Tom Coughlin is 64 years old. He’s a man of experience (15 seasons as an NFL head coach), accomplishment (a Super Bowl title) and wealth – none of which apparently matters when your team blows a 31-10 lead in the final eight minutes, potentially kicking away a division title and an easier playoff road that comes with it.
“I sat in a room with the lights out for about two and a half hours,” he said Monday. Later he noted this wasn’t new behavior but his traditional route to therapy, mainly because he knows no other way. “My wife ignores me and I don’t have a dog …
“It's not funny. It's not the way it's supposed to be.”
No, none of it was. Not the Giants' failures. Not the old coach’s frustrations.
If there is anything positive to take going forward for New York it’s that Coughlin has been here before. So too have most of the players. Or at least they’ve been close. Coughlin wouldn’t say this is the worst loss he can remember: “I'd say it's the worst one that I want to remember.” He wasn’t ruling it out though.
One thing Coughlin has shown through the years is an ability to lift a club up off the canvas and keep fighting. He’s supposedly lost the Giants too many times to count. He’s been on the verge of being fired. Seasons have appeared lost.
And nearly every time he’s found a way to rise back up and win.
Eventually that light got switched on though. Sunday night became Monday morning and Coughlin arrived at the Giants' practice facility with his typical mentality. Over? Please. The darkness is behind them.
“That was the point,” Coughlin told reporters on Monday. “[I told them] ‘That was yesterday. We screwed up, it's over. Look at what is here now. These are the facts of life: there are two games remaining, you win this weekend and we're in the playoffs. That's what the goal was in the first place. You can't do anything about it unless you can get in.’”
The Giants are still 9-5 and in control of a playoff bid. They may have an uphill climb to winning the NFC East, but a chance at being the league’s fifth seed – and earning an opening weekend game at the lowly NFC West champion (currently 6-8 St. Louis) is still possible. That’s as good a consolation prize as there is.
They simply must respond the day after Christmas in Green Bay, home of one of Coughlin’s signature victories – the overtime, freeze-fest, 2008 NFC title game. On that day Coughlin, apparently oblivious to the cold, let his face turn a chapped red and never cared as he watched his most talented, yet at times frustrating crew, pull out a Super Bowl bid.
Maybe there isn’t a better place than Lambeau to get this back on track.
Coughlin tried to take some of the blame Monday. He welcomed the criticism. The talk he might be gone at season's end – or speculation that Bill Cowher might be coming in – is no factor. Coughlin’s been around too long, seen too much to care. He wasn’t going to argue his case in the media.
“I lose the games, the players win them,” he said. “Everybody can blame me. You can line up at the corner and blame me. That’s fine, I can handle it.”
This is what a coach is supposed to say, except they don’t always actually say it. Maybe that’s why Coughlin rarely loses his locker room.
“I think this is a mentally tough group,” he said. “I think that we're all sincere – and I know I am – in the approach that we take. A few years ago I walked in after a bad loss, a bad loss at home when we had to win somewhere along the line to get in the playoffs and just said, ‘Hey, we messed that one up; there's not a whole lot we can do about yesterday. What we can do is have something to do with right now … so let's get about our business.’”
The Giants never make it easy on themselves. They’ve got a veteran group with big-time goals, yet they rarely do the little things that close out seasons or secure home-field advantage. They have no answers for it. The hard way is their way.
So they’re used to this. Or as used to it as you can be.
Coughlin didn’t even get the chance to be the first to rally the troops on Monday. Quarterback Eli Manning(notes), who generally isn’t much for rah-rah locker room talks, asked to speak to the team before Coughlin got a chance.
“I went up to coach and asked if I could beat [him] to the punch a little bit and address the team before [he] came in,” Manning said.
Soon enough Coughlin was reiterating Manning’s points. There was no yelling, according to the players. There was no finger pointing. The angry scene of Coughlin confronting punter Matt Dodge(notes) was long gone. The woe-is-me brood was history. Coughlin spent time talking about the first 52 minutes against the Eagles.
“I think Coach did a good job today,” Manning said. “He could've come in and screamed and yelled and called out people and called out plays, but he talked about the positive side of things and said we did play some good football there.
“As a coach, you have to have a sense of the game, the feel of the players,” Manning continued. “When sometimes the players are down and wounded, you don't want to go in kicking them again. We have to make sure our spirits are high.”
There’s no simple way to come back from a loss like that. There’s no easy solution to a gut-punch that leaves old men sitting in darkened rooms, questioning everything.
There’s really only one thing a team can do – win.
So here comes what may be Coughlin’s next great challenge. Or maybe it turns out to be his last great challenge. Either way there he was Monday, looking ahead to another week, another chance, another rebound from this group. There he was, a veteran coach picking up the pieces for another trip to Green Bay with a season on the line.
- Tom Coughlin