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MOORE notes: Coughlin's ways wearing thin

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David Moore

David Moore has been the senior football writer for FOX Sports since Aug. 2005. He appears weekly on the FSN Baseball Report and MLB on FOX. One more line lorem ipsum dolor sit amet e pluribus unum.

 
   
 
The more talks, the more he sounds like a member of one of those support groups that ends every meeting with a hug.

The linebacker has compared notes with , who now plays for Houston. He¿s been in contact with , who escaped to New York and the . He¿s commiserated with his friends who stayed behind in Jacksonville.

The conversation is often the same: there is life after coach Tom Coughlin.

¿I don¿t want to speak on everyone¿s behalf, but it¿s been positive for me to get away from that type of coaching system and organization that is so militant in its ways,¿¿ said Hardy, who landed in Dallas. ¿It¿s one approach to everything. It¿s Coughlin¿s way or there is no way.¿¿

All that has gone wrong in Jacksonville the last two seasons can¿t be blamed on Coughlin¿s relentless ways. If you feel compelled to do so, also blame him for the team¿s remarkably rapid rise from the depths of expansion to the AFC Championship Game.

The ' decline has more to do with a succession of key injuries and salary cap mismanagement than it does with an inflexible, old school coach. Of the 22 starters who helped carry Jacksonville to the AFC title game two-and-a-half years ago, only eight remain.

But this is true as well: winning masks an individual¿s flaws as much as losing magnifies them. Many of the players who were reluctant to publicly question Coughlin when the team was 14-2 have found their voice after back-to-back losing seasons.

Of course, it¿s also easier to express yourself when you¿ve moved to another team and don¿t have to fear reprisals. Hardy doesn¿t rip Coughlin as much as he tries to explain someone he considers a very complex man.

¿When a guy goes down and a new guys steps in, (Coughlin) expects him to be like the guy who went down,¿¿ said Hardy, who blew out his left knee on a Thanksgiving Day practice last year and returned to the practice field for the first time this week. ¿He coaches him like that.

¿But in the back of his mind, he¿s pissed off at the guy who got hurt. He¿d go to the guy who got hurt and it¿s like, ¿hey, you¿ve got to get back out there.¿ But at the same time, he¿d ride the guy who is out there. I don¿t know what to say about it.¿¿

Those comments are even more interesting in light of the malpractice suit that is currently being played out in a Jacksonville court, where reserve lineman Jeff Novak alleges that his career ended prematurely, in part, because former team physician Stephen Lucie rushed him back on the field after an injury.

Coughlin never lets the players or assistants — he won¿t allow them to speak to the media — forget who¿s in charge. On those rare occasions when he tries to back off his over-bearing ways, the gesture seems so forced it doesn¿t work.

An example of this came in last year¿s training camp when Coughlin canceled a practice and sent the team to see a movie.

¿It didn¿t seem genuine,¿¿ Hardy said. ¿When he said he was sending us to the movies, we started looking at each other and asking what is the set up here.

¿I don¿t think he¿ll ever be a player¿s coach. But he doesn¿t want to be. He doesn¿t care about that. So from that aspect, it doesn¿t matter.

¿It makes it difficult to have that team unity when you have a coach like that. It¿s difficult to go out and say, ¿let¿s win this one for coach, because you don¿t feel that way.¿

¿I look around here (Dallas) and everyone wants to win for each other, for their teammates and for coach (Dave) Campo and the coaching staff because they are good coaches and good people.¿¿

Hardy still has a home in a neighborhood outside of Jacksonville. He couldn¿t help but laugh the other day when a flier was placed on the front door inviting him to a breakfast with one of the assistant coaches to talk about his perception of the organization and any changes he would like to see made.

These series of community meetings with coaches and club officials was instituted by owner Wayne Weaver, who has watched his season-ticket base erode from a high of 67,000 to somewhere around 36,000 entering training this month¿s training camp.

¿I think people just aren¿t happy with the approach, the things the organization has done the last few years, and are ready to say to hell with it,¿¿ Hardy said. ¿That¿s why the club is taking a different approach. They¿ve got to get that fan base back and re-establish themselves.¿¿

The organization is taking a different approach. That doesn¿t mean Coughlin will.

Or can.

Musical receivers

The most productive receiver available was taken off the free agent market Friday when signed a three-year, $3.5 million contract with Atlanta.

Jackson will be given a chance to compete with and for a starting job. Bet on him earning one of those spots. The 30-year-old veteran had a career-high 81 catches for 1,046 yards and five touchdowns for New Orleans last season and is vastly underrated.

¿I¿m kind of surprised he was still sitting out there,¿¿ said Ron Hill, the vice president of football operations who was with Jackson earlier in his career in Jacksonville. ¿He¿s a big, strong physical receiver who has been very, very consistent and steady. The more opportunity he¿s gotten, the better he¿s played.

¿He¿ll be good for our football team and good in the lockerroom.¿¿

Atlanta released to make room for Jackson.

The signed Graham earlier this off-season, but quickly came to question the receiver¿s commitment as he wrestled with a serious of personal problems. Graham attended just three of the team¿s 14 voluntary quarterback sessions. Club officials understood Graham missed this week¿s mandatory mini-camp due to a death in the family.

What they didn¿t understand was why they had to call Graham¿s agent to find out.

The best receiver available is now . His agent, Joel Segal, said Freeman is currently in discussions with two teams. Segal declines identify the teams. But Seattle coach Mike Holmgren is believed to have an interest, and there are rumblings that Kansas City has explored the possibility of signing Freeman.

No rush

Dallas running back has braced himself for the media assault that will accompany his assault of Walter Payton¿s rushing record.

But he¿s not ready to start answering all of those questions just yet.

¿That will start July 26 or 27,¿¿ Smith said of the days the report to training camp and go through their first practice. ¿Right now, I¿ve got another two weeks to relax my mind.

¿The first or second day of camp, you can start with whatever questions you want. But right now, this is my time and I want to enjoy it.¿¿

This doesn¿t mean Smith dreads the media crush that lies ahead as he goes for the final 540 yards that will give him the record.

¿I¿m going to handle it with respect and dignity and try to give people as much as they want without overdoing it,¿¿ Smith said. ¿I will try to have a lot of fun.

¿I will enjoy it.¿¿

Three days before he reports to camp, Smith will be in Aurora, Ill., to receive the Spirit of Sweetness award presented by the Walter Payton Cancer Fund. David Moore can be reached at his e-mail address, dmoore@foxsports.com.

Tagged: Falcons, Cowboys, Packers, Saints, Jets, Jaguars, Texans, Brian Finneran, Gary Walker, Kevin Hardy

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