I think this will make us a much better defense... Giants: Coughlin makes his first move Saturday, January 10, 203 BY KIMBERLY JONES Star-Ledger Staff In his third day on the job, Giants coach Tom Coughlin made his first hire and one of his most critical decisions yesterday. Coughlin named Tim Lewis defensive coordinator, always a pivotal position on a staff where the head coach is offensive-minded, as Coughlin is. "His style will establish toughness and an aggressive style of play," said Coughlin, who hardly seems the type to embrace a read-and-react philosophy. Lewis, unexpectedly fired Tuesday as Steelers defensive coordinator, said he couldn't refuse a second chance to work with Coughlin. In 1978, Coughlin, then a Syracuse assistant coach, recruited Lewis, who decided to attend the University of Pittsburgh. "I wasn't going to miss the opportunity to work with him twice," Lewis said. "We are going to stop the run and pressure the passer, and we're going to do that in a number of ways." Coughlin has said that controlling the line of scrimmage is one of his primary goals. Lewis, 42, spent the past four seasons as Steelers defensive coordinator after joining Bill Cowher's staff as defensive backs coach in 1995. His defense ranked seventh in the NFL in 2000, first in 2001, seventh in 2002 and ninth this season. Lewis told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he was surprised to be fired by Cowher and said the decision was not football-related. He declined to elaborate. Cowher offered the paper this explanation: "I think with Tim, it was just more of a philosophical thing, and we talked and we had a lot longer talks." Lewis had a particularly bad day Tuesday, when the Falcons rescinded their offer to him to have a second interview for their head-coaching job. The Falcons, who had called earlier in the day to schedule the second meeting, reneged after learning of Lewis' firing. Now it is Lewis' job to rebuild a defense that has been awful lately. A revival, and quite possibly overhaul, are in order for a unit that ranked 29th in points allowed, 25th against the pass and 22nd in total yards per game. Lewis will have NFL sack leader Michael Strahan, the All-Pro who had 18 1/2 sacks this season, to anchor the defense and, provided they are healthy, cornerbacks Will Allen and Will Peterson should be better than the Steelers corners. "His presentation when I met with him (Thursday) was outstanding," Coughlin said. "He has had great success ... and I have watched him develop because we competed in the same division" when Coughlin coached the Jaguars from 1995-2002. Like the Giants (4-12), the Steelers (6-10) had a disappointing season. But Pittsburgh's defense held up considerably better statistically than the Giants' did. In 2001, Lewis' defense led the league in allowing just 258.7 yards per game and utilized an attacking, blitzing scheme that was as effective against the run as the pass. Lewis, who coached a pair of All-Pro linebackers in Steelers Jason Gildon and Joey Porter, may have the chance to refurbish that position with the Giants; outside linebackers Dhani Jones and Brandon Short are free agents, and the organization might have a decision to make on middle linebacker Mike Barrow. Under Lewis, Gildon became the Steelers' career sack leader with 77. This past season, Lewis favored more of a cover two -- a two-deep zone -- at least partly to compensate for the inadequacies of cornerbacks Dewayne Washington and Chad Scott in coverage. Lewis played cornerback at the University of Pittsburgh and was a first-round draft choice of the Packers in 1983. A neck injury ended his career in 1986, and he has since coached on the staffs of Texas A&M and Southern Methodist and at his alma mater before joining the Steelers. Although Lewis is the first member of Coughlin's staff to be hired, indications from Giants Stadium yesterday were that tight ends coach Mike Pope and assistant special teams coach Mike Priefer, who coached with Coughlin in 2002, would be retained. They are believed to be the only two holdovers from Jim Fassel's staff.