EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J – Eli Manning is the quintessential cool customer, a man who seldom reveals his thoughts through the expression on his face or the inflection in his voice.
“I think the Maras and the Tisches (the families who co-own the franchise) know how I feel about Coach Coughlin, and the respect I have for him,” Manning said. “I think he’s done a great job, and he definitely has not failed. I feel that we as players, we failed him by not playing to the level that we could.”
The Giants finished 6-10 in the 2015 season, which ended with a 35-30 loss yesterday to the Philadelphia Eagles. It was their third consecutive season with a losing record, and fourth in a row without a postseason berth.
Manning and his teammates spoke to the media after Coughlin’s final team meeting but before the public announcement of the coach’s departure. Coughlin told the players how much he enjoyed coaching them, and he wished the best for each of them in the future. But regarding his status, he told them only that he had a meeting scheduled with the team’s ownership.
“He’s been a great coach to play for,” Manning said, “and I’ve learned so much from him, from an early age when I got here to every year. Just continued to meet with him and talk football and X’s and O’s and strategies and he’s got a great football mind and loves what he’s doing and a great passion, and it’s a great example of how you should handle your job and love what you’re doing.
“He’s been a great coach to play under. We have a great relationship, great trust. I appreciate the way he works, I think he appreciates the way I handle my business and play quarterback and prepare and get ready. We’ve had a good run, could’ve been better, obviously, but I appreciate everything he’s done for me.”
Many other current and former players expressed similar sentiments. Soon after the Giants released Coughlin’s statement announcing he was stepping down, many of them reacted on Twitter:
Geoff Schwartz: “TC is an exceptional coach and an even better person. It’s been an honor to play for a HoF coach. Thank you Coach Coughlin.”
Lawrence Tynes: “What a man. What a career. Thanks for being you. You and Judy are like family to me. I Love You Coach.”
David Diehl: “Thank you Tom Coughlin for demanding the very best from myself/teammates every single day. Respect is not given, it's earned.”
Kevin Boss: “What an incredible honor it was to have played for Coach Coughlin...something I'll be very proud to tell my kids about someday!”
Nat Berhe: “Coach Coughlin taught me how to be a professional with respect, class and focus. I am eternally thankful. I'll be at the HOF ceremony.”
He’ll likely be joined by many of the teammates who were in the locker room today.
“He’s a great coach,” defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said. “He’s determined, motivator, father figure, and consistent at everything he does since the day that I got here. Those guys told me about him and I learned and actually got to experience Coach Coughlin for who he is.”
Barry Cofield played for Coughlin from 2006-10 and returned to the team for the final three games of the just-concluded season.
“I think he changed from my rookie year through my fifth year here,” Cofield said. “He evolved. (With) this new generation of athletes, kind of what the demand is now – (it takes a) different type of people and different type of protocol. Physically, you can’t have two-a-days every day. It’s changed and he’s changed right along with it, which some people probably wouldn’t have thought he could do.”
“I think it’s his intensity, his emotion,” Cofield said. “Definitely a guy that’s very consistent, brings it every day. If you look at him and he can have that type of passion and that type of dedication to the game, you feel guilty if you’re not bringing that type of energy and you’re half his age. He’s definitely a great leader and kind of like a father figure, a disciplinarian. When I was young, I didn’t get it. Now that I come back, I really get the benefit that he had in my career and in my life.’
Defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins just completed his 13th NFL season, the last three with the Giants under Coughlin.
“Tom Coughlin is a great coach, Hall of Fame coach,” Jenkins said. “It’s an honor to have been able to play for him, and be able to play for this organization. It was an honor to be able to come here, to be able to play for him. I wish we could have done more for him. I wish we could have won more games, and continued some of the success and traditions that they’ve built around here.”
It didn’t happen the last three seasons. But to his players, Coughlin has been a tremendous success.