Tom Coughlin Will Sort of Remain in Control of the Giants


With about five minutes to go in the Giants 17-14 victory over the Redskins in Washington yesterday, the bad news was flashed across our TV screens: the Green Bay Packers had defeated the Chicago Bears, shutting the Giants out of the playoffs and ending their season. Immediately, I’m betting, millions of loyal Giants fans had thoughts similar to mine: “Please, God, now that we can’t make the playoffs, at least let the Redskins win so Tom Coughlin will get fired.”

Myself, I’m not sure that seeing Coughlin fired wouldn’t have been preferable to seeing Big Blue win, since Coughlin’s record in big games was practically a guarantee that they weren’t going to make it far in the playoffs anyway. As it turned out, it wouldn’t have mattered if they had lost — shortly after the game, co-owner John Mara announced, “Of course Tom will be back next year. There never was a choice.”

That so many in the New York media can be so thick on the subject of Coughlin is positively stupefying. Let’s refer to Mike Lupica on the subject – not because I like to pick on him or because he’s such a pompous ass, but because his column in Friday’s Daily News summed up all the dumb arguments for keeping Coughlin.

“You think the coach let the team down this season?” Lupica wrote. Yes, I do, emphatically, but let that pass and press on. “Not as much as the quarterback did … It’s not just the wildly inconsistent quarterback, the big, bad Giants defense has wildly underperformed for weeks. The way their new defensive coordinator, Perry Fewell, has.”

Ah, so now it’s Eli Manning’s fault that he ends up playing come-from-behind in the fourth quarter, or trying to carry out a wildly – oops, sorry, that’s Lupica’s word – bizarrely inconsistent game plan. Now it’s the defense’s fault for pitching near shut-outs one week and breaking down in the fourth quarter the next. Now it’s the assistant coach’s fault, not the guy who runs the show.

“If you think this is all Coughlin’s fault,” says Lupica, “You didn’t watch the season.” This is what’s known in debating as a classic case of setting up a straw man: no one said it was all Coughlin’s fault. Those of us who wish him gone and have felt that way for a long time have merely said that … well, let me quote myself from the January 22, 2008, Village Voice: “Throughout his 12-year pro coaching career, Tom Coughlin has given a perfect imitation of someone who is both in charge and out of control, with the result that the Giants … have also been the most erratic, forever changing the way of their errors without changing the error of their ways.”

Or, as the Washington Post‘s Mark Maske wrote early in 2008,when Coughlin accused the media of being a distraction, “What the media was distracting Coughlin’s players from … was disliking him and disliking each other.”

About the only thing consistent about Coughlin in his entire career has been his late season collapses. A couple of weeks ago he coached the Giants to the most spectacular defeat in team history, a 38-31 shellacking by the Eagles, when he (1) forgot to tell his defensive linemen to keep Michael Vick from running to the outside, (2) neglected to put his “all-hands” team in for a possible onside kick, (3) didn’t play his safeties deep when only a long pass could put the Eagles back in the game, and (4) didn’t make sure his punter kicked the ball out of bounds with a few ticks left on the clock. (In so many key situations over the years, Coughlin’s punters have shanked the ball out of bounds. Matt Dodge is surely the first kicker in the history of football to fail by shanking a punt into fair territory.)

But the Eagles fiasco is just one of many Coughlin classics. Who can forget that great day, November 27, 2005, when Eli Manning threw for 324 yards and Tiki Barber ran for 166 more and the Giants lost 24-21 to the Seattle Seahawks after piling up a franchise record 16 penalties, an incredible 11 for false starts?

Or the January 8, 2006, playoff against the Carolina Panthers when the Giants, presumably with the home field advantage, were humiliated 23-0. Who can forget Jeremy Shockey’s famous comment: “We got out-played and out-coached. Write that one down.” (BTW, whatever happened to that guy?)

Or on November 26, 2006, when the Giants, leading the Tennessee Titans 21-0 after three quarters, collapsed in the final period and lost 24-21? “We’re going to be sick about this one forever,” Coughlin said after he game. No chance, Tom: this year’s Eagles game erased that one from our memories.

I could go on, but only the dates, players and the opponents would change. What stays the same is the hideous pattern of Coughlin’s teams in big games.

Let’s look at the record: He’s now coached for 15 years in the pros and has won just 26 more games than he has lost; in seven years with New York, he has won just 18 more games than he had has lost. His postseason record is 8-7. In fact, excepting 2007, when the Giants made that incredible postseason run which ended in a Super Bowl win over the New England Patriots, Coughlin has never won a postseason game while coaching the Giants.

This year’s edition of the Blue scored only 47 more points than they allowed, an average of slightly less than three points per game. The offensive was mediocre, the defense was mediocre, and the special teams sucked – and according to Mike Lupica and so many others, we’re supposed to blame everyone else except Tom Coughlin?

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 3, 2011

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