Not long after the Jacksonville Jaguars had humiliated the Miami Dolphins, 62-7, last Saturday, Coach Tom Coughlin walked around his team's locker room, shaking the hand of every player. He wore a broad smile as he offered a kind word here, a thank you there. He also reminded his players there was work still to do to achieve what they had set out to do last July in training camp.
It was a side of Coughlin not usually seen on national television broadcasts. When the camera zooms in on Coughlin, if he's not raging at an official or offering a stern rebuke to a player, he's almost always scowling beneath his headset, looking for all the world as if he's about to have a root canal.
"He's a fine man and he deserves all the plaudits he gets," said George Young, a league vice president and former New York Giants general manager. "He is definitely not the person you see on the sidelines. He is very exciteable. But he's probably harder on himself than he is his players. His values as far as football are good. He's a believer. He'd volunteer for the Crusades."
Coughlin takes coaching football rather seriously. He's a demanding, no-nonsense, sleep-on-the-office-cot perfectionist, a stern disciplinarian. He makes his players travel in coat and tie, insists they have both feet on the floor in team meetings and tells his coaches they may not wear sunglasses on the practice field, the better to make eye contact with the athletes.
He is also a big-time winner.
The only coach in the five-year history of this expansion franchise, he got his team into the AFC championship game in its second season in 1996, and the Jaguars have made the playoffs four straight years. As they prepare to play the Tennessee Titans at Alltel Stadium Sunday for a trip to the Super Bowl, the Jaguars' overall record--including a 4-12 season the first year--is 49-31, the best winning percentage (61.3) of any current NFL franchise.
A former wingback at Syracuse who played for the old Marine, Ben Schwartzwalder, and blocked for Floyd Little and Larry Csonka, Coughlin comes off the coaching tree of Bill Parcells, a man he considers one of his best friends. Parcells used to call him "Beaver" because he worked so hard for Parcells as an assistant coach with the Giants. The Giants twice tried to hire him as head coach before the Jaguars lured him away from Boston College, where he turned that program around in two years.
"I like to be in control," Coughlin often tells interviewers. Last week, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, he said: "I have a serious demeanor. I'm an intense person. I want things to be done in an exact, certain way. I want their attention. I don't believe in a jovial, lighthearted atmosphere 24 hours a day. I think when people go to work, and there's a specific meeting or practice, there ought to be attention paid to what is trying to be accomplished.
"I know what we've accomplished, but I'm not going to sit back and enjoy it. I do take great satisfaction, but it's a constant battle to win, and as a leader, I don't want a lot of people in our organization seeing me show any sign of enjoyment."
Coughlin also took no enjoyment last year in fining two players $500 after they flipped a car on a bridge while rushing to get to a meeting before a playoff game last year. The players easily could have been killed, and Coughlin endured criticism around the country for meting out the fines under the circumstances.
"No one asked me about it," Coughlin said. "But they wrote about it. 'That SOB fined those two kids.' . . . Let me tell you why I did that. They knew exactly what was expected of them. They failed, and they needed to learn. They were jeopardizing the entire focus of this organization so they could spend another 10 minutes somewhere before rushing back. To me, they missed the message about the team. They didn't get it, and sometime in their lifetime they are going to have to learn what the grand picture is all about."
This season, there were published reports that Coughlin and quarterback Mark Brunell were not getting along. For the first time this year, Coughlin decided to call the plays, a task he had yielded to offensive coordinator Chris Palmer the past two years before Palmer took the head coaching job with the Cleveland Browns. With no buffer between the head coach and the quarterback, there were some heated exchanges, especially over Brunell's propensity for the occasional killer interception.
But both men have steadfastly denied that there was a major problem.
"You read there was a dispute but there never really was," Brunell said. "You read there was a rift, problems between him and I, but there wasn't. Offensively, we weren't really hitting on all cylinders early on. To be honest with you, I never have a problem with Tom."
Palmer occasionally had differences of opinion with Coughlin during his tenure with the team, but said in an interview this week "we had a tremendous relationship. He pretty much let me call the plays. He'd come over and say let's run it here or let's pass it here, but that was about it. He let you do your job."
Chicago Bears Coach Dick Jauron, the Jaguars' former defensive coordinator, said he never understood the no sunglasses rule, but also never asked. He also had no problems with Coughlin's refusal to let his assistants speak with the media on the theory that "one voice"--Coughlin's voice--was the best way to communicate.
"He's thought through the whole process," Jauron said. "He knows how he wants it organized. What's always struck me about him was his honesty and his integrity, and I liked him as a guy because of those things. No, I don't do it the same way. The one thing I do know is that everyone is different. I know his way works, and the proof is right in front of everyone's eyes.
"I also know there are lots of ways to do it, and what he does works for Tom. He does it that way because he strongly believes in it. At the heart of everything, he is Tom Coughlin. It is not a show. He is organized. He is demanding. He is demanding of himself and everyone around him. You accept that going in. If you don't, that's your problem, not his."
Coughlin has been that way since he joined the franchise. He was hired 19 months before the Jaguars' first game. He hired the scouts, the assistants and all the players. During the 1994 season, Coughlin had his coaching staff put together simulated game plans for three days every week, just as they would do for real the following year and ever after. The rest of the week he pored over tapes of pro and college players to prepare for the college and expansion drafts. On Saturday, he scouted a college game. On Sunday, he'd watch an NFL game.
Despite his stern demeanor and reputation, Coughlin also likes to have an occasional laugh. He loved it when his children took a picture of him asleep in a chair with his mouth wide open and sent it out with the family Christmas cards. His wife, Judy, says he's so unmechanical, he has problems setting the VCR. Jauron said there's not a better dinner companion in the world, at least in the offseason, and he's even been known to sneak out to Ponte Vedra Beach to play golf or watch the Players Championship every year.
But most of all, Coughlin does his best work on the sideline, on the practice field, in the film room, feeding his passion for the game.
"I think he loves being out there more than anyone knows," said Michael Huyghue, the team's senior vice president of football operations. "He is emotional on the sidelines. He demands perfection and execution. I don't think he aspires to have his players say they like him. I don't think he cares if they like him or not. But they do respect him. And they play for him. That's pretty obvious, isn't it?"
CAPTION: Nicknamed Beaver by best friend Bill Parcells, Coach Tom Coughlin is a workaholic disciplinarian who has the Jaguars one win from the Super Bowl.