By Ernie Palladino
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Eventually and mercifully, New York’s lost football season will end and change will come.
It is entirely possible that both the Giants and Jets will begin coaching searches while others vie for a Super Bowl berth. The only difference with the two franchises will involve the context whereby Tom Coughlin and Rex Ryan will have taken their leave. Ultimately, it will become a question of semantics — retired voluntarily, forced out or fired — for it is all basically the same. They will have been in charge one day, out of office the next.
But it is the semantics that create interest today. There are such things as graceful, humane exits, earned through past glories and dignified comportment. And then there are your cold, out-you-go firings that come because of mouths run amok and promises gone unfulfilled.
It won’t be hard to guess who gets the pat on the back or the kick in the pants on his way out the door.
Unless something happens over the next six games to alter current perceptions, Coughlin will get the comfortable landing. For all of Tiki Barber’s bluster about the 68-year-old taskmaster losing the locker room, the fact remains that Coughlin’s teams won two Super Bowls AFTER the team’s all-time leading rusher retired in 2006.
For the two titles alone, a classy pair of owners like John Mara and Steve Tisch would likely sit Coughlin down after the season and convince him that his legacy among Giants coaching greats is secure; that he has their undying gratitude along with a nice chunk of change to take back to his Jacksonville home, but that it is time to go.
They should impress on him that the end comes for everyone, even those who set life examples through their tireless preparation and emotional leadership. They should recognize that he still had the locker room, that what has happened these past three non-playoff seasons may be his responsibility, but not his fault.
Then it will be up to Coughlin to show the same kind of class the Giants showed when they retained him after 2006, and step gracefully aside. He has earned a comfortable exit.
Ryan has earned little of that. Except for Woody Johnson’s affection for his coach and his bigger-than-life personality, there have been no trophies for the office lobby, no playoffs the past four seasons. Plenty of bluster, though, about kissing rings and little brothers and some crude howdy-dos to the odd fan (or, more recently, the striped shirts.) Hot air, no matter how entertaining, does not earn magnanimity.
Nor does his insistence on sticking with a general manager’s pet project as he watches his team plummet to rock bottom. Or his willful abandonment of a ground-and-pound style that achieved tangible results his first two seasons.
He gets the cold boot. There will be no Ring of Honor ceremonies for him in the future, at least not with the Jets. He will not stand in front of a crowd in Canton on Hall of Fame weekend and lay his hand upon his bust. Not as Jets coach.
Assuming nothing drastic changes about the Giants’ season, Mara and Tisch should usher Coughlin into retirement with whatever honor and dignity an 11-year, two-Super Bowl championship stretch earns in an otherwise cold-hearted league. Do it in a way that it looks like it was the coach’s own decision.
Assuming Johnson hasn’t lost his mind, he should also make a change. Only with Ryan, it will be more about removing a bad part and replacing it with a potentially better one. Thanks for everything. Out you go.
In the end, both coaches will pay for their failings.
The only difference will involve the method of payment.
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