How Will You Judge Tom Coughlin This Year?

What happens to New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin if the New York Giants miss the playoffs this season, which would be the third consecutive time? More precisely, has your stance on what should happen to Coughlin changed because of the rash of injuries and personnel losses the Giants have had to withstand?

A couple of regional columnists were discussing that topic today.

Tara Sullivan of the Bergen Record brought up Coughlin's infamous comments about injuries when he took over for Jim Fassel back in 2004.

"That is a cancer. Let’s face it, something that has to be corrected," Coughlin said on the 2004 January day he was introduced as Jim Fassel’s successor. "It’s a mental thing, I believe, as much as anything else. I think it can be a part of the situation you find yourself in when you’re losing."

Coughlin’s belief goes even deeper when looking at injuries as a byproduct of losing; he knows they can be a predecessor, too. And not just for the obvious reason of losing a quality player. More than that, a concession that injuries can weaken a team beyond repair can poison a team’s mind-set before a game is played, bringing on a defeatist attitude that begets what it fears.

That is Coughlin’s challenge now, to rid his locker room of any notion that the Giants cannot succeed because of this long string of losses: LB Goff (knee), CB Terrell Thomas (knee), LB Clint Sintim (knee), CB Bruce Johnson (Achilles), CB Brian Witherspoon (knee) and DT Marvin Austin (pectoral muscle), all gone for the season, as well as DE Osi Umenyiora (knee) and top draft pick and CB Prince Amukamara (foot) for a decent slice of the year.

As much as the veteran coach will deliver and believe in his message, he has earned the right to feel more than a measure of frustration. The NFL is a win-now league whose pile of discarded coaches grows by layers each season. At an age when most Americans consider retirement, Coughlin, 65, heads into the season with two years left on his contract and an overriding feeling of playoffs or bust.

Too bad for him that he’s playing a game of high-stakes poker like a gambler with only a pair in his hand. It’s tough enough to win in the NFL, but to do so short-handed is almost impossible. And the combined effect of the preseason injuries and off-season inactivity (Giants GM Jerry Reese added only one free agent of note in center David Baas) has left the coach with barely enough chips to ante up.

Steve Politi of the Star-Ledger takes the tack that if this Giants team isn't good enough to get to the playoffs the blame should not go to the veteran head coach.

He’ll never admit it, but the injuries, combined with the inaction of his general manager, have changed the perception about Coughlin. He was supposed to have entered this season with a playoffs-or-bust mandate, the byproduct of a tepid vote of confidence that came with a one-year contract extension in the offseason.

Now?

If Coughlin takes this beaten-up team to the postseason, he’ll deserve more than a new contract. He’ll be dusting off a shelf for his Coach of the Year trophy. And if he doesn’t, barring a total collapse during which his players throw up their hands and quit, how could the Giants fire him when he was handed an incomplete and injury-decimated roster from Week 1?

Even though I opened this Pandora's Box today, you guys know I hate debating Coughlin's job security. Many of the personnel decisions are beyond Coughlin's control, as are a lot of the injuries.

The only way Coughlin can be judged is by what we see on the field this season. If the Giants fall short, will it be simply because they aren't good enough? Or, will it be because the coach could not keep the team together and it winds up quitting on him? Or, will we see the same turnover and error-prone play we saw last season?

I think we have to let the season play out before we judge. What we do know, I think, is that Coughlin does not have an easy road ahead.

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