If the Giants Flop in 2014, Tom Coughlin Should Walk Away

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistJune 10, 2014

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It may or may not be true that, thanks to two David-over-Goliath Super Bowl victories in a half-decade span, Tom Coughlin has earned himself a lifetime membership as the head coach of the New York Giants

But that's the perception many of us have, which is something ESPN.com's Dan Graziano reiterated Saturday:

There are no guarantees in this world, and especially in the NFL, but I have long been under the impression that Coughlin will get to coach the Giants as long as he wants to coach them. I have been given no recent indication that that has changed.

Even if the front office is operating with that mandate, it doesn't mean the 67-year-old Coughlin has to coach for the remainder of his life. It also doesn't mean he should coach simply because he's got nothing else to do with his time or because he feels he's got enough gas left in his tank. 

That's something Coughlin has repeated on numerous occasions in recent years, the latest of which came in March, per NJ.com's Jordan Raanan

Coughlin's not retiring. He doesn't even have a number in his mind for when he sees himself having enough.

"What else am I going to do?" Coughlin said at the NFL Meetings. "I feel good. I feel healthy. (My wife) Judy is good towards it. My family is positive and supporting."

His dedication to the job is admirable, but it has also turned him into somewhat of a caricature, enough so to compel satire. 

I think the idea of letting history and emotions impact million-dollar business decisions in a "what have you done for me lately?" industry is absurd, so I do believe Coughlin is fireable. But even if the Giants are silly enough to give Coughlin a never-ending rope, it's on Coughlin himself to know when to let go.

Last year, this Giants team was expected to struggle. Jason Pierre-Paul was having health issues, the secondary and linebacking corps were worn down, the offensive line was ravaged and Eli Manning received little support from his receivers and backs. 

Thus it's hard to hold a seven-win season against Coughlin. The fiasco could have been a hell of a lot worse considering the circumstances of that 0-6 start. 

But the fact remains the G-Men have failed to win a playoff game in five of their last six seasons. I know, a Super Bowl was wedged in there, but this team is too good to go only 43-37 over a half-decade stretch. 

And this year, they're better on paper than they've looked in years. Pierre-Paul says he's healthy, reinforcements have been added to the offensive line and running game, a first-round wide receiver has been added to Manning's arsenal and the secondary has been completely revamped. 

If Coughlin once again fails to lead the Giants to the playoffs in a wide-open division, it'll be fair to wonder if it's time for a change. And if the team falls on its face the way it did in 2009 and 2013, Coughlin would have to consider stepping aside.

In fact, after another disappointing season, anything short of at least offering resignation to John Mara, Steve Tisch and Jerry Reese would be selfish. 

This has to be the decisive season, which is probably something management realizes based on the mere one-year contract extension it gave Coughlin earlier this offseason. It wouldn't be fair to ask him to coach as a lame duck in 2015, but another extension after another losing season would be outrageous. 

You can't miss the playoffs five times in six years with Manning as your quarterback and guys like Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck rushing the passer. You shouldn't be able to survive such a rut with that core, along with Pro Bowl-caliber starters like Victor Cruz, Jon Beason and Antrel Rolle. 

Coughlin staying on despite all of that in another non-playoff season wouldn't be unprecedented, but it'd be close. In fact, dating back 30 years, we could only find five head coaches who kept their jobs despite missing the playoffs five times in six years. 

Coaches who have survived missing playoffs 5 times out of 6
Gary KubiakTexans2007-2011Held job one more year
Marvin LewsBengals2004-2008Still coaching team
Don ShulaDolphins1986-1990Held job four more years
Norv TurnerRedskins1994-1998Held job one more year
Sam WycheBengals1985-1989Playoff runs in '88 and '90
Last 30 years (Pro Football Reference)

Important qualifiers: 

  • Kubiak was a first-time head coach and had plenty of rope with the expansion Texans. He made the playoffs in that sixth season. 
  • Lewis was a first-time head coach with the Bengals
  • Same with Turner, who finally made the playoffs in that sixth season. 
  • Wyche made the playoffs in his fifth and seventh season and was still fired after Year 8. He did not have a losing record in the fifth, sixth or seventh season and was a first-time head coach in charge of a young Bengals team.

Lewis is the only head coach from the last 30 years to survive missing the playoffs five times in six years without any playoff seasons during the final three years of that period. That's where Coughlin would find himself if the Giants were to miss out in 2014. 

No coach with prior head coaching experience has managed to stay employed under those circumstances. 

Shula, who like Coughlin was in his 60s and had two Super Bowls under his belt, also missed the playoffs five times in six years between '86 and '91 and kept his job. But he went 12-4 and won a playoff game in '90. 

It's cool that Shula was able to keep coaching, bouncing back to make the playoffs in three of the ensuing four seasons before retiring at 65 in 1995. But Coughlin hasn't had that same success lately, and he'll already be 68 when this season comes to an end. 

From Raanan: 

Coughlin has one desire: He doesn't want it to come off a disappointing season (like 2013) and at someone else's urging.

"I'd like to think, whatever that combination is, that the (recent) seasons are all good and, at some point in time, the choice becomes mine," Coughlin said. "Not somebody else's."

That's what happened to Shula. In a perfect world, it'll happen to Coughlin. But it's not a perfect world, and if the Giants don't make some headway in the immediate future, it'll be fair to wonder if that desire to go out under near-perfect circumstances will cause Coughlin to do the organization more harm than good. 

Nobody wants this fairy tale to end awkwardly. If indeed there's no magic in 2014, it'll be up to Coughlin to prevent that from happening.