The Tom Coughlin Conundrum

Tom Coughlin

Once upon a time the Giants were 3-2, riding a three-game winning streak, making it seem like that 0-2 start against the Lions and Cardinals was an early-season hiccup and making believers out of everyone, including me. Then again, it’s never been hard to make a believer out of me when it comes to the Giants.

Back-to-back losses to start the season? No problem, they’ll win the next three. Three straight wins over teams that are currently a combined 14-22? We’re the team to beat. Back-to-back losses to the Eagles and Cowboys before the bye week? We’ll use the bye to get healthy and bounce back. Run out of the building in Indianapolis? We just have to go 2-1 in the next three games. Meltdown in Seattle? We can beat the 49ers and Cowboys. Losses to the 49ers and Cowboys to fall to 3-8? We can win out and save Tom Coughlin’s job. Blowing a 21-point lead to the one-win Jaguars to lose a seventh straight game? (Crickets … crickets … crickets.)

That’s a lot of irrational thinking for someone who has spent his entire life watching this team pull the rug out from underneath me except for two unbelievable runs. And it’s because of those two runs that the world was kept safe from hearing about the 2007 Patriots every day forever and from keeping Brady and Belichick from immortality once again in 2011. If not for those two postseason runs, Brady and Belichick would likely be 5-0 in the Super Bowl and if the Packers had won the NFC Championship Game in 2007 or the 49ers had won it in 2011, they would be. And it’s because of those two runs that I believe in this team when I shouldn’t and it’s because of those two runs that even without the playoffs for a third straight year, I kept wanting Tom Coughlin to be the Giants’ head coach in 2015. But after Sunday, thinking that might be my most irrational thought of all.

Here’s how every Giants season has gone during the Tom Coughlin era:

2004: The Giants start the year 5-2 with Kurt Warner starting and showing Eli the ropes. They lose back-to-back games to fall to 5-4 and start planning for the future by letting Eli start, which causes unrest and division in the locker room. Eli goes 1-6 in his first seven starts in the league, but wins the final game of the year against the Cowboys. The Giants finish the year at 6-10 and don’t make the playoffs.

2005: It’s Eli’s first full year. The Giants go 6-2 in the first half of the season then go 5-3 in the second half of the season. They make the playoffs for the first time since blowing a 24-point lead against the 49ers in the 2002 playoffs. The Giants lose 23-0 at home in the first round of the playoffs, as Eli goes 10-for-18 for 113 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions. The Giants finish with just 132 total yards in the game. Bad finish.

2006: The Giants start the year 6-2, but are now 7-7, and entering Week 16, for them to clinch a playoff berth, they need one of two scenarios to happen.

1. Win + Minnesota loss or tie + Atlanta loss + Philadelphia win or tie + Seattle win or tie.

OR

2. Win + Minnesota loss or tie + Atlanta loss + Philadelphia win or tie + San Francisco loss or tie.

The Giants lose 30-7 to the Saints, but the Vikings, Falcons, Seahawks and 49ers all lose too, and the Giants basically hit the biggest parlay ever. Only the Eagles win, so the Giants just need to win in Week 17 against the Redskins and they make the playoffs at 8-8.

The Giants beat the Redskins to get into the playoffs at 8-8 thanks to a Giants single-game rushing record of 234 yards (on just 23 carries) from Tiki Barber. The Giants are just the ninth team in history to reach the postseason without a winning record. After starting the year 6-2, they finish the year 2-6. Then they lose 23-20 to the Eagles in the first round of the playoffs on a David Akers 38-yard field goal with no time remaining.

2007: They start the year 0-2, but win six in a row after that. After their bye in Week 9, they finish the year 4-4, and with a 10-6 record, they are the No. 5 seed in the playoffs. They run the table on the road in the NFC playoffs, beating the Buccaneers, Cowboys and Packers and then beat the 18-0 Patriots in the Super Bowl.

2008: They’re 11-1, but are now without Plaxico Burress for the rest of the year. The Giants finish the regular season 1-3 (they would have finished 0-4 if John Kasay didn’t miss a field goal for the Panthers in Week 16), but still get the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. They lose in the divisional round at home to the Eagles 23-11.

2009: They start the year 5-0, and then lose four games in a row. They come off their bye week to beat the Falcons in Week 11, but lose four of their last six games in embarrassing fashion to finish the year at 8-8, and miss the playoffs.

2010: They’re 6-2 after Week 9, but then they lose to Jon Kitna and the 2-6 Cowboys at home, and then they lose in Philadelphia the following week thanks to five turnovers and an Eli dive that turns into a fumble with the Giants down by seven and 2:51 left in the game. At 6-4, the Giants win three in a row, and have a chance to lock up the NFC East in Week 15 at home against the Eagles. They blow a 21-point lead with 7:18 left and lose. They have a chance to rebound the following week and still make the playoffs, but they lose 45-17 in Green Bay. In Week 17, they need a win against the Redskins and a Bears win over the Packers. They beat the Redskins 17-14 on the road, but the Bears lose to the Packers.

2011: The season was a Tony Romo to Miles Austin completion away from being maybe the worst collapse of them all. After losing to the 49ers, the Giants lost the next three games to start the second half of their season 0-4, dropping them to 6-6. We all know what happened in the final five minutes and 41 seconds in Dallas in Week 14 and after that, but no one knew all of that would happen. No one could fathom that all of that would happen and happen essentially the same way it did four years before.

2012: They start off 2-2, but win four straight to improve to 6-2. They lose four of their next six, but set themselves up where back-to-back wins in the final two weeks against the Ravens and Eagles will clinch them a playoff spot. They lose to the Ravens 33-14 (a week after losing 34-0 to the Falcons) and wind up beating the Eagles 42-7 in Week 17, but it doesn’t matter. A 9-7 season.

2013: They lose their first six games of the season before winning the next four. Somehow at 4-6 they control their own destiny if they can beat the Cowboys in Week 12. They have their chances to win the game, but tied at 21 with four seconds left, the Cowboys kick a 35-yard field goal to end the Giants’ season. After starting 0-4, they win seven of 10, but the 7-9 record is the worst since 2004.

And then there’s this season, which didn’t even have a second half to collapse.

Eli Manning was right when he said that Tom Coughlin didn’t fumble the ball like Eli did or the way Larry Donnell did. It wasn’t Tom Coughlin who couldn’t stop the Jaguars from getting down the field in the final minute to kick a go-ahead field goal. But it wasn’t just about the Jaguars game and it’s not about the Giants’ misfortune of having the most player on injured reserve in the entire NFL this season. It’s about a 3-2 start that’s become 3-9 this season. It’s about the 0-6 start last year and the 6-2 start that became a 9-7 finish in 2012. It’s about the second-half collapses that happened before the last two years when there wasn’t even a second half to collapse and it’s about Tom Coughlin being the oldest coach in the NFL and the idea that 11 years straight coaching any NFL team should be calculated in dog years and that 11 years straight coaching an NFL team in New York should be calculated goldfish years. Coughlin should be commended for his longevity in this city and should get to go out on his own terms, but that’s unlikely to happen now.

It’s not that all of the non-2007/2011 seasons are Tom Coughlin’s fault and it’s not like he is the sole reason for the team’s constant underachieving. The problem with the Giants isn’t even necessarily Tom Coughlin at all. The real problem is the situation the ownership has created.

Ownership gave their 11-year, two-time champion, 68-year-old head coach a first-year offensive coordinator he didn’t want and their general manager gave him an offensive line unfit for the NFL and a pass rush that’s mostly non-existent. They set themselves up for a scenario where their next head coach is either going to be someone with just one year of coordinator experience (Ben McAdoo) or one where a new head coach is going to have to agree to have McAdoo on his staff in order to be the Giants’ coach. Because after one year and with Eli Manning on his way to potentially posting career bests in completion percentage, touchdowns and interceptions, McAdoo isn’t going anywhere. So a new head coach (if it’s not McAdoo) is going to start in the same position Coughlin will have left in and after Sunday’s 2006-loss-to-Tennessee-esque performance, it’s likely that Coughlin is going to pay for the Giants’ fall from Super Bowl champions to 9-7 to 7-9 to whatever embarrassing record they finish with this season. And for the first time since the end of the 2010 season, I’m unsure of what I want when it comes to Coughlin as the head coach of the Giants.

The following is what I wrote at the end of the 2010 season.

This is what scares me about Tom Coughlin. I have wanted Tom Coughlin out several times, but who’s to say that Bill Cowher or anyone else they bring in will be better? Coughlin is the only coach that Eli Manning has every played under in the NFL, and I don’t know if right now is the right time to be changing the whole landscape of the coaching staff at this stage of Eli’s career.

There are many times when I wish I could confront Coughlin and just say, “Are you effing kidding me?” Like when he wasn’t ready for the Eagles’ onside kick or when he ripped into Matt Dodge in the middle of the field after DeSean Jackson’s punt return. Joe Girardi’s pitching changes usually get the most four-letter words out of my mouth, but Tom Coughlin’s decision making this season has taken the belt away from Girardi.

If Coughlin is fired, then so be it.

And if Coughlin isn’t fired, I’m OK with that too.

This time around it’s the same thing.

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