by John Furgele
The elephant is in the room and his name is Thomas Richard Coughlin. He has been the head coach of the New York Giants since the 2004 season. Now, in his 12th year he prepares his 6-9 club for a game against the 6-9 Philadelphia Eagles; a team that just fired coach Chip Kelly. To call an NFL game meaningless is unfair because they all mean something and when you’re charging fans for tickets and beverages, then it deserves to be treated as such.
Coughlin is older than old school. He has pride and determination to go along with class. He will go down with the ship because that ‘s the type of person he is. And, that’s what makes this excruciatingly tough for the Giants owners. John Mara and Steve Tisch own 50 percent of the team; they have to agree on what the plans are before acting on them. This isn’t Al Davis in Oakland, who was President of the General Partner. Davis was an owner of the team, but he wasn’t majority owner. He did, however, have complete control of football operations. He didn’t have to consult with the other owners. The Mara and Tisch families have gotten along for decades and they will get along on this matter, too.
Coughlin is 69 years old and will turn 70 on August 31. That’s not old, nor is it young. The game has not passed him by; Coughlin is more than capable of running a football team. In 12 seasons, Coughlin coached the Giants to two Super Bowl titles. His 2007 team finished 10-6, and then blazed through the NFC playoffs. They played the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl; a Patriot team that was 18-0 and on the brink of history.
They beat them.
In 2011, the Giants were 7-7 after 14 games, but they won out and qualified for the NFC playoffs. Like in 2007, they got hot and faced the Patriots again in Super Bowl 47.
They beat them.
With two Super Bowl titles, many think Coughlin has earned the right to go out on his terms, while others feel that it’s time for a change. There has to be some fear in Coughlin, knowing that if he steps down or is let go, he won’t get another head coaching job in the NFL. Coughlin doesn’t strike anybody as the type who wants to live free and easy and do nothing. I also can’t see him as an analyst either. Coughlin is good to the media, but it’s clear that he doesn’t love it. I’m also sure that Coughlin would drive his wife and family nuts by not coaching. This is a man who has been coaching non-stop since 1969. The only break was the 1994 season when he was in charge of the Jacksonville Jaguars as they prepared for their inaugural season the next year. At 70, he wants to keep going and the Giants don’t want acrimony. They want Coughlin to call Mara and Tisch and step down. That way, nobody looks bad.
Mara and Tisch need to do what they need to do. If they want Coughlin to be gone, then tell him and the public that. The backlash—if any—will subside quickly and before you know it, the talk will focus on Jon Gruden, Bill Cowher and all the other coaching candidates that are or could be available.
Coughlin should be the bigger man and step down. Tell everybody he’s had a great ride coaching the Giants and before that, the Jaguars. Wax poetic about beating perhaps the best coach in NFL history, Bill Belichick—twice. He can look back with fondness and talk about the great people he’s met in pro football. He can even talk about his 1993 Boston College team that took down number one ranked Notre Dame on a last second field goal by kicker David Gordon, whose father at the time owned the Hartford Whalers. He’s had one of the greatest rides in NFL history. He helped start an expansion team, took them to the AFC Championship Game in just its second year; took them to another and then coached one of the marquee franchises in the league, the New York Giants. It’s been a fantastic ride.
But the ride shouldn’t end.
Coughlin is a young 70, so young that he’s only 69. He wants to keep coaching and he should. He’s more than a coach; he’s a teacher, a molder of men and a builder. He built the Jags and he rebuilt the Giants. His next job would incorporate all of these skills. He would be a perfect fit to be the next football coach at a place that would welcome him.
Union College. Schenectady, New York.
The Union College Dutchmen need a football coach. More importantly, they need a builder, a teacher and a molder of young men. They have a great history, but in recent years, have fallen. In 2014, they played many close games, but finished 0-10. They’re a Division III school, where players are recruited, but unless they qualify for academic or financial aid, pay their own way to attend the college.
I am hoping that Coughlin and/or his agent have already reached out to the school to inquire about the job. Knowing Coughlin that probably hasn’t happened. The athletic director at Union is Jim McLaughlin and if he’s smart here’s hoping he’s reached out to Coughlin’s agent.
This theory probably comes off as hokey, just some half-baked hack trying to be funny or clever, but Coughlin is a different breed of cat. His ego is not like those of Rex Ryan, Chip Kelly, Pete Carroll and most of the NFL coaches. This is a guy who loves to coach, loves to work with men and loves the pride of accomplishment. This would be him returning to the grass roots of football, which for Coughlin is where it began.
In 1970, Coughlin took the head coaching job at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT for locals and Rochester Tech for writers). There, he lined the field and probably helped wash the uniforms. The program was new and in fact, it no longer exists. At Union, Coughlin could help rebuild the Dutchmen and who knows; compete for a Division III national title. He wouldn’t have to worry about three press conferences per week, nor would he have to worry about the Odell Beckhams and other millionaire athletes running around. He might have to deal with a quarterback who comes to summer practice late because he’s finishing up an internship on Wall Street or a kicker who played soccer in high school and then thinks he can walk-on and kick field goals for the school.
I think Coughlin would love it and I think he has at least five more years of coaching left in him. Division III coaches don’t make tons of money; salaries range from $60,000 to $200,000, but does Coughlin need the money? Of course not, he wants to coach; in fact, he would probably donate the $120,000 back to the program.
Coughlin would love it. Imagine the response when he calls a 5-10 205 pound linebacker from Peabody, Massachusetts and asks if he’s interested in playing football for the Dutchmen! The kid might go somewhere else, but you can bet a dollar that he’s driving to Schenectady to tour the campus, the facilities and to talk with the two-time Super Bowl winner.
Coughlin would be a good fit at an Ivy or Patriot League school, but as of today, all 14 of those jobs are spoken for. Division III is the perfect landing spot for Coughlin. Schenectady is not in the middle of nowhere, and Coughlin himself grew up 200 miles west in Waterloo, NY so he knows what Upstate New York is like. Union won the 2014 NCAA national title in Ice Hockey, the only Division I sport at the school. Coughlin would feed off that as well, bringing recruits in during the hockey season.
There are no negatives here. He wants to coach and it appears that the Giants won’t allow him to keep doing that. If a coach wants to coach, they need to find a place that needs and wants a coach and Union College, with its 2300 students is the perfect place for Coughlin to keep coaching.
He’s a builder and Union needs to be rebuilt; retooled is a better word. They are down, but far from out. Coughlin can be that guy. This is pure football, and like RIT, he will be coaching smart kids who are playing football for the love of the game. He won’t have to worry about a “student-athlete,” taking money from boosters, or bogus classes or declaring early for the NFL draft. His players will graduate and will get jobs making lots of money, and in 20 years, can tell their friends, kids, spouses that they played for Coughlin and both learned and loved it. Coughlin would relish this opportunity and would get to dictate his own exit strategy.
I expect a press conference sooner rather than later.