“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as head coach of the New York Football Giants,” the outgoing Tom Coughlin said after announcing his resignation as chief of the Giants’ coaching staff. “This is not a sad occasion for me.”
The 69-year-old Coughlin, who has spent the last 12 seasons of his 46-year-long coaching career at the Meadowlands, went 102-90 with the Giants in the regular season and 8-3 in the playoffs. His greatest coaching accomplishments will always be the pair of astounding, underdog Super Bowl wins after the 2007 and 2011 seasons, both against the heavily-favoured New England Patriots.
In today’s NFL, finding a coach with a tenure as long as Coughlin’s is a difficult task. Finding a coach in any sport in the high pressure, media frenzy New York market with a tenure as long as Coughlin’s is a nearly impossible task. The expressive, red-faced, and gesticulating figure of Coughlin on the sidelines every Sunday has become a quintessential part of the Giants’ image. Behind the scenes players and assistant coaches remember Coughlin as obsessively hardworking, maniacally devoted to detail, and intensely caring for all the members of his organization, both on and off the field.
"I learned so much from him.” Giants quarterback Eli Manning told the press after Coughlin’s annoucement. “He's a great example of how you should do your job. He's a great coach."
“I love Coach Coughlin.” said star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. at the press conference “He’s always going to be my coach.”
When he arrived at Giants’ headquarters in 2004 after leaving the Jacksonville Jaguars, Coughlin had all the clocks set five minutes forward. Players who arrived less than five minutes early for a team meeting were fined for being late because everyone had to be five minutes early for everything. Coughlin was known for being the first person to arrive each morning and the last person to leave at the end of the day. Sometimes he wouldn’t leave at all, spending the night in his office going over film and drawing up new plays.
“No one worked harder, no one demanded more and I love [Coach Coughlin] for it.” said former Giants defensive end Justin Tuck in an emotional Instagram post.
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
Perhaps most impactfully, Coughlin not only expected but earned the respect of all his players. He involved himself in their personal lives, visited them at their homes, and met their families and made them into not just better football players, but also better husbands, better fathers, and better men. He spent generous amounts of time in the locker room talking to his players and broke up his work day to eat lunch with them in the team cafeteria downstairs.
“He was like a father to me and a lot of other guys.” said Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz in a series of player tributes to Coughlin in The Player’s Tribune. “He’s always been there for me, whether I was going through something and needed someone to talk to, or whether I was struggling on the field and just needed to vent. His door was always open, and it was open to everyone, whether you were an undrafted rookie or a team captain.
Both of Coughlin’s Super Bowl wins will never be forgotten for how truly unexpected they were. Both came after seasons with poor starts and a struggle to find team cohesion until the second half of the season—just in time for the Giants to earn a wild card spot in the playoffs. In New York, a city blessed with wealthy franchises and the ability to attract talented players based on location and market size alone, rooting for the underdog is a rare phenomenon. The Yankees, the Rangers, and the Giants have been perceived more as Goliath than David for the majority of their appearances in their respective post-seasons, but Coughlin’s two runs to the Super Bowl—during which the Giants played only one total home playoff game—to face the mighty Patriots were an undoubted reversal of roles for the New York fans. Playing David gave them something new and exciting to cheer about.
It’s why, after missing the playoffs since winning the Super Bowl in 2011 and going 19-29 in his last three seasons, all 83,00 fans in MetLife Stadium nevertheless thunderously cheered Coughlin off the field after his last game. This was in spite of the Giants falling to division-rival Philadelphia Eagles in a disappointing end to a 6-10 record season. It’s why, along with his never-give-up-no-matter-what attitude, Coughlin will always be remembered as a hero and icon of New York sports after a never-boring, often erratic and always entertaining tenure as coach in the Meadowlands.