Giants' faith in Coughlin hasn't gone unrewarded
Instead of finding a new coach after last season, the Giants focused on finding ways to make things work with Tom Coughlin. The decision has paid off for everyone involved, writes Mike Sando.
PHOENIX -- As a film producer, New York Giants co-owner Steve Tisch counts the 1983 film "Risky Business" among his best-known creations.
The title also applies to what NFL teams face when deciding whether to retain moderately successful coaches.
Tom Coughlin posted a 25-23 regular-season record without winning a playoff game during his first three seasons with the Giants. Some players groused about a coaching style they considered autocratic and outdated. The lack of playoff success seemed more damning than the .521 win rate.
Although it's impossible to know whether the Giants would have reached Super Bowl XLII without Coughlin, their decision to keep him increasingly appears prescient, if hardly based in science.
"I think it's probably more art and more humanity than formulas or any kind of practical science," Tisch said.
A dozen coaches in NFL history, including Coughlin, have won between 50 and 53 percent of their regular-season games without claiming a playoff victory over three seasons. Eleven of those coaches kept their jobs, but only one of them before Coughlin -- the New York Jets' Joe Walton in 1986 -- won a playoff game in his fourth season.
Coughlin has won three this month, advancing to a Super Bowl for the first time in his 11 seasons as an NFL coach.
"We had an expectation going into this season that we wanted Tom to try some things very differently, which he agreed to do, which clearly he did," Tisch said.
Coughlin's hard-line approach appealed to the Giants when they sought a replacement for Jim Fassel, who wasn't known as a disciplinarian. But the modern NFL player, empowered by free agency and increased contract guarantees, can render a dictatorial approach ineffective.
The Giants asked Coughlin to loosen up, open his door and listen to the players on some of the little things.
The formation of an 11-player leadership council that acts as a liaison between Coughlin and the locker room has come to symbolize the new approach, which linebacker Antonio Pierce described as "actually letting you know he smiles and has cheek bones."
Coughlin put it more formally: "They've responded in the best interest of our team and have gone forth to communicate with the rest of our team so that everyone was aware of not only what we were doing, but why we were doing it."
The decision to retain or release a moderately successful coach can be a difficult one. Other coaches fitting Coughlin's general profile have produced mixed results when given additional time, according to Frank Labombarda of the Elias Sports Bureau.
The Denver Broncos posted a 21-20 record under Dan Reeves from 1981 to 1983. They made one playoff appearance during that span, losing big.
Reeves' Broncos finished with a 13-3 record in 1984. And while they fizzled in the playoffs that year, Reeves took Denver to three Super Bowls over the next four seasons.
The Cincinnati Bengals matched Coughlin's 25-23 mark from 1984 to 1986, their first three seasons under Sam Wyche. They failed to earn a playoff berth during that span, and they went 4-11 under Wyche during the strike-shortened 1987 season. But Wyche guided the Bengals to a Super Bowl in his fifth season.
Mike Holmgren's Seattle Seahawks won half their games over his first three seasons, beginning in 1999. They finished 7-9 in 2002 before winning four consecutive division titles from 2004 through this season and reaching the Super Bowl in 2005.
Other teams facing similar predicaments came out ahead by cutting their losses after three seasons.
The San Diego Chargers advanced to the AFC title game this season after firing Marty Schottenheimer following five seasons without a playoff victory. Schottenheimer had improved upon the 24-24 record of his first three seasons, but postseason failures precipitated his departure.
The Washington Redskins finished 24-24 and without a playoff victory in their first three seasons under Jack Pardee. They brought back Pardee for a fourth season in 1981, missing the playoffs with an 8-8 record. Joe Gibbs then won three Super Bowls as the Redskins' coach, establishing Hall of Fame credentials.
"There are so many factors that impact a team's ability to win," said Robert Kraft, owner of the AFC champion New England Patriots. "Coaching is of course critical, but there are so many other things that go on. I think if you feel you have a good leader, continuity is very important in this business."
Kraft would know. He parted with a first-round draft choice in landing Bill Belichick from the New York Jets, only to watch his new coach post a 6-14 record over his first 20 games with New England.
"I can just tell you that my support for him never wavered," Kraft said.
The Patriots can claim a fourth Super Bowl title in seven seasons with a victory over the Giants on Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium (6:18 p.m. ET, Fox).
But the Giants are already winners in another sense.
"I think our support for Tom clearly has paid off," Tisch said.
Mike Sando covers the NFL for ESPN.com.
SUPER BOWL XLII
Game coverage• Belichick ready to move on from Super Bowl loss
• Nevada sports books lose record $2.6M
• View to a thrill: Record 97.5 million watch XLII
• Giants' win shatters viewership records
• Clayton: Can the Giants repeat?
• Simmons: Free fallin'
• Giants spoil Pats' perfect season
• Wojciechowski: Blame Pats for this debacle
• Wickersham: Brady dazed and confused
• Clayton: Eli lets instincts take over
• Clayton: N.Y. 'misfits' harass Brady
• Sando: Was Brady rattled?
• Mosley: Belichick left a second early
• Chadiha: Ten things we learned
• Garber: Tyree's catch one for the ages
• Zoom galleries 1 | 2 | Great SB upsets
• SportsNation: Best Super Bowl?
• SportsNation: Biggest SB upset?
• SportsNation: Your favorite commercials?
Commentary/Features• Clayton: Top five contenders for the next SB
• '72 Fins breathe sigh of relief after Giants win
• Chadiha: Giants enjoy underdog role
• Sando: Coughlin, Giants made it work
• Super Bowl picks: Our experts weigh in
• Merrill: Nine previously perfect Patriots
• Merrill: Harrison deals with his rep just fine
• Clayton: Giants' O-line worthy of accolades
• Pasquarelli: Tip Sheet
• Pasquarelli: Tip Sheet notes
• Wojciechowski: 15 reasons Patriots will win
• E-ticket: Patriots' man of mystery
• Sunday Countdown
• Clayton's First and Goal
• Chadiha: Giants miss Shockey
• Garber: Injured war vet inspires Giants
• Pasquarelli: The Pats' crucial cameos
• Garber: In Brady's world, insecurity remains
• Merrill: Hixon's traumatizing season
• Football Outsiders: SB numbers crunching
• Pasquarelli: Patriots' silent sentinel
• Wojciechowski: Unflappable Eli
• Sando: Brady rising among all-time QBs
• Chadiha: Giants' rookies playing prominent role
• Fleming: Cardinals/Pottsville Curse
• Clayton: Youth serving Giants well
• Chadiha: Ranking the best QBs by decade
• Klancnik: Top QBs by jersey number
• Hashmarks: Media day coverage | Gallery
• Pasquarelli: Pats' old-school LBs
• Helyar: Marketing windfall for Eli Manning
• Garber: Seau's ring quest
• Pasquarelli: Bruschi's full-circle journey
• Animated plays
• From the research room
• Chadiha: Pierce just wants to win
• Wojciechowski: Explaining Bill Belichick
• Helyar: Recession? Not at Super Bowl!
• Giants' Snee doesn't stray from roots
• Sando: Seymour in eye of storm
• Merrill: Welker scales new heights for Pats
• Pasquarelli: Brady is ready to play
• Garber: The preservation of Plaxico
• Pasquarelli: Hill's spirit lives on
• Clayton: Giants' juggling act at CB works
• Wickersham: Giant ideas
• Klosterman: All too perfect
• Crown Jewels: A look at Super Bowl rings
• FB Outsiders: Giants one of worst SB teams
• Helyar: Patriots will drive TV ratings
• Clayton: First and goal
• Chadiha: Giants' glory road
• Mosley: Brady's ankle saves the week
• Woj: Preseason predictions revisited
• Merrill: David Woodley's dark spotlight
• Former SB QBs: Plunkett | Rypien | Ferragamo
• More: Morton | Humphries | Hostetler | Eason
• Starting matchups of Super Bowl QBs
• Ranking the QB performances: 1-40 | 41-82
• Jaworski: Six Super Bowl surprises
• Joyner: Brady's bad decisions
• Clayton: Eli's managing fine
• Chadiha: Focused Giants
• AccuScore simulation: Pats to prevail
• Chadiha: First Look at the Super Bowl
• Playoff schedule
• Vermeil doubts spying made difference for Pats
• Fish: Ex-Ram Warner suspicious of Pats in SB XXXVI
• Report: Pats taped Rams' SB walk-through
• Specter to Goodell: Let's talk
• Fish: Possible 'Spygate' witness surfaces
• Easterbrook: NFL can blame itself for scandal's timing
• Munson: Congressional interest serious
• Pasquarelli: Specter should stick with politics
• Clayton: Spy saga won't distract Patriots
• Hashmarks at Goodell's news conference
• Specter to Goodell (.pdf)
• Goodell to Specter (.pdf)
Page 2• Gallo: Five stages of heartbreak for Pats' fans
• Hill: Best Super Bowl parties
• Hill: Teflon Tom Brady
• Popculture roundtable on the Super Bowl
• Hill: Raiders quit on Moss
• Flem File at the Super Bowl
• Fleming: Defining greatness
• Best teams never to win a title
• TMQ: Title-game analysis
• Why Boston teams are so good
• Gallo: Countdown to kickoff
• More from Page 2
News• Brady ankle not on injury report
• Brady on Plax prediction: Only 17 points for Pats?
• Carey named first black Super Bowl referee
• Brady practices in Pats' first Super Bowl session
• Ross gets sick as unified Giants face flu
• NFL not worried about spying
• Security high for Super Bowl
• Williams to be honored during Super Bowl
• Bootless Brady departs for Arizona
• Tickets reselling for average of $4,300
• Burress: Giants' receivers are better
Scouts Inc.• Roundtable: Seven scouts weigh in
• Super Bowl XLII X Factors
• Coaching comparison: Styles vary, results same
• Defensive line breakdowns
• Horton: Notes from the film room (Day 5)
• Matchups to watch in Super Bowl XLII
• Running-game breakdown
• Horton: Notes from the film room (Day 4)
• QB tale of the the tape
• Horton: Notes from the film room (Day 3)
• Ranking NFL QBs 1-64
• Take II on Super Bowl XLII
• Giants' DBs overmatched or underrated?
• Horton: Notes from film room (Day 2)
• Horton: 10 things to watch in SB XLII
• Horton: Notes from the film room (Day 1)
• A tale of two underrated O-lines
• Take I on Super Bowl XLII
• Players ranked Nos. 1-106
SportsNation• Vote: Which team will win?
• Vote: Who wins the head-to-head matchups?
• Vote: Which team are you rooting for?
• Conversation: Talk Super Bowl XLII
• Map: Which states are picking the Giants?
• Quiz: 42 Super Bowl history questions
• Chat: Buzzmaster: Hello from Arizona!
• Chat: Buzzmaster: Live from Media Day
• Chat: Buzzmaster: Live with oddsmaker
• Chat: Buzzmaster: Live with Matt Hasselbeck
• Chat: Buzzmaster: Live with Gregg Easterbrook
• Rank: Super Bowl's best individual performances
• Rank: Super Bowl coaches
• Rank: Super Bowl careers
• Rank: Super Bowl teams
• Rank: Super Bowl games
• Rank: Greatest all-time quarterbacks
• Vote: Potential for QB greatness?
• Quiz: Greatest quarterbacks
• ABCNews: Super Bowl or Super Tuesday?
• Chat Rewind: When did undefeated talk start?
• Vote: Can we proposition you?
• Pulse: What is SportsNation saying about XLII?