There is probably no player in football who, when the cameras are on and the notepads are out, likes to control his emotions more than Eli Manning. He has always been stone-faced...except when it comes to speaking about Tom Coughlin.
Manning fought back tears when discussing Coughlin on Monday. The official news of Coughlin's resignation as Giants head coach hadn't been released yet, but Manning knew.
He knew Coughlin was gone.
"He definitely has not failed," Manning said. "I feel that we as players, we failed him by not playing to the level we could."
There was a time in Coughlin's career when, if he had retired, players would have opened the door for him to leave. With the Jaguars and during his early tenure with the Giants, he was as hardcore of a coach as the league had seen in its recent history. There's the notorious story of how two Jaguars players were late for a meeting because they'd been in a car accident that later required a trip to the hospital. Coughlin still fined them $500 each.
When Coughlin first got to the Giants, they learned that being on time for a meeting actually meant they were late. Several players even filed grievances through the union in 2004 when Coughlin fined them for showing up for a meeting early—but not early enough. There are numerous other examples.
Yet a funny thing happened on the way to Coughlin being a dictator. Complaints from players were respected instead of ignored. I remember Hall of Famer Michael Strahan telling me he went from not liking Coughlin to genuinely caring for him. I remember the word love being used.
Manning clearly feels the same way.
Adaptability has always been Coughlin's greatest asset—strategically on the field, and then as a human being off of it.
On the field, it has led to Hall of Fame credentials: a 68-60 record in Jacksonville, 102-90 in New York and two Super Bowl wins over Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. He appeared in 11 postseason games as Giants coach and was 8-3—the same record with the same team as Bill Parcells, who just got into the Hall.
What Coughlin represents off the field is equally important. He taught players life lessons. Lessons they actually took in. I cannot stress this enough: Coughlin is as good-hearted of a person as I've ever known. He can be crusty and terse, and his glare can melt lead. He can also curse with the best of them.
But he is a good, good man.
On his Instagram account, Giants defensive lineman Markus Kuhn wrote:
Great coach and an even greater man. Thank you TC for everything you have taught me on and off… https://t.co/oGWGOsuoT1— Markus Kuhn (@themarkuskuhn) January 4, 2016
That pretty much sums it up.
There are two important things to note as to where the Giants and Coughlin go from here.
First, as the Giants open their coaching search, several league sources said they would love to replace Coughlin with current Saints head coach and former Giants assistant Sean Payton—though I'm not sure the timing is right for that. Sources also believe that Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase and Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson will draw a great deal of attention from the Giants.
Second, according to a source close to Coughlin, he would be open to coaching again, which is something that also has been reported elsewhere. I don't think he will coach again, but he's open to it. Coughlin might be 69 years old, but he has the energy of someone who's 20.
If this is the end for Coughlin, we'll remember that spirit, as Manning did Monday.
Manning getting emotional wasn't an outlier. There are probably an army of players and ex-players who feel the same. They are all probably saying the same thing.
Football will miss Tom Coughlin.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.