Commentary

Coughlin insecure? He shouldn't be

Despite best efforts, Giants coach says he can't ignore 'bothersome' job speculation

Updated: December 25, 2010, 11:56 AM ET
By Ian O'Connor | ESPNNewYork.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- In a quiet moment Wednesday, a few minutes removed from another one of his yes-sir, no-sir news conferences, Tom Coughlin opened a window on his soul just long enough to acknowledge that some of this stuff actually hurts.

You know, the Coughlin-on-the-brink stuff. The Bill Cowher-waiting-on-deck stuff.

"I try not to let that be bothersome to me, but it's really difficult to ignore it," Coughlin told ESPNNewYork.com. "Every time we lose a game, that stuff comes up."

Coughlin was not ranting or raving when he spoke. Even in the wake of an apocalyptic loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, the coach of the New York Giants could find solace in the fact that he was having a much better day than the coach of the New York Jets.

[+] EnlargeTom Coughlin
Al Bello/Getty Images"Every time we lose a game, that stuff comes up," Tom Coughlin said of the swirling rumors.

But on his way to fix a broken team, Coughlin sounded annoyed that his job is an issue despite the fact a victory in Green Bay would give him five playoff appearances in the past six seasons, including, of course, one of the greatest Super Bowl triumphs of them all.

"It's part of the business and there's nothing I'm going to say to change it," Coughlin said. "Win games, and it goes away. We won three in a row and nobody was saying anything about [my job]. So we've got to go win games, and I understand it. I've been in it long enough to understand.

"You've got to go win, and that's what this is all about. And we didn't win last week, so here comes the speculation again."

The speculation that Coughlin might be fired at season's end and replaced by Cowher, who has done little to quash the notion that he's assumed the role of lead vulture circling above Coughlin's desk.

Asked if he was disappointed that Cowher hasn't done more to distance himself from reports that the Giants are on his holiday wish list, Coughlin said, "I don't really know much about it. I just hear the chirping. I don't have time to worry about it."

But yes, he does hear the chirping, and it's a million miles from fair. Coughlin should return next year, the final year of his contract, even if the Giants miss the playoffs. He's accomplished too much to be discarded this quickly, especially in a league suffering a dearth of coaching stability, ability and accountability.

"I want it on me. I want it on me," Coughlin said. "And I say it as sincerely as I can. I lose the games, and the players and the coaches win them, and I'm saying that from an honest position because the players need all the attention right now.

"We're in a tough market for these young men. They need some direction and they need some support, and that's the position I've chosen to take."

Coughlin could use a little help here from the front office, a line or two that would make the uncertainty go poof in the night. Twice this season team owner and president John Mara has mocked the stubborn Cowher-to-the-Giants reports, though he's never definitively said Coughlin would be back next year.

Mara has declined multiple opportunities to do just that this week, and the team's position goes something like this: The Coughlin story is a media creation, and the Giants see no need to feed that beast.

But a single statement in support of Coughlin would've killed off that beast, one that will surely grow another fang or three if the Giants lose in Green Bay.

This isn't to suggest Coughlin should be absolved of the not-so-venial sins he committed in the Eagles game. He still hasn't provided an acceptable answer for why the hands team wasn't his hands-down choice to guard against a possible onside kick, or why a defense that spent much of the day hitting and harassing Michael Vick retreated into prevent mode at the end of that Sunday, bloody Sunday.

Hey, there's a reason Coughlin went home and spent two-and-a-half silent and solitary hours in a dark room.

But just as many Giants showed they remain in touch with Coughlin by stopping him and hugging him during warm-ups before the Philly game, Coughlin showed he remains in touch with his players by talking them up -- not shouting them down -- the morning after.

Eli Manning praised Coughlin for patting the Giants instead of kicking them, and Wednesday he spoke of his coach's energy, enthusiasm and preparation.

"I don't know a coach who works harder and studies and grinds his assistant coaches to get prepared and have a great plan," Manning said. "Every stone is accounted for and everything with preparation is incredible. I give him credit for that, and for getting this team ready to play."

Manning said that he'd learned a ton from Coughlin, that he considered him among the league's elite coaches, and that their quarterback-coach partnership represented "a great relationship." When Manning wanted to call his first players-only meeting Monday, he approached Coughlin for permission.

A coach who would rather see Matt (get out of) Dodge keep punting to DeSean Jackson than tweak his schedule agreed to tweak it for Manning.

Now Eli has his coach's back. The franchise quarterback dismissed the Coughlin speculation as little more than a necessary evil in the world's noisiest marketplace.

"I think it's just New York, and nobody wants to deal with that and to be questioned like that," Manning said. "I've been in those shoes also. I know how we've been in the past, that when we're up against the wall and people are doubting us, we've been at our best. Hopefully that will continue."

Even if it doesn't and the Giants miss the playoffs, Coughlin deserves to return for the 2011 season. Consider all the deficient coaching around the league, or even around the NFC East.

Mike Shanahan, who's been a complete embarrassment in Washington, gets to stay, and Tom Coughlin has to go?

Asked if he felt the conversation about his job status was unfair, Coughlin said, "I don't go that far. I can't afford it.

"There was so much emotion in that locker room after we lost Sunday. It was as difficult as I've ever seen it in a locker room after a loss, and now it's my job to get these guys going again. That's where all of my concern is. It's not about me."

Only it's always about the head coach, and you didn't have to be Rex Ryan on Wednesday to understand that.

Three years ago, Coughlin won a fairly big game in Green Bay. He shouldn't be required to win another one to save his job.

Ian O'Connor is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Ian O'Connor

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Ian O'Connor has won numerous national awards as a sports columnist and is the author of three books, including the bestseller, "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." ESPN Radio broadcasts "The Ian O'Connor Show" every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. ET. Follow Ian on Twitter »

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