When you're a coach in the NFL long enough, it is impossible to avoid getting pegged with a narrative that serves as a shorthand for your style.
Norv Turner's teams always fail when the going gets tough, George Seifert couldn't win once he didn't have Bill Walsh's players and Andy Reid always makes things more complex than they need to be.
The two coaches who will square off at the Meadowlands on Sunday night are no exception. Lovie Smith has long been seen as a player's coach who gets negative marks for being too passive and refusing to admit to mistakes. While Tom Coughlin is seen as the stern taskmaster who will neither accept nor offer excuses for anything less than perfection. As is often the case with stereotypes, the truth is a bit more complex.
Anyone watching the Bears beat the Packers on Monday night surely saw the way that Smith responded to a missed tackle by Zack Bowman early in the game. He benched Bowman, who has long been inconsistent, in favor of the unheralded Tim Jennings. That move all alone isn't particularly telling, but when you combine it with his decision to deactivate wide receiver Devin Aromashodu and defensive tackle Tommie Harris it becomes harder to accept that Smith is a passive man who isn't willing to face up to what's wrong with his team.
Aromashodu started in Week One and was targeted on 10 passes. He complained about being asked to play in the slot, however, and Smith made it pretty clear that players don't get to choose the way coaches use them on his team. Harris's benching makes an even bigger statement. He's on a $40 million contract and has long been one of the stalwarts of the Bears defense, but he's been underperforming since the preseason and Smith was gutsy enough to go with the guys working harder and playing better over the guy with the bigger name.
Contrast that with what we've seen from the Giants over the last two years. Loss after loss is met with a staunch resistance to change from a head coach who seems to think that doing the same thing over and over again is going to lead to a different result. Complaining and underperforming players don't lose their spots in the lineup, even though Coughlin is fond of saying that everyone has to earn their spot on the team and continue to work hard to keep that spot.
That doesn't make him a bad coach nor does it make him a worse coach than Smith, it just means that there's a bit of a disconnect between perception and reality for these two guys. The Giants would do well to take a page from Chicago's book and start taking a hard look at the players who are responsible for their 4-10 record in the last 14 games so that they can get rid of the ones who are most responsible.