Given the choice of saying yes or no when asked if he’d like to be back to coach the Giants in 2016, Tom Coughlin added to his own ambiguity by declining to give a definitive answer.
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He did, however, find the question amusing Thursday and met it with a hearty laugh.
“I don’t know if that’s a great question right now,” he said. “What I want to do is win a game on Sunday. That’s the bottom line for this group right now.”
The Giants are in the process of determining whether Coughlin will even have a say in the matter. The front office likely will decide in the next few days — if it hasn’t already — whether to ask Coughlin to stay on as the Giants’ head coach.
There certainly are many shades of mud when looking at the 2015 season, not to mention the three before it that also ended without a playoff appearance. Has Coughlin gotten as much as he possibly could have from what most see as a thin roster? Did he have enough talent to build late leads in many of the games the Giants played this season but lack the ability to close the door on opponents either through strategy, preparation or a combination of the two?
Coughlin, who will be 70 when the 2016 season begins, has typically answered firmly that he wants to continue coaching. This time, though, with a sense of pall over the team, he was less clear.
Perhaps it is a way of giving John Mara and the Giants’ decision-makers a graceful way out. If he were to retire after 20 seasons as an NFL head coach and two Super Bowl championships, it would allow the franchise to get the change some in the organization might be seeking without having potential Hall of Fame blood on their hands.
Coughlin, though, did not sound as if he is thinking about retirement. And it’s hard to imagine him going there on his own accord without a gentle nudge.
“I always have the competitive spirit,” he said. “Sometimes it takes me a day or two to figure it all out when it’s over.”
He did speak about “soul-searching” for the team and himself after Sunday’s 49-17 loss to the Vikings. In that postgame news conference, he appeared to be as defeated as he has ever seemed during his tenure with the Giants.
Coughlin’s request — perhaps his final one — is that the focus this week be on the game against the Eagles and not about him, his legacy or his future. That’s been much easier behind closed doors than when he has had to meet with the media.
“Tom’s great. Tom doesn’t change,” defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said this week. “In my mind, he’s a Hall of Fame coach and I’m blessed to be working with him.” And Coughlin said the players seem to be doing as he has asked.
But focusing on the game is simply postponing the official start of the clock on a decision regarding who will coach the Giants next season. As he walks off the field at MetLife Stadium on Sunday — win or lose — it could be for the final time. Surely Coughlin recognizes that possibility. What will he be thinking and feeling then?
“I’m not thinking about any of that stuff,” he said.
Even if the fans give him what is expected to be an emotional — if potential — send-off?
Coughlin laughed again.
“There’s a guy who sits about right here,” he said, gesturing to the seats above the tunnel at the stadium, “who lets me know every time I come off the field. And I can’t use the language with ladies around now. He hasn’t got my name yet, but he’s got a lot of those nicknames he calls me.”
Whether or not “Coach” is among them for the rest of 2016 remains to be seen.