Somewhere inside an office in the New York Giants practice facility at the Timex Performance Center, Tom Coughlin is smiling. And why shouldn’t the eight-year Giants head coach?
In a 2011 season where all of Coughlin’s critics were stacked against him, he turned the Giants around for a mediocre team that wouldn’t make the playoffs to a mediocre team that captured a division title in one of the NFL’s most overrated divisions and finally, to a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
Perhaps the greatest of those critics was me.
Less than a month ago, I was unbearably critical of Coughlin, his coaching style and his entire tenure with the Giants. It wasn’t the first time I had called for the 65-year-old’s head, but it will certainly be the last.
Now, Coughlin and the Giants are on a collision course with the San Francisco 49ers—a team they lost to in Week 10, 27-20—in hopes of representing the NFC in Super Bowl XLVI. It’s a far reach from the impending doom they were faced with just 29 days ago.
But unlike most of those who were there along with me looking forward to the completion of the regular season which would almost definitely include an overdue firing of the always-under fire Coughlin, I have no problem eating crow.
In fact, I’m loving every minute of it.
For much of Coughlin’s tenure with the Giants, he’s been saddled with a team with some solid talent, but always lacked in vital positions. This season was no different.
What’s amazing is Coughlin’s ability to get the very best out of his players. His style may not be something that players play favorably to and yet, Coughlin’s Giants are always amongst the NFL’s elite.
It’s that same coaching style that sparked a do-not-quit attitude within all of the Giants players. Coach Coughlin’s remarkable motivation has resulted in the Giants winning five of their last six games, including their exciting 37-20 thrashing of the NFL’s top team, the Green Bay Packers in their NFC Divisional Round game.
The Giants’ current playoff run is considerably similar to the 2007 Super Bowl run. That season, much like the 2011 season, was marred with locker room drama and panic among the media. Much like that 2007 season, Coughlin handled the situation, got his players focused and guided them to an improbable Super Bowl victory over the undefeated New England Patriots.
It’s become a staple of Coughlin’s coaching tenure with the Giants and is arguably a greater indication of the “disciplinarian” leader Coughlin tends to be labeled as rather than the Giants’ embarrassing penalty numbers during the regular season.
Truthfully, Coughlin’s coaching career took an iconic swing in just one short month. In December, he was ready to go down as one of a handful of mediocre coaches to win a Super Bowl like Dick Vermeil and Brian Billick. With another Super Bowl triumph, Coughlin could find himself with a bust in Canton.
And that will be right where he belongs, even without another Super Bowl victory. His resume speaks for itself, it just gets lost in steep expectations from fans and the media alike.
Coughlin is amongst the NFL coaching greats in all of his regular season numbers. In the postseason, Coughlin is even greater amongst the best coaches of all-time. His playoff winning percentage is an impressive .588, better than Hall of Famers Marv Levy (.579), John Madden (.563), Tom Landry (.556), Don Shula (.528) and Giants legend Bill Parcells (.579).
His six road playoff wins ranks second behind only Landry and his record of seven. A win at San Francisco on Sunday will give him a piece of that record. In so many of those road wins, Coughlin’s teams were a heavy underdog.
The spectacular thing about Coughlin is how consistent he’s always been. Yes, over the years he’s laid back a little more, but his coaching style and strong belief in his team no matter the task they’re faced with has and always will be the same.
It’s that consistency that has delivered his team in countless situations throughout the years and his belief in his players always garner Coughlin the belief and faithfulness of his players in return.
It is through these things that Coughlin and his teams have attained as much success as they have over the years. And because of that, Coughlin has finally earned the respect of his greatest critics and a place amongst the fondest New York sports figures in history.