EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Twelve years ago Thursday, Tom Coughlin was introduced as the Giants’ 16th head coach and delivered a memorable fire-and-brimstone speech about restoring the franchise’s pride, professionalism and dignity.
“We must replace despair with hope, and return the energy and the passion to New York Giant football,” Coughlin said then.
Yesterday, Coughlin stepped down from a job he loved doing every minute.
‘Steve and I conveyed to Tom how much we appreciate everything he's done for this franchise,” said John Mara, the team’s president and chief executive officer. “Not just the obvious, the two Super Bowls, but the pride and professionalism, character, integrity, everything that he brought to us. The way he conducted himself, everything you could ever ask for the head coach of the New York Giants.
“He's a Hall of Fame coach, a Hall of Fame person. He leaves big shoes to fill.”
“I'd like to say thank you to coach Coughlin for our years together,” general manager Jerry Reese said. “He's been a great partner to work with. He and I have a really great relationship. He taught me a lot. I learned a lot from him. He's just a hard-working guy who loves football. All we want to do is win for this organization.
“I have great respect for him. … I told coach that I love him, that he'll always be a good friend to me.”
Coughlin today gave another memorable address in his public farewell in the auditorium of the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.
In attendance were Mara, chairman and executive vice president Steve Tisch; treasurer Jonathan Tisch and Laurie Tisch; current players Eli Manning, Rashad Jennings, Victor Cruz, Mark Herzlich, Zak DeOssie, Andre Williams and Ryan Nassib; former players Chris Snee (who is Coughlin’s son-in-law), Shaun O’Hara and Rich Seubert; Coughlin’s wife, Judy; most of Coughlin’s coaching staff; numerous members of the Giants organization; and perhaps three dozen reporters.
Coughlin thanked Giants ownership, Reese, his players and coaches, a long list of people he worked with, Judy (with his voice cracking slightly), his four children and 11 grandchildren.
He instead talked about themes that included both longtime bedrock beliefs and those that have evolved in his Giants tenure.
“While the two Super Bowl trophies right out here are incredible accomplishments, and I'm very proud of them, don't get me wrong, I believe it is the unbreakable bond between coach and player that defines me as a coach, and any humble success we might have had here as New York Giant coaches,” Coughlin said.
It was a bond he worked tirelessly to develop every day he was here.
“In professional football, the goal is to win,” Coughlin said. “We all know that. We understand that completely. But my contention is, when I first brought this up was with our '07 team, my contention is there's a higher ground. There's a greater purpose. That purpose is team. It is the team concept.
Coughlin was an expert strategist who helped dozens of players develop into better performers than perhaps even they thought they could be. But he is just as proud with their growth off the field, and he urged others throughout the league to be equally as committed to that ideal.
“In the NFL, it's important to all 32 owners, to all coaches, whether they be young or old, to realize that we have an obligation to teach these young men the lessons, the principles and the life skills that they will need once their professional careers are over,” Coughlin said. “And they are short-lived, by the way.
“While it is the job of the head coach to get the technical football right – obviously, that's why we get hired, to make sure the X's and O's are efficient, that the players have a great plan, and that plan allows them to go forth and have a chance to win games - it is our duty to equip these men with the virtues that will last a lifetime, the values like honesty, trust, responsibility, respect, service and integrity, those are the things that we teach in addition to the football.
“You see these gentlemen here in the 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.
“John Wooden said, ‘Reputation is what people think of you, character is who you really are.’ Character. We try to develop the character of each man who walked through these doors. Character is what endures.”
So will Coughlin. He is unsure what lies ahead. Coughlin will devote even more time and energy to another passion, The Jay Fund Foundation, which in 20 years has donated more than $6 million to families of children with cancer.
He has an offer to remain with the Giants in an unspecified position.
“I asked him would he consider staying on in some capacity,” Mara said. “I don't want to let all that knowledge walk out the door. I asked him to think about over the next few days ways that he might be able to help us going forward. He agreed to do that. I don't think either one of us have an idea yet exactly what form that could take. Let's face it, he brings a unique perspective. He knows our team as well as anybody. He knows the league as well as anybody. There may be some capacity in which he could help us.
“This is not a situation where we wanted to see him walk out the door. We want him to stay involved because of everything he has brought to this organization, everything he could still possibly do at some point in the future.”
Coughlin has not ruled staying in the job he has held in some capacity for 45 years. “I'm not necessarily done with coaching,” he said.
He would have preferred not to have one today, but once he stepped behind that podium, he was going to make the most of it. After all, Tom Coughlin never wastes time. And he used his final address to prove yet again that even though he arrived as an accomplished coach, he grew in ways he could never have imagined when he was named the Giants coach.
“What has become extremely important to me as I've grown in this position is relationships,” he said. “Relationships have become the primary objective in my career. I still have a hard time when former players, guys who we battled together, they've been corrected, I've been mad at them, they've been mad at me, so on and so forth, after a year or two, sometimes not even that long, they walk up to me and say, ‘I love you, coach.’ When that first happened to me, I didn't know how to respond. I was like, ‘Whoa, wait a minute.’ This is a big old tough-guy business. We're not supposed to be able to say that and do that.
“I can tell you right now it has become the source of drive for me, is that when our players, whether they're in their career, after their career, when they come back to me and they say, ‘Coach, I love you.’ They follow that up by saying they've become better men, better husbands, better fathers, better friends, because of their experience having been a New York Giant.”
Just as Tom Coughlin did.