There will always be a part of Tom Coughlin that bears the scars of what happened in early January 2016. When you are a man as driven and as competitive as Coughlin, even at age 69, you don’t walk away without some hurt. Especially when it’s not your decision.
Coughlin has since moved on from that time he “stepped down” from the Giants’ head coaching job, even though he was forced out the door by the team’s co-owners, John Mara and Steve Tisch. He has reinvented himself as the Jaguars’ executive vice president of football operations, and already has the Jaguars remolded into a Super Bowl contending team after a little more than one year on the job.
But if it were up to him, he’d still be coaching the team in blue at MetLife Stadium.
“I’m sure this has taken some time to adjust to,” said former Giants guard Chris Snee, Coughlin’s son-in-law who played his entire NFL career for the future Hall of Fame coach.
There will no doubt be a mix of emotions when Coughlin sets foot in the stadium when the Jaguars face his old Giants team in Sunday’s in their regular-season openers.
“He would be fired up regardless of who the opponent is, but I’m sure there will be a lot of nostalgia when he walks in the building,” said Snee, who now works as a Jaguars scout and specializes in studying offensive and defensive linemen. “I assume it will be good things, because he’s still beloved by the fans. I hope when he walks on the field, the fans will cheer for him and that will be the emphasis.”
Considering the unforgettable memories associated with his two Super Bowl runs after the 2007 and 2011 seasons, Coughlin’s place in Giants’ history is secure and his affection among the fans intact. So yes, there will be cheers for him and some well-earned congratulatory hugs from his former associates with the team he coached from 2004-2015.
How does Coughlin feel about the impending matchup? He’s not saying, at least publicly. Coughlin turned down a request for an interview about his emotions involving the game, although he did express public appreciation for the Giants’ continued support of The Jay Fund, a foundation he formed after one of his former players at Boston College, Jay McGillis, died of leukemia in 1992. The Jay Fund offers financial assistance for patients and families of cancer victims in New York, New Jersey and Jacksonville.
“We’ve been able to help over 5,000 families and provide more than $10 million dollars in financial assistance to patients and families who need it most in New York, New Jersey, and Jacksonville,” Coughlin said through a spokeswoman for the foundation. “Those are all Jay miracles.
“But those miracles wouldn’t be possible without the support of the many players, front office staff, and owners who have and continue to give so generously,” he said. “I think it was Cicero who said, ‘Gratitude is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all others.’ I don’t know if I have expressed my gratitude enough to the Jaguars and the Giants for all they’ve done to support the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Foundation over the years. It really does take a team to fight childhood cancer, and I’m humbled to have them on our foundation team.”
Coughlin already has done fine work reshaping the Jaguars’ roster, drafting first-round running back Leonard Fournette and adding free-agent defensive end Calais Campbell last year and signing coveted free-agent guard Andrew Norwell this year. He and second-year coach Doug Marrone are in lockstep on how to build a team with talented, yet tough-minded players, and their partnership was instrumental in the Jaguars’ AFC South title run last year. The Jaguars made it all the way to the AFC Championship Game before losing to the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
“They have a good relationship and they’re comfortable working with one another, and he lets Doug coach,” Snee said of the Coughlin-Marrone partnership. “He doesn’t get in the way. He’s also there if advice is needed or if he sees something that needs to be adjusted.”
Marrone is surely aware of Coughlin’s deep ties to the Giants, so there is no making light of the former coach’s return to MetLife Stadium.
“Do you joke about it? There is no joking with coach [Coughlin],” Marrone said. “Do I needle him? That would not be a smart move by me or anybody else. Would you needle your boss? We are very focused, and we are focused on what we are about.”
Another coach who has paid heed to Coughlin’s counsel is Pat Shurmur of the Giants. He’s about to coach his first game for the Giants months after asking Coughlin about the culture around the team.
“I have a professional relationship and we’ve been able to communicate,” Shurmur said. “One of the guys I talked to when I was talking to former players and coaches was Tom in the offseason, and I’ve communicated with him a few times. I have great respect for Tom and what he accomplished, and certainly he left a very, very strong mark on this organization.”
He also left a strong mark on the quarterback who helped engineer the team’s last two Super Bowl championships. Eli Manning, who wept when Coughlin bid farewell to the Giants in a final news conference, still has high regard for his former coach.
I have a great relationship with coach Coughlin and cherish the time we had and appreciate those 12 years of him being my head coach,” Manning said.
But for now, it’s all business.
“I look at this game saying it’s the Giants against the Jaguars, and I’m trying to get our offense prepared to go against that defense,” Manning said.
There is no forgetting their connection, though. Nor can Giants fans forget the connection they had with Coughlin, who was inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor in 2016. It will be a special moment for the former coach, who began his NFL coaching career with the Jaguars in 1995 and built an expansion franchise into a playoff team and then brought the Giants two Super Bowl titles.
He once again wears the black and teal of the Jaguars, but there always will be Giants blue in Coughlin’s soul.