If Tom Coughlin winds up losing his job over the late-season collapse that could cost his team a playoff berth, at least he can take comfort in this: In the midst of all the speculation about his potential ouster, his players remain fiercely loyal and won't even come close to pointing a finger of blame at their coach.
"I put it on us as players," outspoken safety Antrel Rolle said Wednesday in the Giants' locker room, which was predictably somber in the wake of Sunday's 45-17 loss to the Packers. The loss came on the heels of a fourth-quarter meltdown that saw the Giants blow a 31-10 lead to the Eagles in a 38-31 loss that may have irrevocably damaged their playoff hopes.
"I don't feel like he's lost control of this locker room in any way, shape or form," Rolle said. "If we were out there taking care of our business, there wouldn't be any concern."
But in a bottom-line business where coaches ultimately are judged on wins and losses, Coughlin may be coaching for his job as the Giants head into their regular-season finale against the Redskins. One more loss, and Coughlin's fate could be sealed.
But as Giants president John Mara and general manager Jerry Reese assess the situation in deliberating Coughlin's future, they ought to take note of the unanimity of feeling about the coach. There wasn't a player who even came close to questioning Coughlin's ability to keep his team together. And I'm not just talking lip service here; you can tell when a player is doing the politically correct thing when commenting on a coach's situation. The Giants weren't just offering up expedient answers to get them through the day. They were offering up heartfelt endorsements.
"We've always had coach's back," guard Rich Seubert told me. "I wouldn't want to play for anybody else."
Quarterback Eli Manning, whose career-high 24 interceptions have been a big reason for the Giants' struggles this season, especially in Sunday's loss to the Packers, believes the problem doesn't lie with the coach. And no, he doesn't think the players have tuned Coughlin out after seven seasons.
"That's not the case," Manning said. "Coach Coughlin, he prepares us. Every game we're a very prepared football team. The coaches are prepared. They work extremely hard. The players are ready to go play. When we don't succeed and we don't win it's because we didn't do our job to our best. He puts us in the right positions, he gets us mentally and physically ready to play games. At times this year we just haven't gone out there and executed to our ability."
That's not to absolve Coughlin of blame in the Giants' stunning two-week fall from playoff locks with eight minutes to play against the Eagles to hoping for a win over the Redskins combined with a Bears win over the Packers in Green Bay. A coach is always responsible for his team's performance, and Coughlin can't be proud of what has gone on. From the fourth-quarter collapse against the Eagles to one of their most inept performances of the season against the Packers, Coughlin bears ultimate accountability.
But he's also responsible for keeping his team together and not fracturing, which easily could have been the case. And if the players do their part on Sunday against the Redskins, then they're certainly justified in lobbying to keep Coughlin in 2011.
"I think we all want him to be here," tight end Kevin Boss said. "He's not the one turning the ball over, and it's hard to win games when we do that. So I think we all expect him back. We hope he'll be back."
Guard Chris Snee, who happens to be Coughlin's son-in-law and can hardly be expected to speak out against the coach, was nevertheless strident in his defense. "Playing for his job?" Snee asked rhetorically. "Two weeks ago, no one was saying that. Now two weeks later, everyone changes their viewpoint of the guy? It's absurd. He wasn't the reason we collapsed in the fourth quarter in Philadelphia. He wasn't the reason we played like we did in Green Bay. But somebody has to take the blame, I guess."
Snee has that part right. But less than three years removed from winning the third Super Bowl in franchise history, Coughlin in all likelihood is coaching for next year. Beat the Redskins, and the Giants get to 10 wins - the same regular-season victory total as the 2007 Super Bowl season.
Coughlin's players desperately want to give him that win. They want to give him 2011.