Tom Coughlin is back next season, earning a reprieve from Giants ownership after a 6-10 season and a third straight year without a playoff berth. But there's much more of a win-or-else dynamic than at any time since he was nearly fired after the 2006 season.
Which is fine with the 68-year-old Coughlin, who still says he feels good enough to coach another decade or more.
"Walter Alston," Coughlin said when someone asked about the prospect of coaching on the final year of his contract, something he has never done in his previous 11 seasons in New York. "Some of you guys don't know who he is. Twenty-one one-year deals. Not bad.''
Most of today's generation requires a Google search to know Coughlin was talking about the Dodgers' Hall of Fame manager, who actually worked 23 seasons and never had a multiyear contract. Alston won seven pennants and four World Series championships in Brooklyn and Los Angeles from 1954-76 -- just two more titles than Coughlin has won for the Giants.
Coughlin doesn't seem to mind the precarious situation in which he finds himself. After his team underachieved again this season -- because of a complicated set of circumstances that included injuries, a major roster overhaul and using more younger players than in any of his previous seasons in New York -- he gets another crack at it next season. Team president John Mara, who admitted Tuesday that he was willing to depart from his usual stance of not putting his coach in a lame-duck situation, said Coughlin gives the 2015 team the best chance to win.
Mara is right about that. Despite the problems that afflicted this year's team, there is no better option than a coach with two Super Bowl championships on his resume and a fire-in-the-belly hunger to win than Coughlin. His competitiveness is remarkable; at an age when most men are content with retirement, Coughlin remains as hungry to win as a graduate assistant working his first job at a Division III program.
Asked how much longer he feels like coaching, Coughlin said with a straight face, "Probably 10 or 12 more years.'' He later recanted, but only slightly. "I'm just being facetious,'' he said. "Probably eight or nine.''
It's all about the competition.
"Why am I here? I'm here because I want to win it,'' he said. "What do you think I'm doing, sitting up in the office with my feet up? Hey, the competitive spirit, you're in this to win it. You're in this to try to beat the other guy."
"I'm as sick and disappointed as anybody in the last few years,'' he said. "But you know what? How are you going to do anything about it, other than fight, swing and get back out there and try harder? What else are you going to do? Are you going to crawl in a corner? No, I'm not going to do that.''
Coughlin wants his players to feel the pain of losing as they head into the long offseason, if for no other reason than to come back with a stronger resolve in 2015.
"Discontent is the first necessity of progress,'' he said. "We must be determined to be even stronger from this situation and don't be accepting of where we are because it wasn't where we want to be.''
Coughlin is no stranger to these situations; in fact, it has been a hallmark of his time here that he gets to the brink of failure, but somehow manages to survive.
In 2006, he went 8-8 and was a reviled figure among many of his players because of his autocratic approach. After an offseason of introspection, which included discussions with selected media members -- this reporter included -- Coughlin turned into a more paternal figure and won a championship the following season.
Late in the 2010 season, his team blew a 31-10 fourth-quarter lead at home against the Eagles and missed the playoffs. He spent that night alone in a darkened room at his home, pondering all that had gone wrong. A year later, with the word "finish'' burnished into his players' psyche, he won his second Super Bowl.
And this year, a seven-game losing streak imperiled his job security. After the seventh loss -- a 25-24 loss in Jacksonville -- Mara admitted he "wanted to fire everyone'' as he sat on the team bus. But Coughlin won three of his last four games, convincing Mara and co-owner Steve Tisch to bring him back next season. Mara cited the team's unity during the losing streak as a major reason for Coughlin's return.
Why does it always seem to be like this for Coughlin, who does his best work when it looks as if he's about to fail?
"I don't have a great answer for that, except that I'm standing at the edge of a cliff,'' he said.
And how does he not fall off?
"Usually, you look the other way, you know what I mean?''
He has survived yet another close call with the cliff, and gets another chance in 2015. If he doesn't turn it around this time, then that'll be it. But history bodes well for a coach who does some of his best work when you think it might be over.