Tom Coughlin hasn't offered any hints about whether he plans to keep coaching next season, but a man who knows Coughlin well and who knows what it's like to win two Super Bowl championships in this town thinks he has an idea what will happen.
"I do think he'll coach another year," Bill Parcells said in an interview from his home in Jupiter, Fla. "Does that make me right? I just think that's what he'll do. You know, when you give up at his age, that's it. You don't come back."
Parcells is especially impressed with the way Coughlin, 67, has held his team together after an 0-6 start. It's reminiscent of the Jets' 1999 season under Parcells, when he lost quarterback Vinny Testaverde to injury in the first week of the season and got off to a 1-6 start. The Jets wound up 8-8, with Parcells calling it the best coaching job of his career.
"If you can dig out from 0-6, you're doing something right," Parcells said of Coughlin. "Everybody is telling these players, 'If you've got a little [injury] thing, don't play' and 'The games are meaningless.' That statement makes me vomit more quickly than anything else. The games are meaningless? How about the people playing in them and are getting the ---- beat out of them? How can it be meaningless to them? If you got anything to you at all as an athlete and a competitor, you don't care what the circumstances are. You still got competition."
It has been an extremely difficult year for Coughlin, whose team entered the season with Super Bowl expectations that in all likelihood went up in smoke after the 0-6 start. He dealt with the death of his younger brother, John, who suffered a fatal head wound when he accidentally fell after attending the Giants-Broncos game on Sept. 15.
But the coach has persevered, leading his team to five wins in their last six games and clinging to the remote possibility of winning the NFC East. At 5-7 and trailing the Cowboys and Eagles by two games with only four to play, their chances don't look good.
Coughlin acknowledges the losing has gotten harder the older he gets, especially after winning two championships. But his extraordinary energy level doesn't betray those emotions.
"Those losses hang around a long time when you've been in it as long as I have," said Coughlin, who has been a head coach or assistant since 1969 and has led the Giants since 2004. He was a Parcells assistant from 1988-90.
"The losing is tough to deal with,'' he said, "but you have to find a way to do it. It's not about the individual. It's not about me. It's about our team. You have to find a way to lift them back up."
Despite this year's struggles, Coughlin has given no indication that this season will be his last. In fact, he doesn't even like to talk about what's ahead, unless it's about Sunday's game against the Chargers.
"Don't ask me questions about that other thing now," he said, referring to his plans beyond this season. "I'm not going to talk about all that crap."
Well, is he coming back in 2014?
"I just told you that. I'm not touching that," he said. "That's so foolish. We got a game Sunday, a very important game. What the hell would I talk about that for?"
When it's mentioned that Coughlin has one more year remaining on his contract after this season, he said, "That's right. I got one more year on my contract next year. I got one more year, so unless they run my [butt] out of town, I got one more year on my contract next year . . . I don't want anything out there to distract our team about me. It isn't about me. It never has been. You want to ask me about Sunday's game, I'll be glad to answer that. But don't ask me about [next year]. Right now is what I'm concerned about. This team. Right now."
Nope. He certainly doesn't look or act like a coach who's ready to walk away. And those around him feel the same way.
"His energy level is still as high as it's ever been," defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka said. "His dedication is there. I wouldn't say there's anything that would make me think he wouldn't be here [in 2014]. This is what he loves to do. He's very good at it, so I expect him to be here. I'd be very surprised if he's not."
Giants ownership and management have not discussed Coughlin's future, but it is believed they want the coach to return in 2014.
Parcells agrees that Coughlin doesn't seem ready to walk away. Coughlin hasn't gotten to the point Parcells reached when he knew it was time to go. That moment came in the 2006 playoffs, when Parcells was 65 years old and coaching the Dallas Cowboys.
The Cowboys were about to kick what might have been the game-winning 19-yard field goal with 1:19 left in the fourth quarter. But quarterback Tony Romo, who doubled as the holder on field goals, mishandled the snap and was tackled short of the goal line. Dallas went on to lose to the Seahawks, 21-20.
"I can remember when Romo dropped that field-goal snap to beat Seattle," said Parcells, who announced his retirement 15 days after the gut-wrenching loss. "We would have played Chicago the next week, and I thought we'd have a good shot. Then that play happens and I'm like, 'I got to do this all again for a maybe?' That's what it took to finally make me stop as far as coaching goes."
Parcells said it's the same way for a lot of great coaches who work into their 60s.
"The difference is that winning is just a relief, and the losing stays with you, so I certainly understand what Tom's talking about completely," he said. "Almost everyone that I know that's gotten to our age in almost any sport, it's the same. Tony La Russa, Jim Leyland, Bobby Knight. The guys that I've talked to, they all say the same thing. I don't want to say it beats you down, because that's not the right word. Energy-wise, it's not that. It's just the dynamic. It's the landscape."
It gets even harder when you've been to the top. Especially if you've been there multiple times, as Parcells and Coughlin have.
"If you've ever won a championship, then that's all you're interested in doing," Parcells said. "It's a hard business, and there's really not much gray area. You can't do a bad job and hope nobody will notice, like some people can do with their jobs. So I understand exactly what Tom is saying . I certainly understand it. He's a hard-working guy and that's what he believes in and it's been successful for him. And that way is hard on you."
Coughlin admits as much, but not to the point that he seems ready to walk away, especially after seeing his team recover when all hope seemed lost. It's why Parcells thinks there's still some good coaching left in his friend. And it's why he thinks Coughlin isn't going anywhere.