The New York Giants have known few like him. Unheralded and written off before he began, Tom Coughlin leaves the organization with two Super Bowl rings and a legacy that will be near impossible to replicate, let alone surpass. The moment he walked into the door in 2004 to his departure at the turn of 2016, the no-nonsense New York native transformed Big Blue from a basket case to a powerhouse. How many others can say that in the NFL coaching fraternity?
Strangely enough the 69-year old hasn’t officially retired despite turning down the Philadelphia Eagles. Many would think at that age the decorated coach would hang up the clipboard and whistle while riding off into the sunset, but coaches are different like that. Maybe the North East rivalry with the Eagles made that position untenable, so should another opportunity come along we might not have seen the last of this man.
The Jacksonville Jaguars experience leading into the Giants gave Coughlin an insight into taking the head role at NFL level and this is where he cut his cloth accordingly. To think he took that franchise to four playoff appearances on the bounce and two AFC Championship games defies belief given their continual problems. But for all that, satisfying the New York market is a different beast altogether.
It says the obvious to note two Super Bowls as the pinnacle for every coach. When we dig a little deeper, sometimes the failures proved just as pivotal to reaching those heights. One defeat in particular told Coughlin more about the developing psyche of the playing group than any victory did that season. Head coaches who find those positives and instill confidence after a loss have a special ability to lead teams to glory and for Coughlin this was very much the case.
These are the top 15 Tom Coughlin moments with the New York Giants in chronological order.
15 First Season 2004
Coughlin inherited a rabble of a franchise and a complete mess from the 2003 season. Finishing dead last of the NFC East with a 4-12 record, the new head coach had his work cut out to change their fortunes. Although they would only improve those figures by an extra two wins to end 2004 at 6-10, they ended in 2nd place and at one stage was actually 5-2 after week 8, including big wins at the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings. Any successful coach will explain that championship success does not happen overnight and 2004 was the line-in-the-sand year which would alter the course of the organizations future outlook.
14 Banking on Eli Manning
Kurt Warner began 2004 as the New York Giants chief quarterback. It’s bizarre to look back now and think that the journeyman QB was in front of Eli Manning at the time, but in 2004 the younger sibling of the legendary Peyton was freshly drafted from Mississippi coming into the big leagues at the same time as Ben Roethlisberger. Manning was benched during the season after one particularly rough game against the Baltimore Ravens but rather than revert to experience, Coughlin stuck tough with Eli when others would have been more ruthless. How that would pay off in seasons to come.
13 Michael Strahan Confrontation
Coming into a dressing room in 2003 that was disorganized and accustomed to slacking off, Coughlin wanted to rule with an iron fist from the get-go. He would fine any player on the spot for not being at least 5 minutes early to team meetings and when star defensive end Michael Strahan was caught being only 3 minutes early, sparks flew! With the smell of mutiny among the ranks for his overly strict approach, he decided to meet them halfway and back down a bit rather than double down. “I’ve changed and I’ve grown,” said Coughlin about that moment. “You better do that or you’re dead.”
12 Winning 2005 NFC East Division
How the worm turned for the Giants a season later. All that hard work and culture change behind the scenes reaped reward in 2005 as Big Blue went 11-5 to top the NFC East two seasons after finishing dead last and without a hope. Starting with a 42-19 demolition of the Arizona Cardinals in week 1, the franchise put impressive wins against the Broncos, 49ers, Cowboys and two wins over the Eagles to make them a serious outfit. While they did get bundled out in humbling fashion 23-0 to the Carolina Panthers at the Wildcard stage of the playoffs, it set the foundations.
11 Helping Tiki Barber
2005 wouldn’t have been possible without Tiki Barber. The Pro Bowl running back had a habit of fumbling the football until he joined forces with Coughlin and Eli Manning, setting a Giants season record for rushing yards with 2,390 to come only second to Shaun Alexander of all people. It was a lucrative season for Tiki who signed a very healthy contract at the end of it, but he deserved the reward for his performances which was capped off by a 95-yard touchdown.
10 Making 2006 Playoffs
Depending on whether you view the achievement from a glass half full or half empty angle, the Giants ability to make the playoffs with a .500 record is still a sign that they edged out the competition. After 5 consecutive wins that had them placed at 6-2 after week 9, the team nosedived to end 8-8 including losses against the Titans and Coughlin’s old team the Jags. A tight 23-20 loss to rivals Philadelphia at Lincoln Field in the playoffs didn’t help matters, but the season as a whole was one they really needed to have. Every big step has some growing pains along the way.
9 38-35 Loss Against Patriots
“Know thy enemy” is a common phrase in combat and the meeting between the New York Giants and New England Patriots in 2007 prior to Super Bowl XLII would provide the blueprint to victory for Big Blue. Coming into the final stage of the regular season the Patriots had conquered all before them at 15-0 and with pressure to rest players ahead of the playoffs, Coughlin stuck solid to see what he starters could do. The 38-35 loss put the frighteners through the Patriots and gave the Giants confidence to go a step further when they next met at the big dance.
8 Championship Victory At Green Bay
Wisconsin in January can be cold at the best of times, but such was the frost at Lambeau Field for the NFC Championship Game in 2008 against the Green Bay Packers that it was dubbed “The Ice Bowl.” Played in -1 °F, the Giants held their nerve to win 23-20 in overtime to overcome absurd conditions, a scoreless 4th quarter and a hostile crowd all at the same time. It’s wins under these circumstances that players love the most because of the adversity required to meet the challenge.
7 Super Bowl XLII
Arriving at the University of Phoenix Stadium to clash against the impenetrable New England Patriots, few gave the Giants a hope in hell. But in the wake of their tight loss weeks prior and given where they had come from, this was Coughlin’s chance to get one over old pal Bill Belichick and for Eli Manning to put himself in the class of Tom Brady. Trailing 7-3 at the major break, the side kept their nerve to outscore the Pats 14-7 at the final quarter to run out 17-14 winners.
6 2011 Jets Clash
A backs-against-the-wall moment that defined the 2011 season for the Giants came against bitter rivals the Jets. With four defeats in five and falling behind 7-3 on their 1-yard line, Eli Manning threw to Victor Cruz who would go 99-yards for an unbelievable touchdown that blew the game and the Giants season wide open. That moment took them to a 29-14 win and gave them the opportunity to once again meet the Patriots.
5 Super Bowl XLVI
Both franchises had been here before and both knew what it took to win the ultimate prize. But with the AFC juggernauts coming into Super Bowl XLVI with a 13-3 record while the Giants squeaked in at 9-7, many thought the Pats would get revenge for XLII. That made the 21-17 win all the more sweeter as an 88-yard drive culminating in an Ahmad Bradshaw touchdown with Eli Manning going 30 of 40 for 296 yards capped off a remarkable pair of titles for Coughlin. Not only did that make him world champion, but a champion over Belichick’s New England Patriots. To be the best, you have to beat the best.
4 Developing Jason Pierre-Paul
His on-going hand surgery aside, Jason Pierre-Paul’s ascension to becoming one of the most heralded and valuable defensive ends in the game is in large part to the confidence instilled in him by Coughlin. Picked 15th in the draft, the 6ft 5 boy from South Florida became a wrecking ball for opposing quarterbacks and played a key role in their Super Bowl XLVI victory. Injuries have been a major stumbling block for the man but should the incoming coach get the player fit and healthy, he’ll have Coughlin to thank for the experience he’s given the tackling machine.
3 Drafting Odell Beckham Jr.
When Martavis Bryant took an outrageous touchdown pass between his legs to knock out the Cincinnati Bengals, many compared his skills straight away to the freakish ability of Odell Beckham Jr. The 5ft 11 wide receiver has redefined what it means to play the position, making the extraordinary look ordinary. At pick 12 from LSU College Odell Beckham Jr. will be absolute gold for the franchise for the next 10 years guaranteed. Aside from a moment of madness when he let his rage get the better of him, the team does and will continue to build their offense around him. Tom Coughlin will be remembered for giving him his chance first.
2 Respect from Bill Belichick
Great sparring rivals and friends since their days at the Giants together as coordinators, it shows how highly he is revered by the best peer in the business that Bill Belichick had nothing but praise. Speaking with reporters shortly after the news broke that Coughlin had parted ways, the Pats boss said, “I have a lot of respect for Tom and his family, the way he approaches his job and the way he coaches. He deserves a lot of credit for all that he’s accomplished in his career.” For a man that took two Super Bowl titles away from him, that says something.
1 Departure Speech
It’s often said that it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. Leaving after 12 years at the Giants, Coughlin deflected all of his admiration onto the players and wanted to stress how much he loved them. Without a dry eye in the house, the coach gave a parting compliment and a message of advice to the club moving forward. “You see these gentlemen here, in the crowd, in this crowd, that have played for this organization. They represent what I'm talking about. Not just winners on the field, but better yet, winners in life. People you can be proud of. You'd like these people for your next-door neighbor. That's how important it is to me.”