EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –** Despite two losing seasons and three in a row without a playoff berth, John Mara and Steve Tisch are convinced the best man for the head coaching job is already sitting in the corner office down the hall. So Tom Coughlin will return in 2015 for his 12th season on the Giants' sideline and his 20th as an NFL head coach.
"Steve Tisch and I still feel very strongly about Tom Coughlin as our head coach," Mara said today at a season-ending news conference at which he spoke about numerous topics, including the official confirmation of Coughlin's return. "That is why, as many of you have already reported, we have asked him back for next season. We still believe in him. I believe the players still feel very strongly about him and the one thing that struck me during the season, even as bad as things got during that seven-game losing streak, they still played hard for him. There was no lack of effort there. They were still very attentive during practice and on the sidelines and their effort never waned, even though the results were not what we had hoped for."
General manager Jerry Reese is another strong supporter of Coughlin.
"He knows how to coach," Reese said. "He is a teacher. You have to coach the players and you have to coach the person when you are coaching football. Tom Coughlin knows how to do that. John Mara said it as clearly as you can say it, during the bad time of the season, the players kept playing, they played all the way through. You can tell quickly if a team is not going to play for a coach. You can tell. That never happened."
Coughlin steadfastly refused to discuss his status during the Giants' just-concluded 6-10 season. He was aware of the outside speculation about his job security, but not at all concerned about it.
"I never considered not being back," said Coughlin, whose news conference followed Mara's. "As I said the other day, it's business as usual for us. We're into the massive evaluation process where everything is being evaluated from top to bottom and we'll continue that. That will take us quite a while, to be honest with you, as we move through going back over everything, with the coaching staff obviously being a part of that.
"I'm greatly appreciative of the support that I have received from ownership. Like I said, I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about the alternative. So I'm not trying to be a smart aleck or whatever, but when I say business as usual, that's what we're trying to do. Do I feel the support? Yes, I do and I'm greatly appreciative of that. Quite frankly, that's the only reason I'm here is because Mr. Mara and Mr. Tisch still believe this is the best way to go."
Coughlin is the second-longest tenured coach in Giants history, behind only Pro Football Hall of Famer Steve Owen (1931-53). He has led the Giants to victories in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI. With the Giants, Coughlin is 96-80 in the regular season and 8-3 in the playoffs. The 96 victories are second in franchise history to Owen's 153 and his eight postseason triumphs tie another Hall of Famer, Bill Parcells, for the most in Giants history.
Coaches with that kind of pedigree are hard to find. And it also earned Coughlin the benefit of whatever doubt might have existed about his status.
"There is no question that was a big part of the decision," Mara said. "More importantly than that, I still believe we can win with him. If I didn't believe that, then it wouldn't have mattered how many Super Bowls he won in the past. It would be senseless to go forward with him. I look at how hard the players played for him and how attentive they still are. I look at his energy level and how much he still wants to win and how driven he is. That is what convinced Steve and myself to move forward with him."
Coughlin is as driven as he's ever been.
"The goal is to get to the winner's circle every year," Coughlin said. "That's why you do it, you really do. You know what, I take every team at the beginning of the season and that's the goal. What other goal is there? Once you say that, win the world championship and win the Super Bowl, you have to talk to them about how you get there. Obviously, you can't get there if you can't function within your own division. But that's the goal, that's what drives you."
Although Coughlin will return, questions remain. Perhaps the most important concerns the makeup of his staff. He lost one assistant today when quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf left after one season to become the offensive coordinator at the University of Nebraska.
Coughlin strongly supported Perry Fewell and Tom Quinn, the defensive and special teams coordinators, respectively, who have been criticized by the public and media for the performance of their units.
Asked whether Fewell will return, Coughlin said, "I'm evaluating everything. That's what I say. … Perry had his hands full. There's no doubt about it. Our staff did when you want to look at the facts"
Mara and Reese each said that changes to the coaching staff will be Coughlin's decision alone.
"I will express (my thoughts) to Tom first, and again, he will make the final call," Mara said. "You don't tell a head coach that has been around as long as he has and has had the success that he has and who has the respect around the league that he has to make certain position changes. He knows better than we do."
Also to be decided is whether Coughlin will get a contract extension. The Giants traditionally do not let coaches work in the final year of their contract, which is what Coughlin is entering. But Mara said he might be open to altering that strategy.
"That has been our policy in the past, but that is not set in stone," Mara said. "I am not so sure that will be the situation anymore. I need to talk to him about that first. We haven't had that discussion yet."
Asked about his contract, Coughlin joked that perhaps he could get a 10-year extension.
"I would like to have that," Coughlin said. "I don't think he's going to speak to me about that one."
Coughlin then invoked legendary Dodgers Hall of Fame manager Walter Alston, who worked under 23 one-year contracts.
Finally, there remains the question of how much longer Coughlin will coach. He will be 69 when the 2015 season begins and is the NFL's oldest head coach.
Coughlin deflected that question with more humor, first saying he wanted to coach "probably 10-12 more years," then reducing that to eight or nine. More seriously, he said he didn't know, and that those decisions are based in part on his health and that of his wife, Judy.
"I think about that all the time," Mara said. "Listen, I am certainly aware of who is out there, but right now, I think Tom gives us the best chance to win going forward. How long that is going to last for, I don't know. He is going to be our coach next year."
Right now, that's all that matters.