Tom Coughlin: The Man They Still Love To Hate.
By Martin Alvin.
Seems like, every time I post an article critical of the Giants’ 2013 season, someone admonishes me for not blaming Tom Coughlin, too. And, of course, since Coughlin’s the head coach, he should share in the blame; so, those who admonish me have a valid point. But the problem is, many of them angrily go on to say he’s not a good coach, or he’s too old; or, they just want him gone. And while I respect everyone’s right to their own opinion, it seems to me, there are, and always have been, people who just don’t like the guy and never will. Period!
As recently as November, 2011, in a Sporting News Poll of 111 NFL players, Tom Coughlin was voted the coach those players would least like to play for -– and this was just four years after he won SB XLII and only three months before he’d lead the Giants to a win in SB XLVI; both victories over the coach who came in third in the poll: Bill Belichick. To paraphrase the players voting, they contended:
NFL players like a more flexible coach than Coughlin … and Coughlin is too old school … he’s like Bill Parcells, he’s my way or the highway … he won’t bend at all and that’s not the kind of coach you want to play for.
And way back, on December 26th 2004, toward the end of Coughlin’s first season as Giant’s head coach, in an article for Scouts Inc., Ken Palmer quoted numerous Giants players as saying they hated Tom Coughlin and would never play hard for him and they said Coughlin would never win.
Some beat writers back then referred to Coughlin as Major Tom, and not in a flattering way, either. Others said he’d never get any free agents to sign with Giants because no one wanted to play for him. Some players, not already with the Giants, concurred, saying they’d never consider playing for the guy -– no matter how much money was being offered.
But, in spite of those dire predictions, dozens of free agents have signed with Giants over the last decade. Probably, because the Giants’ money is just as green as everyone else’s money. Somehow, their dislike for Coughlin was tempered by the money. What else is new? As H.L. Mencken, the journalist and satirist, once said: “When they say it’s not about the money … it’s about the money!”
And players who initially hated him; guys like Michael Strahan and Antrel Rolle, who couldn’t understand his strict rules, now say they wouldn’t want to play for anyone else. Chris Canty – while still with the Giants — was quoted as saying:
“I have no clue why he doesn’t get the credit he deserves, but Coach (Coughlin) doesn’t spend time thinking about it. It’s not the type of person he is and, quite frankly, it’s not the type of team he wants to coach. People who know football understand just how good a football coach he is … and he’s the same guy every day.”
This is not to say Tom Coughlin didn’t deserve some criticism; he did. For one thing, he really was an old school, tyrant, a my-way-or-the-highway guy, and that had to be culture shock for Jim Fassel’s country club players. But, they didn’t hire him to be a Jim Fassel clone; they wanted an old school disciplinarian because the team needed it. And, credit where credit is due; when called upon by management to soften his approach, he did.
And, then, there was his infamous pronouncement at his initial press conference, when he took a swipe at Fassel’s tenure and dismissed injuries as a mental thing:
“I’m aware of the injury factor … the number of IRs … which is a cancer, let’s face it. It’s something that has to be corrected. It’s a mental thing, I believe, as much as anything else.”
But, let’s face it, it took a tyrant to force Jim Fassel’s “pet” player, Tiki Barber, to change his running style in order to stop his chronic fumbling problem; and it turned Barber into one of the best backs in the NFL. And, yes, clearly, Coughlin was wrong about the injures being a “mental thing.” But here’s the irony of that: while his teams have, in fact, and much to his chagrin, suffered more injuries — year in and year out — than most teams in the last ten years; in spite of those injuries, his record is:
2004 – 6-10 – No Playoffs
2005 – 11-5 – Lost Wild Card
2006 – 8-8 – Lost Wild Card
2007 – 10-6 – Won SB XLII
2008 – 12-4 – Lost Division Game
2009 – 8-8 – No Playoffs
2010 – 10-6 – No Playoffs
2011 – 9-7 – Won SB XLVI
2012 – 9-7 – No Playoffs
2013 – 7-9 – No Playoffs
That’s a total, ten-year, won/lost record of 90-70, which translates to a yearly 9-7 won/lost record, with only two non-winning seasons, five playoffs appearances and two Super Bowl Championships -– with a ton of injuries! That’s not an example of the inflexibility his detractors referred to; it’s just the opposite.
And this off-season, selflessly, flexibly, he’s making adjustments by putting aside his loyalties to long time assistants like Mike Pope and Jerald Ingram, in order to update and improve the team for 2014 and for the future even beyond that.
I wonder how many other teams in the NFL would like to have a head coach who’d bring them eight winning seasons out in the next ten, as well as five playoff appearances, and two Super Bowl Championships. My hunch is; there are more than just a few.
Whether you like Coughlin or you hate him; his record speaks for itself: plain and simple, the guy is a hell of a football coach. And yet, for some reason, bizarrely, sadly, he remains, Tom Coughlin: the man they still love to hate.