It was inevitable that things would end like this, though taking a look at the history of Black Mondays past, the end here could have been far worse. In professional sports, only a select few coaches are afforded the ability to call their own shots when it comes to their futures. You would never hear about contract squabbles or "dream jobs" with these few because they are lords in their fields, empowered by not only a general manager’s trust but the owner’s unwavering confidence. You never hear about the coach who earned himself “one more season” to show and prove that he still has some of the magic of yesteryear when all that glittered was gold (or in the NFL’s case, Tiffany silver.)
For Tom Coughlin, there would never be an ugly departure when the time came; no belabored firing that made the public exult in jubilee or sigh in acceptance. As many of us who covered the New York Giants before and after Super Bowl XLVI (the team's last playoff win) had believed, he essentially wrote his own ticket by winning a second championship in the NFL’s so-called ‘parity' era. Winning one title placed him in the realm of forever beloved in the home market, but in winning the second meant that Coughlin could be considered among that very elite company of strategists who could leave when he was good and ready.
It was never that simple. Not with these Giants, not in this fast churn of coaches every winter, and not with the faded luster of past glory. Because the Giants were never the dominant team of this era nor were they ever so terrible that it merited a total reset, Coughlin was only on thin ice because the team needed to blame someone for the years they didn't catch lightning in a bottle.
A look at Coughlin’s record as the red-faced leader of the Giants – 102-90 in the regular season, 8-3 in five playoffs, three NFC East crowns, two conference championships, two Super Bowls - may tell you that he has a strong Hall of Fame case. Yet, numbers, great players coached and even championship rings don't tell the entire story about how he became a belatedly revered sports figure in the tri-state region.
Thousands of words have been written by columnists, reporters, bloggers, fans and players since Coughlin's announcement; all with the aim to sum up his total impact, analyze where things went wrong, and reflect on where things went oh-so-right. However, most, if not all will overlook the most important tool he had over his 12 years at the Meadowlands, his steady hand in a place that demanded he would act as volatile as the stock market.
See, you are always told about how big and bad of a media market the NYC metropolitan area can be, from the Five Boroughs themselves to the suburbs that loudly orbit around them. You are always told about how the fans have incredibly high expectations, the media ever more scrutinizing, and the league offices ever more mindful of the teams in their backyard. While fans are anxious everywhere, and the league offices love to see the top Nielsen markets well fed by competitive sports, it’s the media presence here that stands out above all for its abrasiveness when a team struggles on the field (and slips up off of it).
For the most part, Coughlin didn't buy into the hype we have over ourselves. In fact, that was a large part of what made the Coughlin-era Giants so interesting, for better or worse. Big Blue always had something to say when it came to the NFC side of the playoff table, even if the team wasn't seriously going to take a seat. That's because the team was mostly unflappable as time went along, players, by and large, straying from airing out their grievances when things got tough during the season. Even during the Plaxico Burress accidental shooting fiasco, the former wide receiver’s issues with Coughlin’s authority was only made public in attempts to tell the story of a player who wasn’t in lockstep with the team. (A lot more in the reporter pool were unaware of any discord than you may think as the Giants tend to make far less noise than other teams in the NFL.)
Coughlin, in most respects, was an extension of not only management – mainly general managers Ernie Accorsi and Jerry Reese – but of ownership. The Mara and Tisch families rarely speak publicly about team issues. In fact, you hear more about John Mara and Steve Tisch in regards to league-wide matters. They ask their charges in the front office and on the sideline to be the public faces of the Giants. While they aren’t completely hands off, they aren’t the overlords that their finances alone would allow them to be.
In hiring Coughlin, a year removed from his stint as the first-ever head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, ownership saw someone unencumbered by the trappings of where he coached and who knew how to navigate the blaring traffic of "NOO YAWK" sports media. Most importantly, he knew how to get the best efforts out of every player, assistant coach and trainer day in and day out. For all the fire and unintentionally hilarious reactions he had on the sidelines, he was also someone that could calm the waters that surrounded the team. As well noted by Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman, Coughlin successfully adapted from the angry parent of young children in Jacksonville to the irascible, but wise and revered patriarch in New Jersey.
In this former reporter's opinion, those changes were best showcased a year ago. With the protests against police brutality reaching a fever pitch and a tense city burying two NYPD officers killed in the line of duty, it was Coughlin's call for peace and recognition of the varied perspectives of the social tumult in the locker room that stood out. It may not have been the defining moment of his tenure nor did it change the fortunes of the team, but it revealed a compassion and awareness that wouldn't have been so clear earlier in his coaching career.
There is no doubt that the Giants head coaching vacancy is the most attractive of them all as we move away from Black Monday. For all of his mistakes, Eli Manning has had the best statistical seasons of his career, and every candidate would love to be able to say they are coaching Odell Beckham Jr. While the defense has been leaky for far too long, anything in the NFL that doesn't involve the Cleveland Browns can be rebuilt. Yet, as the cliche goes, the next head coach will have some tough shoes to fill.
As a good bit of New York Giants fans and local media are studying candidates to replace Coughlin, they will fall back into old habits when it comes to following the search for a new head coach, they are demanding big names with flash, big offense and past successes from elsewhere. At the same time, they now speak glowingly about a man they wanted to be fired more often than not, hopefully appreciating that for 12 years, he remained relatively calm in the frenzy that comes with coaching a big market team.
In resignation, Tom Coughlin may not have had the complete final say in his exit, yet from his players and peers, he at least earned an honorable one.
Jason is the editor-in-chief here at TSFJ. In addition to a past life as a research analyst in advertising, television and online media, he spent seven seasons as the New York Beacon's beat writer for the New York Giants. Jason has written for Yardbarker, Dime Magazine, Decider, Awful Announcing and The Week. He is also a member of his high school's 4th period gym class floor hockey champions.