Tom Coughlin did his best not to show his grief over his younger brother's death Monday night, but Perry Fewell could tell how badly the Giants' coach was hurting. It was only four months ago that Fewell lost his sister, so the defensive coordinator knew.
"You could see it, especially on Tuesday. You could see it, you could feel it,'' Fewell said. "He was Tom, but he was Tom with a heavy heart.''
John Coughlin, 63, who had trained and owned harness horses at The Meadowlands, died late Monday after suffering a head injury in a fall a few hours after the Giants' loss to the Broncos on Sunday. The Star-Ledger reported that John's longtime companion, Suzanne Malloy, made the decision around 9:30 p.m. Monday to take him off life support. Tom Coughlin was in the hospital room when his brother died.
"It's just such a personal thing. There are really no words to say,'' Fewell said. "There's nothing you can do when you lose someone close to you like that. I think getting back to what you love to do helps more than just words.''
Coughlin declined to be interviewed about his brother, choosing instead to issue a statement earlier this week thanking people for the outpouring of sympathy. But the coaches and players are clearly hurting for their leader, despite Coughlin's best attempts to carry on and not let his personal tragedy affect his demeanor.
Coughlin did tell the team's website that his ordeal was "an emotional tug of war. You drift back and forth between your family and your brother and even my wife [Judy] was very close to John and is close to all my sisters . . . Monday was a day in which the initial shock for me was at about five in the morning, going over to the hospital and seeing John and then listening to all the doctors and their options and then going back in the afternoon and having my sisters there. We were all in there together . . . Then we went back Monday night to say goodbye."
It is a painful and difficult role reversal for Coughlin, who is used to being the one to shepherd his players and coaches through their own difficulties.
Coughlin has been a rock for his players during all those troubled times. They want to be there for him now in his time of need.
"We're all hurting for him,'' Brandon Jacobs said. "Coach is a good man. I love him to death. He's a great coach, a great mentor, and he is a rock."
Even while grieving, Coughlin is teaching his players a life lesson. "He goes through things and he teaches us different ways to get through a thing like this,'' Jacobs said. "It has to be hard for him, but I commend him for fighting through it.''
Coughlin told his players in a Wednesday morning meeting about what happened, but he has not said a word about it since. He is careful not to make this week about him. It is never about him.
It is about his team. Always.
"I don't think the guys would even know anything about it if he hadn't said anything,'' Justin Tuck said. "He hasn't allowed it to affect him, but I know obviously inside it's affected him.
"I understand what he's going through,'' said Tuck, who lost a grandfather and three uncles in a 12-month span in 2010-11. "We've talked about the things you go through, and the thing that works is getting back to some sense of normalcy. That's what he's done.''
Fewell suggested that getting back to work is the best way to get through the grieving process. That worked for him when he lost his sister in early May.
"Getting back around the guys, being able to yell at somebody, that's getting some of the emotion out, some of the stuff that's pent up inside you, some of that grief that you want to release,'' Fewell said.
Coughlin is in his element now, coaching the men he will take into Sunday's game against the Panthers in search of the team's first win. On Tuesday, he and his five sisters will bury their brother in upstate Waterloo, where the Coughlins were raised.
His players want to provide the coach some comfort the best way they know how.
"It's hard to say how important football is, but it does give people some kind of release for what they're going through in their personal lives,'' Mathias Kiwanuka said. "So the best thing we can do for him is get a win.''