Tom Coughlin’s job was in doubt six weeks ago. Now the question is whether he belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Coughlin, 65, has coached the Giants to a Super Bowl win for the second time in four years, seven weeks after fans called for his firing after a defeat to the Washington Redskins left the Giants 7-7 and in danger of missing the playoffs for the third consecutive year.
Now, after six straight wins culminating in a 21-17 victory over the New England Patriots in the National Football League championship game last night, Coughlin joins Bill Parcells as the only coach to win two Super Bowl titles in New York.
“This is a good case for the Hall of Fame right here,” said Michael Strahan, a former defensive end for the Giants who holds the NFL single-season record for quarterback sacks. “He doesn’t deviate from his plan. He just encourages you to win. He’s going to ride with you no matter what.”
Coughlin has an 82-57 record over eight seasons with the Giants, including 8-3 in the playoffs. Parcells was 85-52-1 in New York from 1983 to 1990, including 8-3 in the postseason. Parcells on Feb. 4 failed to become the eighth of 12 coaches with multiple Super Bowl titles to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Coughlin said he doesn’t pay attention to detractors or those who say he should one day gain a place in the Canton, Ohio-based Hall of Fame.
“I just try to do the best job I possibly can; put the blinders on, go to work and be the best you can possibly be,” he said. “Once you have done everything that you possibly can, you’ve put forth your greatest effort, then I can live with whatever’s next.”
Coughlin surpassed Dick Vermeil, who was 63 with the St. Louis Rams after the 1999 season, as the oldest coach to win a Super Bowl. George Halas was the oldest coach to win an NFL championship with the Chicago Bears in 1963 at 68. Coughlin is among 12 coaches to lead an NFL team after turning 65, with Parcells and Hall of Famers Don Shula, Joe Gibbs, Marv Levy and Weeb Ewbank among them.
“Tom is tough, he’s very detailed, he has a lot of experience, he’s an intense coach and I think that’s reflected in the way his teams play,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who, like Coughlin, was an assistant under Parcells.
Seeks No. 4
Belichick failed to join Chuck Noll, who led the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1969 to 1991, in winning four Super Bowls. He also fell shy of his 18th postseason win, third behind Tom Landry (20) and Shula (19).
The Giants snapped a 10-game winning streak by the Patriots, as they won seven of their past eight since a four-game losing skid. No Super Bowl champion has had a losing streak as long.
Defensive end Justin Tuck said Coughlin’s consistency and belief were keys to the turnaround.
“At 7-7, everybody and their mom was counting us out but he just stayed persistent and stayed true to who he is as a coach and a person,” Tuck said last week. “It trickles down when you see a person has faith in you when nobody else does. It is kind of easy for us to continue to have his back and do our best. We have been rewarded for that.”
Coughlin was the first coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, from 1995 through 2002, going 68-60 record with two trips to the American Football Conference championship game. He became the only coach to lead an NFL expansion club to the playoffs in four of its first five years, before being fired in 2002 after a third straight losing season.
“If hindsight you could change, I’ll be honest with you: I probably would have never changed Coughlin,” Wayne Weaver, the Jaguars’ former owner, told the team’s website last month. “I thought Tom’s pride would never allow him to take a step back and me take the general manager’s position and all power and say, ‘Go coach the football team.’ He did that in New York, but I thought it would hurt his pride too much.”
Coughlin embraces discipline as a key to winning. In Jacksonville, he banned beards and jewelry. In New York, he’s fined players who didn’t arrive at team meetings early enough. Yet Coughlin, who imposed a 11:55 p.m. team curfew in Indianapolis last week, also changed over time.
“He’s not the same guy he was when we first got here,” said offensive lineman Chris Snee, who is Coughlin’s son-in-law. “That’s definitely a credit to him, that he’s adapted his style. And that really started back in ‘07.”
That’s not to say Coughlin has mellowed.
Following a practice last week, linebacker Chase Blackburn was talking with reporters in the locker room when he grabbed punter Steve Weatherford and started sprinting for the exit. “Hey, we’ve got a meeting in 30 seconds.” Blackburn yelled. “Thirty seconds.”
“That’s TC’s deal, just having us aware, and just being a stickler for time,” safety Antrel Rolle said. “I had a lot of those taken out of my paychecks, but it’s all for the better of the team. I think we all buy into it, understand it, all jokes aside. It’s what this team needs.”
The Giants extended Coughlin’s contract in July for two years, through the 2012 season. A second Super Bowl title may ensure an even longer tenure.
“In 2007, it was, ‘Coughlin better get to the playoffs or he’s gone,’” Jim Fassel, who Coughlin replaced in 2004, said in a telephone interview. “This year it was, ‘Well, if they don’t get this, he’s gone.’ You get to the Super Bowl and everybody’s happy. As a coach, over the years, you learn to deal with the ups and downs. You have to.”
Coughlin said he doesn’t plan to retire and that this season wasn’t more stressful than any of the previous one’s that he’s coached.
“You lose a game in New York you’re fired, you know, burned at the stake, whatever you want to say,” he said at a news conference following the Super Bowl victory. “I didn’t pay a lot of attention to that, to be honest with you.”