McNally takes Giant step

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Talk about the irony.

Here the Bengals are looking for an offensive coordinator after scoring a franchise-low 185 points.

And two of the offensive assistant coaches who were on the 1993 Bengals team that set the previous record with 187 are working for the Giants in Sunday's NFC championship game against the Vikings.

Mike Pope, then the offensive coordinator replaced by Bruce Coslet, is New York's tight ends coach.

And then there's Jim McNally, the Giants' uptempo offensive line coach. With McNally, it's always quick.

Especially this week as he prepares for his fourth conference championship game appearance with a third team.

"I'd love to talk. Love to," McNally said earlier this week from his New Jersey office. "You know I would. But right now I'm watching a Vikings' blitz."

McNally, who showed up at work at 7 a.m. the day after New York beat the Eagles to make the NFL's Final Four, could be enjoying the best of his 21 years in the league.

The first 15 were with the Bengals, where he reached guru status as the only offensive line coach Hall-of-Famer Anthony Munoz ever had, and as the technician who molded some big-time starters out of low draft picks with numbing repetition.

He reached two AFC title games in Cincinnati and one NFC game in Carolina, but he never did it the way he did it this season with three veteran free agents from other clubs and four of the five spots manned by new players.

"The one thing about Jimmy," said Munoz after calling to congratulate him, "is that he would never try to put a round peg into a square hole. He does what the players can do."

The Giants personnel people gave him a 17-year tackle in Lomas Brown, a guard who went to four Super Bowls with the Bills in Glenn Parker, and Bills center Dusty Zeigler.

McNally already had tackle Luke Petitgout, a No. 1 pick from '99, and Pro Bowl guard Ron Stone.

But he never had the multiple, shifting formations of Giants offensive coordiantor Sean Payton. Or some of the wrinkles Pope brought with him from Washington.

Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander, who took the job when McNally left for Carolina after the 1994 season, still talks with McNally. Maybe as much as twice a week. The fraternity that walks around airports with a drop step is a small one.

"We'll pick each other's brains until we stop breathing," Alexander said.

Alexander has noticed this hasn't been a vintage McNally year.

"They do a lot of shifting, a lot of formations, and they try to confuse you," Alexander said. "Jim looks to be working more scheme of the offense rather than technique."

That's probably because of Payton's concept, as well as welcoming three new starters to minicamp.

But McNally made the adjustment just fine. The Giants

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don't bowl you over in the running game (11th in the league and a four-yard-per-carry average), but that wins games for an offense with the NFL's fourth fewest turnovers and a defense that's ranked fifth.

"He's got smart, older guys who have been around," Alexander said. "That's how they play. We've learned how important experience is there. They have so many diversity of plays, they have to be smart."

When McNally, 57, left the Bengals, it was an amicable split. He has said he simply needed a fresh start after being with one team and three head coaches for 15 years. And Carolina offered the rare chance to build an expansion team.

He still has a good relationship with Bengals President Mike Brown and his family. His daughter, Jenny, a former Bengals' employee, has stayed in town as the Reds' director of new stadium development.

"Jimmy and I came into the NFL together (in 1980), so it was almost like we learned together," Munoz said. "But when we got into our fifth or sixth year, he said, 'I want you to be a teacher, too,' and that's really what makes him a great coach. He gets you to think and adjust on your own."

Munoz and McNally went to two Super Bowls together. Munoz, who is doing some work at this year's game for NFL Properties, had a message for his coach about meeting him at a third.

"I told him I'd like to see him in Tampa if he's there," said Munoz, "and I'd come to practice."

You know he'll be there early.

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