By Steve Silverman
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Tom Coughlin is about as straightforward as they come, and he offered this terse assessment when asked if he belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“I think it merits consideration,” Coughlin said at a breakfast meeting with reporters.
Coughlin is never going to publicly campaign for the honor, but he is such a thorough man that he knows the answer to the question. Based on his career achievements — and comparing them to those of the 472 other men who have coached in the NFL — there is no doubt that Coughlin belongs in the Canton, Ohio shrine.
Coughlin and Bill Belichick rank far and away as the two best coaches in the game today, and he clearly ranks in the top 15 coaches in the game’s history.
Coughlin has earned his status by the numbers and by the performances he has been able to raise from his players. He also deserves credit for changing from an intractable “my-way-or-the-highway” kind of coach in his earlier years to a more fully-developed and thoughtful coach who has learned there is more than one way to get the job done.
Let’s look at the numbers:
Coughlin has 158 regular-season victories to his credit, a figure he has accomplished in 18 years as an NFL head coach. That total ranks 14th all time, but it’s really quite a bit better than that. Twelve of the coaches who are in front of him needed more years to accomplish their victory totals.
Don Shula is at the top of the list with 328 victories, something he accomplished in 32 years of coaching. George Halas won 318 game while coaching the Bears for 40 years, while Tom Landry is third as he led the Cowboys to 250 wins in 29 years.
Longevity and winning in the regular season should not be underrated. There have been many solid X’s and O’s coaches who couldn’t last because they couldn’t hold their locker room or they couldn’t handle the meat grinder because they got burned out by the pressure of having to win at all costs.
However, longevity alone does not reveal greatness. It’s about getting to the postseason and succeeding. Coughlin has coached in 19 postseason games with the Jacksonville Jaguars and the New York Giants. He has a 12-7 record, giving him a .632 winning percentage.
That ranks fifth among coaches who have been on the sidelines for 15-or-more postseason games. Joe Gibbs is first after leading the Redskins to a 17-7 mark (.707) during his 16 seasons with the Redskins. Belichick ranks second with a mark of 19-9 (.679), followed by Chuck Noll at 16-8 (.667) and George Seifert at 10-5 (.667).
Then there’s the Super Bowl, the NFL’s biggest enchilada. Coughlin has been there twice with the Giants, and both times his team was the underdog as it matched up with Belichick’s Patriots. Coughlin and the Giants won both of those games, and his 2-0 mark in the Super Bowl means he is one of only 13 coaches in NFL history to lead his team to multiple titles in the big game.
The fact that he got the best of Belichick twice can’t be overstated. Belichick is by acclimation the best coach in the game today, and perhaps the third-best coach the game has ever seen behind Vince Lombardi and Bill Walsh. Belichick knows that he has the advantage any time he steps on the sidelines, except when he sees Coughlin on the other side of the field.
There are many reasons why Coughlin has been successful. He served a long apprenticeship as an NFL assistant and a college head coach. He was well-prepared when he took over as head coach of the expansion Jaguars in 1995.
Coughlin was always an in-your-face perfectionist who would correct his players on the field without any hesitation. There was no subtlety in his approach for years, as his style was similar to Bill Parcells, Jimmy Johnson and Lombardi in that manner.
That style enabled him to help players get better. They may have been driven by the fear of embarrassment or unemployment, but players on the Jaguars and Giants improved under Coughlin.
However, three years into his tenure with the Giants, Coughlin stopped being an autocratic despot on the sidelines and in the locker room. His coaching style underwent a subtle change.
He started showing more concern about his players as individuals and started revealing more of his own personality.
It was a small change but it worked. The Giants were able to find that extra gear to go from a good team and solid contender to NFL champions.
When the 67-year-old Coughlin decides to call it a career, he will be able to retire peacefully, knowing that he has done his job as well or better than the greats who have preceded him.
Canton will come calling for a very deserving head coach.
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