Justin Pugh knows that what comes next is out of his hands, that Tom Coughlin’s fate will be decided by Giants president and co-owner John Mara in the coming days. But even after Coughlin and his Giants were thoroughly embarrassed in a 49-17 loss to the Vikings on national television Sunday night, a result that could cement Mara’s thinking about a coaching change, Pugh remained defiant in his defense of the embattled coach.
“I just know that one day, I’m going to look back and say I played for a Hall of Famer. I played for one of the best coaches to ever do it,” the guard said at his locker a few minutes after the game. “What happens to him is out of my control. I just know I respect the hell out of that man and the way he does things. Who you gonna get to come in and top what he does?”
There isn’t a coach available who has Coughlin’s resume, which includes two Super Bowl championships and a body of work that might be worthy of Hall of Fame induction. But that might not stop Mara from making a change, because his team has missed the playoffs for four straight years and in six of the last seven seasons. The one time the Giants did make the playoffs in that span, Coughlin won his second Super Bowl title.
But patience is hard to come by in today’s NFL, even from Mara, one of the league’s most patient owners. He has offered no clue about his plans for Coughlin, who is under contract for next season, and the coach himself said after the game that he isn’t preoccupied with his future.
“I’m not worried about that. I’m really not,” Coughlin said when asked if he is concerned about his job security. “That will all take care of itself, but I don’t coach worrying about that.”
Coughlin wouldn’t touch the issue of whether he has enough talent on his roster, even though it’s obvious there are gaping holes. Sunday night’s roster featured several players who previously were on the Giants’ practice squad or had been released by other teams. It didn’t help that they were without star receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who was suspended for his head shot on Panthers cornerback Josh Norman last week.
“I’m not going to go there,” Coughlin said of roster issues. “I’m not going to go down that road.”
Coughlin has presided over a team that, until Sunday night, had been competitive in nearly every game all season. But there were enough close losses — six of them were decided by a combined 15 points — that he is now in a predicament that might result in his ouster. He could be fired by Mara, or he could make it easy on the owner by deciding to step down after a dozen seasons working in the New York pressure cooker.
Whatever happens, his players are virtually unanimous in their support and admiration.
“We get to see really how amazing a coach he is, and the energy he brings and the respect that other guys have for him,” linebacker Mark Herzlich said. “It’s a shame that we haven’t been able to hold up our end of the bargain and the pressure goes on him now. It is what it is. It’s something he deals with with class. We obviously wouldn’t like to do that to him, so it’s just hard.”
Quarterback Eli Manning, who has never played for another head coach and appeared emotional when asked about his feelings that next Sunday’s game against the Eagles might be Coughlin’s last with the Giants, expressed remorse about what happened against the Vikings. Manning had one of his worst games, throwing for 234 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown.
“I wanted to play well today,” Manning said. “I wanted the team to play well for each other, for our coaches. We weren’t able to do that. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I would like to have a strong finish next week, and whatever happens after that happens. Just try to finish the season strong.”
It may be too late.
Change is coming. All that’s left is what form and what people that change encompasses.
“If I was running a company and things weren’t going the way that I wanted it to go, of course I would have to make changes,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “Whatever those changes are, I don’t know. I’m glad I don’t have to make that decision for the Giants. But I’m a firm believer that the Maras, the Tisches, [Jerry] Reese, they’re going to do what’s best for the Giants’ organization.”
Four straight years without a playoff berth, and this could be it for one of the greatest coaches in franchise history.