The 2014 Season Should Determine Tom Coughlin's Fate

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The 2014 Season Should Determine Tom Coughlin's Fate
USA Today

After the New York Giants won Super Bowl XLVI, it seemed Tom Coughlin had earned himself a lifetime membership as the team's head coach. But nothing is forever, especially in this league. 

It was revealed at the NFL Scouting Combine, per Rich Cimini of ESPN.com, that Coughlin had been signed to a one-year contract extension, but that was essentially a formality. Very rarely are head coaches, especially those who are revered as much as Coughlin, asked to do their jobs in lame-duck scenarios. 

He had one year remaining on his deal, so tacking on an extra year was procedural as soon as the front office and Coughlin were sure that he was indeed sticking around for the 2014 campaign. 

But if Coughlin doesn't get the Giants back to the playoffs next year, he should politely be asked to step aside before the final year of his current deal gets underway in 2015. 

I know he's done more for this franchise than fewer than a handful of people, right there in a group with names Mara, Manning, Taylor and Parcells, but when making multi-million-dollar decisions in this business, you can't let history and emotions cloud your judgment. 

The reality is that while Coughlin has done a tremendous job the last decade in New York, he shouldn't survive missing the playoffs in five out of six seasons, regardless of the fact that he, Manning and Co. teamed up to win a championship in the one season that broke from that trend. 

In fact, dating back 30 years, we could only find 10 head coaches who got kept their jobs despite missing the playoffs four times in five years. 

Coaches who have survived missing playoffs 4 times out of 5
Coach Team Years Fate
Jack Del Rio Jaguars 2006-2010 Fired during sixth season
Jeff Fisher Oilers/Titans 1994-1998 Held job 12 more years
Jim Haslett Saints 2000-2004 Fired after sixth season
Gary Kubiak Texans 2007-2011 Held job two more years
Marvin Lews Bengals 2004-2008 Still coaching team
Don Shula Dolphins 1986-1990 Held job five more years
Lovie Smith Bears 2007-2011 Fired after sixth season
Norv Turner Redskins 1994-1998 Held job two more years
Dave Wannstedt Bears 1993-1997 Fired after sixth season
Sam Wyche Bengals 1985-1989 Playoff runs in '88 and '90

Last 30 years (Pro Football Reference)

Eight coaches were fired after missing the playoffs four times out of five, which is the position Coughlin’s in now. Those coaches were Bill Belichick, Bruce Coslet, John Fox, Dick Jauron, Jim Mora, David Shula, Mike Tice and Vince Tobin.

Four more were fired after missing the playoffs for a fifth time out of six. The only coaches who survived five non-playoff seasons out of six were Gary Kubiak, Marvin Lewis, Don Shula, Norv Turner and Sam Wyche.

Kubiak pulled it off, but that was with the expansion Texans.

Turner technically did it as well, but that sixth year was his best. He had fallen short of the playoffs in five straight seasons before peaking with a playoff victory in Year 6.

Wyche fits the profile, too, but he was peaking late with Cincinnati. Ditto for Lewis in the same city.

Don Shula also missed the playoffs five times in six years between '86 and '91 and kept his job. Shula, who was in his 60s and had two Super Bowls under his belt, had a situation that best resembles the one Coughlin could find himself in next year.

All of those guys except Shula were working their first jobs with teams that were quite weak. So yeah, history isn’t on Coughlin’s side.

If the Giants fall short of expectations again in 2014, Coughlin will have run out of excuses. He's still got one of the game's most skilled quarterbacks in Eli Manning, a solid defense that put up tremendous numbers during the second half of the season and one of the game's best pass-rushers in Jason Pierre-Paul, who is expected to be healthier one year removed from back surgery. 

If the Giants miss the playoffs in 2014, should Tom Coughlin be done in New York?

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On top of that, he's got a fresh offensive coordinator in Ben McAdoo. It's still Coughlin's offense, but new wrinkles are expected. That's a good thing considering how stale everything felt during Kevin Gilbride's final gasp in the same position. 

And as Pro Football Talk's Darin Gantt points out, general manager Jerry Reese indicated last week in Indianapolis that some big personnel changes could be on the horizon. Coughlin will undoubtedly play a role in deciding what those changes will be, and if they don't pan out, he'll deserve part of the blame. 

This year, we'll have a chance to get a definitive feel for whether the game has passed the league's oldest coach by. 

Now that, according to Jordan Raanan and Conor Orr at NJ.com, the Giants might let Manning roll into 2014 without a new contract, the organization could enter a situation in which its three most integral offensive chips—Coughlin, Manning and McAdoo—will be under contract through only the 2015 season. 

ESPN's Dan Graziano wonders if that means the franchise could be preparing to start fresh in the very near future, just in case this current edition of the team has seen its best days: "The next two years could go well or could go poorly, and if they go poorly, the Giants may find themselves in a position to completely reboot as they did in 2004 when they hired Coughlin and drafted Manning."

There is a chance Coughlin and Manning get 2015 regardless of what happens in 2014, but if lame-duck seasons are indeed so rare for coaches as well as supposed franchise quarterbacks, this could be it.

Changes could be—and if they struggle, probably should be—in store much sooner. Maybe that means pursuing a new quarterback, but it most definitely should mean considering someone other than a 69-year-old Coughlin at the beginning of 2015. 

The real encouraging aspect of that strategy, whether it's clear or perceived, is that Coughlin will essentially be viewed as a coach on the hot seat in 2014. The last two times that was the case, he won the Super Bowl.

Maybe Coughlin's hot seat is just what the Giants need to add a fifth Lombardi Trophy to the franchise's collection. Otherwise, it'll be time to start anew. 

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