Tom Coughlin: Legend of a Patriots Boogeyman

Published: 1/17/2018 7:58:33 PM
Modified: 11/12/2008 3:10:12 PM

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — They call him the Boogeyman.
But Tom Coughlin isn’t exactly the Boogeyman. He is the one you send to kill the Boogeyman. He is a man of commitment, sheer will. We once saw him beat Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay with a sub-zero wind chill and a kicker who missed twice from inside of 44 yards. We saw him win two Super Bowls with Eli Manning. Eli. Manning.
Then suddenly, one day, he was asked to leave. Something about believing in the general manager, of course. So, they made a deal with him. They asked him to do an impossible task. A job no one could have pulled off. They asked him to make the Jacksonville Jaguars good. The teams he buried — the Buffalo Bills and the Pittsburgh Steelers — have laid the foundation for where we are now. Tom Coughlin is back. Angrier than if you’d stolen his car and killed his dog.
In what can only be called the greatest harbinger of doom since the Patriots traded Jamie Collins, Coughlin makes his inevitable return this week to lay waste to the Pats and their head coach, who has always been powerless against him. How important is Tom Coughlin to the AFC Championship? Well, name one game that hasn’t come down to the match-up between one team’s head coach and the other team’s executive vice president of football operations. Exactly. You can’t.
Do you doubt that Tom Coughlin is the Jaguars' unyielding totem whose very presence on the payroll assures Jacksonville a victory in Sunday’s AFC Championship game? Well, maybe you haven’t considered this: As a coach, Coughlin has a lifetime 5-2 lifetime record against Bill Belichick by the decisive average margin of less than one field goal. But in the postseason, Coughlin has been even better, winning all two of his games against Belichick’s Patriots by an average of 3.5 points (i.e. slightly more than one field goal). Chew on that for a while.
Now that your sense of security has been shattered, you’re probably rethinking everything. You’re probably aborting all flights to Minneapolis. You’re checking your AirBNB cancelation policy, praying it’s not, “strict.” Mostly, you’re probably wondering what exactly does an executive vice president of football operations do? Well, obviously, when that executive vice president of football operations is Tom Coughlin, he does everything necessary to outfox Bill Belichick.  
Coughlin’s mastery of Belichick began on the practice fields of those old New York Giants teams in the late 80s when Coughlin was the receivers coach, and Belichick was the defensive coordinator. People who kept practice stats back then knew Coughlin was going places. The Giants’ offense scored on every single practice series against Belichick’s defense. Receivers caught 100 percent of passes thrown to them. They say Belichick won’t even talk about what happened in Cleveland in 1992. That’s when Coughlin’s Boston College team defeated the Browns on their own field, during a hypercompetitive scrimmage that could very well have happened. Bernie Kosar did not survive.
How did Coughlin solve the Belichick riddle? Old school coaching. Keeping it simple. Diligent non-stop preparation for every conceivable outcome. Hard work. Hard nose. Rigid inflexibility. Becoming a player’s coach. Generosity (they say he once shared Grey Poupon with Dennis Eckersley when that blowhard Belichick refused to do the same). Some say it wasn't anything particularly special that Coughlin did. Some say those Giants had the ideal defensive personnel to match up against Brady and the New England offense in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI. Those people might also suggest that Tom Coughlin lacks access to a time machine that would bring Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora to Sunday's game. Those people have no idea what Coughlin is capable of. None.
Can the Patriots reach the Super Bowl with Tom Coughlin executive vice presidenting for the other team? Obviously not. The question isn’t whether the Patriots will lose the AFC Championship, but how many field goals they will lose it by.
Dave Brown is a freelance correspondent who covers the Patriots for the Monitor. You can follow him on Twitter @ThatDaveBrown.

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