*Today on The Fam, we have the legend that is Jason Clinkscales. You might remember the man making ESPN’s Top Ten and “C’Mon Man” with an awkward encounter with Eli Manning at the Giants post-game press conference. See video above if you’re unaware. He is the Giants beat writer for the New York Beacon and he is a friend of all things TSFJ.*
By Jason Clinkscales / @asportsscribe
Regardless of where one plies the trade, head coaching at a high-profile organization provides the greatest ecstasy when the team is winning and the most pride-shattering pain when it’s losing or mired in mediocrity. However, certain places – accurately or not – are considered bigger pressure cookers than others. Whereas cities like Jacksonville aren’t known for being hostile to coaches, there are depots such as New York City where even winning “the big one” can buy you time for so long.
And it was Jacksonville and is the NYC metropolitan area where one Tom Coughlin once and currently resides. The Jaguars’ first and, to this day, most successful head coach had built his name as a disciplinarian whose message fell on deaf ears as the team slipped into the muddled middle in his last three years. A year off was expected to have calmed him down in order to ingratiate himself with a player-centric culture for his next opportunity. However, theory doesn’t always intersect with practicality; at least, not right away.
When ‘player’ coach Jim Fassel was dismissed in 2003, there was a prevailing thought that the Giants strayed too far from the Bill Parcells tree. This season, the franchise celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Super Bowl XXI winners for a reason; it was the first of two championships under the coach whose exacting, but brute style – strategy and personality – defined Big Blue in the 1980s. Coughlin’s coaching stock truly took off with the 1990 squad that won Super Bowl XXIV as a third-year wide receiver coach. When Parcells retired the first time, Coughlin went north to become the head coach at Boston College, where almost twenty years after his first lead job at RIT, the strict, military-like persona was shown on a national stage.
New York taking on a disciplinarian on the surface made sense, considering the large personalities (and talents) in the locker room such as Michael Strahan, Tiki Barber, Jeremy Shockey and others. There was always talk about how the inmates ran the asylum, sort of speak, as those players were such divisive forces that when the going got real rough en route to a 4-12 season in 2003, the prevailing thought was that Fassel lost the locker room.
It’s typical for a team to bring in the complete opposite personnel when the last season or two when awfully awry. Tom Coughlin was viewed as the ant-Fassel by fans, media and analysts alike, but considering how his final three seasons in North Florida ended, there were questions about how he could cope, if not thrive with a higher profile team.
Sure, he was able to coach college players that are still learning the game and are still molding themselves as men both on and off-campus. He certainly took a hodge-podge expansion team to unexpected heights in its second season and developed its tough, run-heavy and defensively strong personality over eight years. Yet, this wasn’t college and with much respect, this wasn’t Jacksonville. This was one of the signature franchises in the NFL in the most scrutinizing media market in the country.
We’ve seen the ebbs and flows of the Coughlin-coached Giants; Eli Manning’s wobbly, but proper descent into one of the best quarterbacks in the league; the defense’s shift from elite to unbalanced, back to feared; the run-first team getting into a passing fancy and, in the last three seasons, the infusion of vocal team leaders in the post-Strahan/Barber era.
Of course, when you look at Coughlin’s eight seasons with the Giants, you have to observe the team’s much-documented schizophrenia of the last few years; strong first half of the season and a maddening second. As this was happening throughout the fall, Coughlin already lost his job if you paid attention to sports media on endless loop. The disciplinarian that he was in Jacksonville was mocked incessantly as penalties and an unraveled defense cost the Giants games. The “If you’re on time, you’re late” mantra he borrowed from Parcells was stomped upon as a testament to his stubbornness. Coughlin was a goner unless, somehow, his team not only won their final two regular season contests, but made a decent showing in the playoffs.
Truthfully, Coughlin’s job security had been sports media fodder for a while, even with a Vince Lombardi trophy in tow. The cries became screams between the Philadelphia Eagles’ stunning comeback in December 2010 and a hurried post-lockout offseason where now-GM Jerry Reese jettisoned several key, but injured Giants. With guys like offensive linemen Shaun O’Hara and Rich Seubert gone and the ‘other’ Steve Smith and Kevin Boss elsewhere, a theme of public commentary of Coughlin was formed: he’s got one more year or he’s gone.
Instead of a 2006 redux, where the Giants started 6-2 before backing into the playoffs with an 8-8 finish, something amazing happened. A Christmas Eve Day ‘road’ win against their apparently self-destructing co-tenants, the New York Jets. A ‘win or go home’ victory over the rival Dallas Cowboys for the final playoff spot and the NFC East crown. During Wild Card weekend, after a confounding first half of uncomplimentary offense to go with stout defense, Manning and company hit their stride and have a date in Green Bay in the Divisional Round.
In covering that win over the Atlanta Falcons during Wild Card weekend for the New York Beacon, it was amusing to watch fellow media members ask Coughlin if he felt redeemed or vindicated for the team’s first postseason victory since Super Bowl XLII four years ago. The coach that was supposed to pack his bags a month ago has at least one more year, regardless of how his Giants play against the Packers. Yet, that’s according to the outsiders who tend to be more hell-bent on change for change’s sake rather than change for a right reason.
To a man, each player in the locker room vouches for their leader in khakis. There’s a reason why Antrel Rolle, who clashed with Coughlin in his first year with the Giants after five years in Arizona, talked about changing his tune with the coach throughout the travails of 2011. He had to buy into Coughlin as much as the coach had to believe in his outspoken safety.
Coughlin isn’t heralded for being an offensive guru despite his background with coaching quarterbacks, receivers and running backs. He’s not regarded for dynamic play calling or talent evaluation, though he’s not deficient in either. Rather, he’s one the league’s best managers: culling the most out his players and surveying them to determine the right motivational and coaching tools to use. What has made Coughlin successful, even in turmoil, is his desire for order. For him, order encourages stability, which begets trust, which brings success. Despite the outside perception about him and his relationship with players, the reality is that many of these men take pride in playing for him.
In tough times, you tend to find out who has the temperament and ability to handle crisis. In over forty years of coaching, Tom Coughlin has dealt with his fair share of it all and made more adjustments than people may be aware of. When you see his coaching resume and note a Super Bowl win, five division titles and nine playoff teams over sixteen seasons, you’d think that he’d earn a little more respect, right?