Will Sunday be the final time Tom Coughlin coaches the New York Giants? I don't know. Maybe Coughlin knows, maybe he doesn't. Maybe John Mara and Steve Tisch know, but maybe they still don't. We have, of course, been following -- and adding to -- the speculation all week. Let's take one last look before the Giants face the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
What I think will happen
Listen, I'm not inside the 69-year-old Coughlin's head. I know Coughlin loves coaching football. I know he loves the Giants organization. I know he can't really imagine himself in retirement with nothing to do but reminisce and play with his grandchildren. Until a few weeks ago you would never have convinced me that Coughlin wouldn't want to come back for a 13th season ... and a 14th, 15th, 16th, etc. Now I'm not so sure.
Coughlin sounds tired. His recent treatment of Odell Beckham Jr. during the game against the Carolina Panthers that led to his suspension was unlike him. I wonder if part of him is tired of the struggle to motivate players, tired having to cut ties with coaches he respects to keep his job, tired of politicking with the front office over the roster, tired of losing.
My gut tells me that Coughlin doesn't want to put the Mara family in the position of making a decision it clearly does not want to make. That means my gut tells me that after 12 seasons of coaching the Giants that Coughlin will resign.
What if he doesn't?
If he wants to continue, if he wants another opportunity to get things right before his coaching career ends then all bets are off. If ownership wants to move on and Coughlin doesn't want to go I have no idea what will happen. I know, or I think I know, that the Mara family does not want to have "fire" Coughlin. Whether it is this year or somewhere down the road, they would almost certainly prefer Coughlin make the decision to leave on his own, or, at least, resign with their urging/blessing.
If ownership believes it has no choice, perhaps firing Coughlin is the only recourse.
What if they let him stay?
We have been around and around on who is to blame for three straight losing seasons. There's no doubt Coughlin shares culpability for the unacceptable play of the past three seasons. What, though, if ownership has looked around, doesn't like its options, and still believes the two-time Super Bowl-winning coach is their best chance of helping to fix this mess?
That doesn't mean they would sign off on the status quo. Some things have to change. I believe that in Ben McAdoo and Steve Spagnuolo the organization thinks it has the right coordinators in place. After another year with a ridiculous number of injuries, the organization has almost no choice but to replace long-time strength and conditioning coach Jerry Palmieri. You have to try something else, don't you? Another hard assessment of the assistant coaches would be necessary. Does Coughlin have the right people upstairs talking to him during games?
I don't know where the blame lies, but there seemed to be some dysfunction this season. That has to be dealt with.
What about the front office?
If I'm going to be 100 percent honest, and why shouldn't I be, I would sweep GM Jerry Reese out with the tons of trash that get taken away from the parking lot after games. Question some of Coughlin's decisions if you want, but it's Reese and the personnel department whose decisions have left the Giants without enough big-time playmakers and without young up-and-coming players ready to fill in when injuries struck. We recently went over the state of the roster, and it just isn't good enough. Hasn't been for a long time.
If you're going to start over, then START OVER.
When you talk to people in and around the game you get mixed reactions when you ask about Reese. Some won't touch the question. Some think Reese should be out, but that the Giants won't pull the trigger on that move. Some think decisions on changes in the front office are still being pondered.
In the end, I think the loyalty of the Mara family and their belief in Reese -- right or wrong -- wins out. I think Reese stays. If Coughlin goes, I believe Reese will be given one opportunity to hire a coach of his choosing and to sink or swim with the results.
Like Coughlin, though, if Reese stays the status quo cannot be maintained in the personnel department.
Marc Ross, whose current title is Vice President of Player Evaluation, took over as head of the Giants' college scouting when Reese became GM. He now oversees the whole operation. That makes him the guy mainly responsible for the work done by the scouts and for the lists of players, both college draft prospects, and professional free agents, presented to Reese for him to study. Which means ultimately that if you believe the Giants' personnel hasn't been good enough the past few years then you believe Ross's work hasn't been good enough.
Ross is a curious case. He has been interviewed or considered a candidate for as many as eight general manager jobs since 2012. As far as I can tell he has interviewed for at least a half-dozen of those jobs. He has rarely gotten a second interview and obviously hasn't gotten any of those jobs. Currently, when you see NFL insiders make lists of potential GM candidates, Ross's name doesn't even come up. That has to tell you that league decision-makers have reached a conclusion about Ross, and it isn't a favorable one.
The drafts of the past couple of years seem to have been better though more time is needed to accurately assess them. There can be little argument, though, that there was a lengthy period of time where the Giants got very little help from their draft classes.
What about pro personnel? The Giants spent more than $100 million in free agency before the 2014 season. Aside from Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Rashad Jennings, what have they gotten? Very little. John Jerry, Charles Brown and Marshall Newhouse is the best the Giants could do for offensive line depth?
If Reese stays -- and regardless of who the coach is -- changes have to be made in how the Giants scout players.
How will it all play out?
Who knows? We are, however, heading into one of the most interesting, crucial stretches for the Giants in recent memory.