And he was aware of renewed grousing last season, after a Super Bowl championship four seasons earlier had been buried under a 3-5 record to end the 2011 regular season — before a spectacular postseason run ended with Coughlin lifting another Super Bowl trophy.
“We call it midstream adjust,” Coughlin, 66, said last week, four days before another challenge, when the Washington Redskins and Robert Griffin III visit MetLife Stadium. “You’ve got to be able to do that in this business.”
In perhaps the most tenuous job in sports, when three seasons or fewer can determine the arc and narrative of a qualified man’s career, Coughlin has kept standing. Other NFL coaches come and go, try and fail, disappearing into the shadows. Some football men refuse to change, leaning only on what they know, even at the risk of their futures.
Coughlin, known earlier in his career as “Colonel Coughlin” because of his unyielding attention to the small things and his view of players as chess pieces, has survived by adapting — and his willingness to dramatically alter his personality and viewpoint.
“From his early years, he’s definitely lightened up a bit,” Giants quarterback Eli Manning said.
Coughlin has gone from a coach on the brink of repeated firings to a near certain future Hall of Famer. As he stood under an overhang at the Giants’ practice facility on a breezy Wednesday last week, players filed off the field and walked past their coach without worry that their smiles or conversations might lead to a scolding.
Coughlin said that change wasn’t easy. But in his case, it was necessary.
“When you’re somebody like me,” he said, “you’ve got to learn it the hard way.”
Afraid to have fun
They were preparing for another showdown, this one for a chance to play in the AFC championship game in the 1996 season. Some of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ assistant coaches spent the slow hours before they met the Denver Broncos in a second-round playoff game, by channeling their excitement into a few light moments. Randy Edsall, at the time the Jacksonville Jaguars’ defensive backs coach, put on a headset and, seeing the famous ring announcer Michael Buffer on the sideline, bellowed into the microphone, “Let’s get ready to rumble!”
Then a familiar voice responded. Edsall had no idea that Coughlin had been listening.
“That’s enough!” Coughlin, then the Jaguars’ head coach, snapped.
Edsall, now Maryland’s head coach, should’ve known the colonel might have been wearing a headset, too. Edsall had played quarterback at Syracuse when Coughlin was an assistant coach and heard often about improper footwork and extreme focus. He later worked alongside Coughlin in his early years as a coach. Coughlin was always watching, always paying attention.