By Jason Keidel
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John Mara delivered a rather conflicted message on Tuesday morning. No doubt it reflects his dueling impulses regarding his regal coach and good friend, Tom Coughlin.
Mara groaned about being sick and embarrassed over his forlorn franchise and yet another substandard season. Yet he gave Coughlin the best, belated Christmas present he’s ever had. He confirmed that the coach is returning as the boss of Big Blue for another season, despite all the whirling whispers that Coughlin had one cleat in the professional coffin.
While Mara and Woody Johnson, co-tenants of the most haunted house in pro football (MetLife Stadium), had to consider identical decisions, they had to ponder rather different people.
Rex Ryan was 4-12 this year, and 46-50 over his six ringless years running Gang Green. He had neither the heft nor the hardware to make a gripping case for his return to the sideline. Coughlin, of course, has endless gravitas and big-game trophies in his office. To play Captain Obvious, the decision to can Ryan was far more facile than handing a pink slip to perhaps the most successful coach in Giants history.
Not to be a hypocrite, but I called for Coughlin’s vocational skin this season. Think about it: three straight trips to the links long before January and a consistent plunge down the rungs of relevance. The increasingly befuddled, two-time Super Bowl MVP should be in his halcyon years, and there’s a growing sense that the game is galloping past the geriatric coach, as it has for every coach who’s ever stalked the sideline. It happened to Chuck Noll, Tom Landry and Don Shula. It will happen to Coughlin, if it hasn’t already.
But there’s still some logic to keeping Coughlin. We’ve demanded his hide before and he’s peeled himself from the turf and delivered two Super Bowl titles. He’s rugged, resilient and has a stratospheric football IQ. But he’s almost 70, the perilous place where all losing seasons are amplified beyond linear or logical metrics.
The one argument that rings redundantly hollow is the, “Well, if you fire him, who will be his replacement?” If you’re seriously considering a coaching change, it’s clear you’re unhappy with the coach you have. So since you know it’s not working with your current coach, you have little to lose by trying another one.
Sure, they could hire another Ray Handley and free fall through the NFC cellar. But they are already eerily close to it now. Keeping Coughlin just feels like the comfortable move, not the confident one.
The Mara family has earned our respect, patience and campy platitudes. When you’ve been to five Super Bowls and won four of them since 1986, your corporate coda is far less likely to be dissected than any bromides belched from the sterile halls of Florham Park. After all, the Jets haven’t even played for a world title in 45 years and just finished a wretched season, even by their laughably low standards.
And the Giants’ bipolar records under Coughlin aren’t entirely his fault. It’s no secret they won their two rings with a rabid pass-rush and a bruising running attack. Jerry Reese has yet to buy Coughlin the proper groceries on which the coach can sprinkle his old-world seasoning.
They have yet to adequately replace Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck or Osi Umenyora. Jason Pierre-Paul is a lethal talent, but has yet to duplicate his monstrous, maiden season. Their linebackers strike fear into no one, and Antrel Rolle had perhaps the worst season of his career, often wiping the cleat marks from his back after another receiver dashed by him for another touchdown.
Their running game is anemic. The one glittering name on the MetLife marquee is Odell Beckham Jr., who made a mockery of NFL defenses this season, lapping the fertile field of rookie receivers even after spotting them four games.
Sure, the Giants flashed some moxie in the second half of the season, but they were hardly besting behemoths. Wins over Washington, Tennessee and St. Louis were mostly cosmetic, and they blew their chance to end the season on a four-game winning streak by losing to the lethargic Eagles at home.
It’s hard for even the most jaded Giants devotee to wax romantic about 2015. They don’t seem to have the talent or temerity to break .500 next year. And the chasms in personnel are too wide to fill in one draft or free-agent splurge.
So keeping Coughlin was more a move of nostalgia than necessity, more about patience than prudence. You could do worse than retain the services of a two-time Super Bowl champion. The question is: Which parts of Coughlin’s bio do you believe?
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