-running and change of direction are vital to uncovering quickly on option routes. The Patriots are well-populated there at the moment with Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Chris Hogan on the roster there.

But he also has the speed, length (extremely long arms and big hands) and leaping ability to be a high-pointing outside receiver. The Patriots are not as stocked there. They have the annually disappointing Aaron Dobson, 32-year-old Nate Washington and the dependable-but-low-ceiling Keshawn Martin.

Perhaps the best way to get Mitchell ingrained in the system is to let him master a little bit at a time. Start him on the outside, where he took the bulk of his 2015 snaps with the Bulldogs, and leave the slot stuff to the others.

If the team unloads Amendola – and his $6.8M cap is really starting to stick out – they still have Hogan and Edelman to take inside reps. If Mitchell shows competency, the team can unload Dobson and have the outside group of Washington, Mitchell, Martin and Hogan/Edelman.

Mitchell isn’t the long, angular field-stretcher that “takes the top off the defense” but the Patriots are not that kind of vertical offense. They can just as effectively spread a defense out over the 54 horizontal yards and they need quick, tough, smart players to do it. Mitchell may be a step in that direction.  

Mitchell confident in his ability to learn the Patriots system

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Mitchell confident in his ability to learn the Patriots system

FOXBORO -- It's not always easy for new Patriots receivers to come in and contribute off the bat. Just in the last handful of years drafted players (Josh Boyce and Taylor Price) as well as accomplished free-agent acquisitions (Chad Ochochinco and Reggie Wayne) have had their difficulties adjusting. 

Patriots fourth-round pick Malcolm Mitchell, taken with the No. 112 overall selection on Saturday, will be submitted to similar rigors when he arrives at Gillette Stadium for the first time and he knows it. But he isn't planning on struggling. 

Mitchell has been very open about some of the challenges he had reading when he arrived on campus at the University of Georgia. In a piece put together by CBS This Morning, he estimated that he was reading at about a middle-school level when he began his collegiate studies. Since then his love for reading has grown, he's become an advocate for children's literacy, and he's authored a children's book.

Now that he's been drafted by the Patriots, into an offense that has been evolving for 16 years under Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, Mitchell was asked in a conference call how he might handle the famously complicated language in New England's playbook. 

"I appreciate the question," Mitchell said. "To be completely honest, I'm pretty confident in my abilities to learn. You know, when I took a visit with the Patriots, we went over several different things to see if I would be a good fit for their system. For them to pick me up lets me know that they have confidence in me to be able to make that adjustment and learn what I need to learn to be the most effective player that I can be on the field."

Mitchell had a productive career for the Bulldogs, serving as one of the most explosive receiving threats in their pro-style offense. He's played both on the outside and the inside, though the majority of his snaps came as an outside option last season. He also seasoned when it comes to running routes that can be adjusted based on the defensive look in front of him.

Because that's something that the Patriots ask of their wideouts, Mitchell already may have a bit of a jump start on what he'll be learning from receivers coach Chad O'Shea. 

"I have a lot of experience in that," he said. "To be honest, the majority of our plays were scripted out that way. That's something that I'm comfortable with and I've been doing for four or five years already."

Mitchell got a master's course in that style of play last season under Brian Schottenheimer, who served as Georgia offensive coordinator for a year following three years with the Rams as their offensive coordinator. Schottenheimer is now the quarterbacks coach for the Colts.

"I think it helped a lot because Coach Schottenheimer immediately came into UGA with that mentality," Mitchell said. "He had been doing it for so many years. The tape that we would use to learn plays, the types of plays, the concepts, the adjustments, we got a big dose of that last year at UGA, which honestly, I believe is going to prepare me for whatever comes next."

Kraft should stop explaining and just accept Patriots fans' ire

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Kraft should stop explaining and just accept Patriots fans' ire

FOXBORO – Never mind what Robert Kraft was attempting to do last May when he folded the Patriots’ tent and said the team would “reluctantly” accept the league’s Deflategate penalties. 

Forget about the fact there was really no other option than to do what he did in San Francisco.

The hole Kraft dug for himself when he opted for politics over optics is one he’s trying furiously to dig out of. Still.

Friday night at a draft party the team hosted at Gillette, Kraft’s main talking point was – again – that he didn’t abandon Brady last May.

“Number one, there is no finer ambassador for the game of football, and the New England Patriots, than Tom Brady,” Kraft said. “We always have had, and will continue to have, Tom’s back. Especially when he’s being treated unfairly. He knows that. All the decisions that this organization and I personally have made throughout this ordeal have been focused on putting Tom in the best possible position for success.”

Kraft believed taking the hit on the draft picks would satiate other owners enough to leave Brady alone. But they – and their arrogant marionette Roger Goodell – wanted more than to see Bill Belichick’s program stung. They wanted to see Brady brought to heel.  

Once that dawned on Kraft over the coming months, he returned to the rhetoric he used when he began fomenting local outrage at the Super Bowl, demanding a league apology. He even ratcheted it up, speaking at the outset of training camp about having made a grave mistake when he put faith in the league to do the right thing.

But for too many New England fans, it was too late. In their minds, all it took was 24 hours of fellow owners giving him the stink eye in California for him to side with the billionaire boys club over Brady.

Kraft anticipated an unhappy reaction, saying last May, “I know that a lot of Patriots fans are going to be disappointed in that decision. But I hope they trust my judgment and know that I really feel at this point in time that taking this off the agenda, this is the best thing for the New England Patriots, our fans and the NFL. I hope you all can respect that.”

He never expected to be demonized the way he’s been. And, to Kraft, it’s maddening, saddening and hurtful that the vocal opinion in New England is that he screwed Brady.

He’s refusing to take the criticism in stride, which means every time he’s in front of a mic, he has to prove his bona fides.   

“I have been in constant communication with Tom over the past 16 months and we’ve had numerous conversations this past week,” Kraft said. “We are both on the same page and he knows exactly where my allegiances, and the total team’s [allegiances] are, relative to the extremely unfair discipline that he has been subjected to. I share in our fans’ anger and frustration with the penalties the league has levied, and the entire process and how it was conducted. But please trust that I am always trying to do what I believe is best for this franchise, and pledge that I will always continue to do that.”

This is where Robert Kraft is at the age of 74. A man who figured he’d be praised and adored in the autumn of his ownership reign having to pledge allegiance over and over to HIS region and HIS team.

It’s got to be unfathomable to him how it got to this point.

Here’s a lifelong New Englander who – he’s always happy to remind everyone – sat on the metal benches with all the other bedraggled fans in the old stadium. A guy who used his business savvy to leverage purchase of the team, stubbed his toe a lot in his first few years, then made decisions and gave resources that allowed the Patriots to become the greatest dynasty in NFL history. A guy that built a kickass stadium and donated millions around the region. This is a guy that now feels compelled to explain himself and beg understanding every time he gets in front of a microphone these days.

I don’t think he deserves that.

There are plenty of things that I’ve eyerolled about with Kraft in my 20 years covering the team. From white-collared shirts to his weird game-day lifeguard chair to the subtle switch from Bob to Robert, the damn sneakers with the suits, slinging spirituality a little too cavalierly at times and his happy engagement in the NFL’s backroom lever-pulling and deal-making. For almost 25 years, Kraft has ridden a lead horse in the NFL’s stampede for money and power. The Game of Thrones environment that’s come with that, replete with throat-slitting, backstabbing and vengeance has visited Kraft’s kingdom.

You can second-guess his strategy. You can point out that he’s the one that made a king of Goodell and sowed bitterness with fellow owners by pushing them to do what Roger says. You can rightfully point out that Kraft wants too much the love and respect of both his fellow owners and his New England constituency and that he can’t have his cake and eat it too.

You can’t reasonably regard him as a “traitor.”

Unfortunately for Robert Kraft, plenty of people do. And plenty of them aren’t going to move off that spot.

At some point, he’s got to get his mind around that and accept that too.