This week, Tom Coughlin ‘retired’ as the head coach of the New York Giants. Here’s the press conference.
In it, Tom Coughlin trumpets the value of building better people, not just football players. He stresses that his goal was always to build a team that believed in team first. A team where he drilled the importance of these values, which he listed off:
Honesty. Trust. Responsibility. Respect. Service. Integrity.
It’s not an accident that the mantra of Tom Coughlin starts with honesty and ends with integrity. Outside of looking like he wants to bite someone’s head off, it’s his defining characteristic. He spoke about his football journey. How, as a little boy in Waterloo, NY, a town of about five thousand, he was lucky to get the Giants and Browns on his black and white TV. To end up fifteen years in the Giants organization, twelve of them as head coach, he said, was an honor and a privilege.
Lots of people say that. That’s a pretty common phrase. An honor and a privilege. But when it comes out of the mouth of Tom Coughlin, you believe it. In fact, because of a legacy of excellence and character, you automatically believe every single word that comes out of the mouth of Tom Coughlin. He’s as honest as a sheriff in an old film. Maddeningly so, sometimes. It’s just the way he works. He has a ‘grandpa is always right’ vibe about him. That’s how we did it in the old days…
You might not always like the message, but you’re gonna get it straight and without a lot of window dressing.
I didn’t always think the world of Tom Coughlin. I used to be irritated by his joylessness. Goddamn mean-spirited looking bastard sitting on the sidelines with a puss on his face and wind-burnt red cheeks. Look at this irritable prick:
He looked like the type of overbearing disciplinarian that would be miserable to work for. Like the hardest teacher you ever had. The thing is…much of the time, those teachers are also the best teacher you ever had. And that’s kind of how it’s gone down with Tom Coughlin. At one point in his career, someone (probably his wife June) or something made him take stock of his approach. Maybe it was after 9/11, where his son escaped from Tower 2, that made him decide to ease up a bit and not be such a hardass.
And that moment: the moment he began to let people in is probably also the moment when he went from a good coach to a great coach. In his farewell speech, Coughlin reflects on the first time a player came to him and said “I love you coach.” (My guess is that it was Michael Strahan). Coughlin admits that he had no idea how to deal with that kind of emotion in such a rough and tumble masculine environment. Now, he says, that’s the very fuel that drives him. Not wins: relationships. Relationships are what make this stoic Gary Cooper S.O.B. go. Relationships are the engine of this football machine. Making good football players and even better men.
I’ll bet that the kid that grew up in the snow belt with a gridiron dream would have never pictured himself talking about relationships in his seventies. It’s a testament to just how much Tom Coughlin has grown over the years.
Admitting his shortcomings is a brave sort of honesty that, in a doggedly old-school vocation, endears him to many people. This is a man who says in NFL Network’s Tom Coughlin:A Football Life (which is absolutely worth the watch) “I kiss my sons. I could care less what somebody thinks.” That’s a man from another era who has overcome some of the more bullshit macho stuff to foster an emotional connection. And by god, he was successful at it.
Coach Tom Coughlin is as an upstanding man as you fill find in the NFL or life. I learned that in just one year. Thank you Coach.— Marshall Newhouse (@MNewhouse74) January 4, 2016
TC is an exceptional coach and an even better person. It’s been a honor to play for a HoF coach. Thank you Coach Coughlin— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) January 4, 2016
I had the honor to play for a legend. Thank you coach Coughlin— Justin Pugh (@JustinPugh) January 4, 2016
It has been one of the greatest honors of my life and career to be lead by Tom Coughlin, my life will forever be changed. #legacy #NFL#gmen— Josh Brown (@Kickingitwith3) January 4, 2016
Thank you Tom Coughlin for demanding the very best from myself/teammates every single day. Respect is not given, it's earned #NYG 2xSBChamps— David Diehl (@davediehl66) January 4, 2016
Coach Coughlin taught me how to be a professional with respect, class and focus. I am eternally thankful. I'll be at the HOF ceremony. 🏆🏆— Nat Berhe (@NatBerhe) January 4, 2016
As I sit back and reflect on Coach Tom Coughlin, I remember all the one on ones in your office talking football, game plan, etc. I think back to when I was named captain and I used to try and beat you to the facility. I would get there at 6, you where there. I got there at 530 and you were there. 5 am… I knew I would beat you then.. NOPE YOU WERE THERE. I remember feeling the hood of your car and it was cold. Come to find out there were nights you slept in the office. No one worked harder, no one demanded more and I LOVE YOU for it. I chose this picture for one reason and one reason only. Everyone knows you for your dedication to your team and how intense you are on the football field. But I will remember you for helping me become a man and challenging all of us to be better husbands and fathers and men. You did it the right way Coach. And you might be retiring from coaching but I'm sure this isn't a goodbye. That's not in your nature. #halloffame #5minutesearly #areyoush*ttingme
The outpouring of love for this future Hall of Fame coach has been staggering. And yesterday as his quarterback Eli Manning sat in the audience, fighting back tears, Coughlin comforted him from the podium. From the goddamn podium.
Tom Coughlin’s moment in the sun was never so bright, not even after his two Super Bowl wins. He stood there, in a press conference that’s supposed to be about him, and made it all about everyone else. He called out every coach and administrator by name. He talked about his family, his children and grandchildren. He almost broke down talking about his wife June, who, if you watch A Football Life, is truly the great woman that runs his ship of state. He would be nothing without her. And then, to cap it all off, he takes responsibility for the “why” of his departure so that his quarterback doesn’t have to.
Forget football coach, this is an impressive man.
Notice I haven’t said a word about actual football yet. The fact is that the last two seasons the Giants were 6-10, and that’s the ostensible reason for his departure. Tom Coughlin will tell you that the lowest point of his career was in the 2001-2002 season when they lost five games by a total of ten points. That’s how this season was for the Giants. They lost six games in the last thirty seconds, or else this team would have been 12-4. That’s how unforgiving the life of a head coach is in the National Football League. Three minutes going his way and Tom Coughlin would be nursing a first round bye instead of packing his desk. Nuts.
The thing is, and I know the old saying that you are what your record says you are, but when you have Tom Coughlin, you’re actually better than that, in every way. You’re better on the field and in the locker room. You’re better in the training room and in the film room. You’re better in the quiet moments when you’re trying to define your character. You’re better in the community, and most importantly, you’re better when you leave the game of football altogether.
The Giants have made a huge mistake in pushing out a coach of that caliber and a man of that quality. It’s hard to quantify the elements of a coach who can just get you to the big game, much less win it. Tom Coughlin knows what it takes, and how to build a team that can win you a championship. Or two. Every single NFL team in need of a head coach should immediately move him to the top of their list and be at his door with flowers and a playbook and a multi-million dollar offer letter. There isn’t a single job opening where his arrival wouldn’t be an immediate and substantial upgrade over whomever they had there before him. I don’t know how this will all shake out for Tom Coughlin, but wherever he goes, he’ll raise the level of everyone around him. How many people can you honestly say that about?
And who, praytell, will fill the shoes of Tom Coughlin in New York? From where I stand there’s exactly one coach in the same tier as Tom Coughlin and Tom Coughlin handed him his ass in the Super Bowl twice. Unless the Giants ownership has figured out a way to resurrect Mike Brown or Vince Lombardi, they just nudged one of the best coaches in NFL history out the door, and that’s the type of strategic mistake it’s tough to come back from.
Tom Coughlin isn’t a coach you pat on the back and say goodbye to. Tom Coughlin is a coach you say “please coach, just one more year” to. However it plays out and wherever Tom Coughlin ends up, in football and in life, he’ll have a fan in me. And I’m betting I’m not alone.