The sweatshirts his 11 grandchildren were wearing came as a surprise to Tom Coughlin when he saw them Sunday before the Giants’ game against Philadelphia. They were blue with red block lettering on front and back that said “Coughlin’s Crew,” and they were made by Coughlin’s daughter, Kate, a mother of three who is due in February with grandchild No. 12.
All were on hand for what many believe was not just the season finale but quite possibly the farewell performance of Coughlin’s 12-season tenure as coach of the Giants.
Coughlin explained the timing of the gathering as an annual affair in which the whole family convenes near the Christmas holiday for the Giants’ final home game.
But son-in-law Chris Snee, the former Giants guard whose name joined the Ring of Honor after his retirement before last season, admitted this reunion had an especially emotional component.
“He’s got a decision to make and the Giants have a decision to make, and we’re all well aware of it,” Snee said.
“But it’s great to have all the kids together and to reinforce what he already knew, that everyone loved him and was behind him. Seeing the smile on his face when he was coming out of the locker room was great.”
Coughlin’s walk back to the locker room after a 35-30 loss to the Eagles that stuck to the script of repeated close losses was less joyful. He offered a perfunctory wave to the fans who remained in the arena where he enjoyed Super Bowl championship seasons in 2007 and 2011 — followed by four straight seasons of failure to make the playoffs.
When the Giants took a 27-21 lead early in the third quarter, it seemed they might give Coughlin one last hurrah, but a tipped-ball turnover (ruled a fumble) — which sometimes seems to be a staple of their offense — turned into an 83-yard touchdown return by Eagles safety Walter Thurmond III as another game unraveled.
“The frustration continues,” Coughlin said to the media. “You’ve got your questions prepared for what direction I’m going in, but I’m not going to be answering anything about that. There will be time for that.”
Despite reports that he will retire, the 69-year-old coach insisted no decision has been made. “I’m going to give myself a little bit of time,” Coughlin said. “I’m sure we’ll talk with ownership, and then we’ll go from there.”
Coughlin noted the similarity of this game to seven previous losses by six or fewer points in this 6-10 season, saying, “Finishing has been very difficult for this team, and you see it here.”
The failure of a Super Bowl-winning coach to make the playoffs the next four seasons is unprecedented. But many would suggest general manager Jerry Reese and the personnel department failed to provide adequate talent.
Snee said he doesn’t know if his father-in-law has made a decision, but he shook his head about all the close losses and said, “I think he and the whole staff did an incredible job with a roster depleted by injuries but also deficiencies in certain areas.”
When it was suggested that keeping it close so many times with the league’s worst defense bordered on amazing, Snee agreed. “It is,” he said. “I mean, the 32nd-ranked defense and, really, an offense that was one-dimensional. Today, it was great to see [the running game produce 208 yards], but you knew there was Odell [Beckham Jr.], and that was it. So it was tough.”
Coughlin smiled once during the postgame news conference at the mention of the support from his grandchildren. “The kids were all dressed up with the name on the back,” he said. “I don’t know . . . it was neat.”
Still, the notion of Coughlin retiring to a rocking chair without being forced to step down is impossible to accept.
“He loves the game too much,” Snee said. “He loves it. It keeps him going. His fire hasn’t slowed down one bit. He may have even increased his intensity. That, to me, is amazing. We have to hope for the best.”