They say that in the New York area, if you have never won a championship then the media dogs coaches their entire career. Then once a championship is captured, the brutal New York/New Jersey press will leave any coach alone. They made it, reached the pinnacle of their respective sport, and brought home the glory to the area.
Tom Coughlin had this journey while in New York as the head coach of the New York Football Giants from 2004-2015. Before his Giants stint, he was the first coach of the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars during the years 1995 to 2002.
Big news for the #Jaguars: Former HC Tom Coughlin has been selected as the seventh member of the Pride of the Jaguars (team's ring of honor type deal).— John Shipley (@_John_Shipley) November 9, 2023
He'll be inducted in 2024.
The Jaguars announced on Thursday that Coughlin will be inducted into their team’s “Pride of the Jaguars”, their in-house Hall of Fame, next season.
Coughlin’s success goes far beyond the job he’s done with the Giants. It all started when he took the expansion of Jacksonville to heights no one ever imagined.
While with the Giants, the New York Press hounded and criticized the former head coach for the first few years because his teams were a roller coaster. The brunt of this attack was not necessarily what was going on with the game at hand, but his drill sergeant mentality. He was extremely strict. He didn’t like excuses. He hated losing, especially with dumb mistakes. And he certainly didn’t want to hear issues and gripes from his players.
Coughlin was demanding. No, make that super demanding. He commanded respect, preached accountability, wanted his players to be tough, and most importantly, had expectations from not only his players, but his coaching staff as well to be rule followers.
And with the media, he had little patience with trivial questions and criticism over his coaching style or his decision-making abilities. And because of this, the press hounded him further and printed more and more critical reviews. Obviously, this caused a riff between the Giants’ head man and many newspaper and radio men.
Then Coughlin’s squad won Super Bowl XLII after the 2007 season over the 18-0-0 New England Patriots. Then another victory with Super Bowl XLVI with a 9-7-0 roster that again defeated the Patriots after the 2011 season.
With these two wins, the media might not have loved Coughlin, but they respected the Hell out of him. And left him alone.
North Florida training ground via New England
The Giants weren’t his first head coaching gig. That happened to be in 1993 with the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars.
Coughlin had been the wide receivers coach with the Giants during their Super Bowl XXV years under Bill Parcells. He then took the head coaching position at Boston College (BC) in 1991 and coached three seasons.
In his first season at the helm, BC went 4-7-0 and finished seventh in their first year as a member of the Big East Conference after being an independent school. This was the same win-loss record as his predecessor in 1990, and so rumblings began on the Coughlin hire.
His coaching style was similar to Parcells in his no-nonsense approach. His next season, BC turned it around with an 8-3-1 record, a fourth-place finish in the conference, and ranked No. 21 in the nation. BC had actually begun the season 4-0-0 and then won seven of their first eight games. But they lost three of their final four games, all to ranked teams. They then lost 38-23 to Tennessee in the Hall of Fame Bowl on New Year’s Day.
The 1991 squad opened with two losses, then captured the next eight games including a 41-39 win over Number 1 ranked Notre Dame. This year’s group finished 9-3-0 with their final game a 31-13 win against Virginia in the Carquest Bowl on New Year’s.
Coughlin’s success at BC brought him NFL attention. Every year when a head coaching vacancy would become available, his name would be mentioned.
At the time, the NFL was slated to expand to 30 clubs by adding two expansion teams. The process was whittled down to five cities: St. Louis, Jacksonville, Memphis, Baltimore, and Charlotte. It was up to the vote of the existing NFL owners of which cities they preferred, and which ownership groups they wished to award a new team with. Several cities, such as Baltimore, had multiple ownership groups vying for an expansion team.
Charlotte won the first spot, and then it was expected to be Baltimore with the final franchise, but surprisingly, Jacksonville got the nod with Wayne Weaver the principal owner who was the chairman of the Shoe Carnival footwear stores.
Both Jacksonville and Charlotte, which would be called “Carolina” to promote a more regional appeal, would begin play in 1995. After an extension coaching search, Coughlin was hired in 1994 and given a full year to develop a core.
The unique aspect for Coughlin was that Weaver had structured the head coaching position to be over personnel instead of a GM. With Coughlin’s experience as an assistant coach with the Giants, he worked under conditions that the head coach had a voice in selecting players, but not a vote. GM George Young was the final deciding factor. This brought many contentious moments with the Giants between Parcells and Young.
Parcells had a now-famous quote regarding this experience:
“If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries.”
Coughlin had none of these deterrents and was free to decide upon personnel matters as he saw fit.
In Jacksonville’s maiden season, the franchise went 4-12-0 and looked like a struggling expansion club. But in only its second year, the Jags compiled a 9-7-0 record and finished second in the AFC Central Division. Then they defeated the Buffalo Bills 30-27 on the road in the Wild Card Playoff game and beat the Denver Broncos 30-27 in the Divisional Playoffs before losing to the Patriots 20-6 in the AFC Championship Game.
The next three years the Jaguars would compete in the playoffs going 11-5-0, 11-5-0, and 14-2-0. In 1999, they would again lose one game short of a Super Bowl appearance by coming up short 33-14 against the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Championship Game.
Suddenly, Coughlin had been employed as the head coach of Jacksonville for just five years and had gotten his teams in the playoffs four times with two AFC Championship Game losses. His Jaguars had won 49 regular season games during this stretch, an unheard-of feat for any expansion club in any sport.
Then after three non-playoff years, Coughlin was fired. Years later, owner Weaver said publicly that his greatest regret was letting Coughlin go.
The Giants come calling
The Giants had some really good years under head coach Jim Fassel including a Super Bowl appearance in which they lost to the Baltimore Ravens 34-7. But in 2003, New York finished 4-12-0 and Fassel’s run also finished.
GM Ernie Accorsi’s call to replace Fassel was to Coughlin. The theory is that Giants co-owner Wellington Mara all but insisted that Accorsi hire Coughlin, with John Mara, the team’s executive vice president, echoing that sentiment.
Which is untrue. Coughlin was Accorsi’s decision, and so sought out the franchise’s former assistant coach.
Accorsi told the New York Post:
“It’s not true. It’s so bogus. It’s absolutely not true. [Coughlin] absolutely was my first choice. They think I’d be afraid of a strong coach. Why do I care about that?”
There were other coaches considered, however. Nick Saban, Charlie Weis, Lovie Smith, and Romeo Crennel were all discussed. Oh, and former Bills head coach Marv Levy did call and inquire about the position. But Accorsi wanted Coughlin from the get-go.
Coughlin was hired and kept two of Fassel’s assistant coaches TE coach Mike Pope and assistant special teams ace Mike Priefer. He would also bring over two coaches off his Jags staff in RB coach Jerald Ingram and strength and conditioning coach Jerry Palmieri.
After a bad season in 2004 which garnered a 6-10-0 record, just like he did in Jacksonville, the Giants made a vast turnaround in only their second year under Coughlin’s tutelage, and went 11-5-0, captured the NFC East crown, but lost in the Wild Card game 23-0 against the Carolina Panthers. Another playoff appearance followed his third campaign with another playoff loss.
Then in 2007, all the pieces came together, mainly on the defensive side and Accorsi bringing in QB Eli Manning. New York finished 10-6-0, won three playoff games, and then defeated the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
His second Super Bowl win solidified his standing in New York. And now, the City of Jacksonville wants to show their appreciation for his initial efforts when it first began.
Coughlin may be one of the most under-appreciated coaches in league history.
He is almost never listed among the better coaches in the league, yet he has led the Giants on two of the more improbable Super Bowl runs in NFL history and wears three Super Bowl rings.