coughlin.windThe day after the last day of the NFL regular season is known as “Black Monday”. It’s the day when typically no less than five NFL head coaches get their walking papers. Every NFL team ownership group makes promises to their fans that they can’t deliver on. Typically, the words are “we’re going to put the best possible product on the field.” And, “we are going to be competitive and make our city proud”. Inevitably, after the pledge to the community has failed, the axe comes down on the coach.

One of the “Black Monday” casualties this week was Tom Coughlin, the New York Giant head coach for the last 12 years. Technically, the two parties “mutually agreed to part” and Coughlin resigned, but this was the dignified way of telling everyone that he was fired. The Giants won two Super Bowls during his tenure, but were 6-10 the past two seasons – the primary reason for his dismissal. We would all do well to be “relieved of our duties” the way that Coughlin was. The tone at the press conference in New York after his firing feels more like a celebratory old episode of “This Is Your Life” than the somber tone that accompanies most of these types of announcements.

Coughlin was afforded the opportunity to address the New York media and thank the Giants and the city for the past 12 years, not something that fired people get to do (or would ever want to do). Most of us long time NFL fans would be surprised to hear that Coughlin would have even wanted to face the media upon being fired.  He’s been coaching in the NFL since the 80s, and has long been known as a bit of a curmudgeon (tough to get close to, a hard-ass disciplinarian, not a “players coach”).

The New York media and those who know Coughlin best though, know a different guy. There was not a dry eye in the room on Tuesday when he spent the first five minutes of his speech thanking every extended member of the Giants’ organization by name. The coach that brought the city two Super Bowls this century (and beat Tom Brady both times) won’t ever have to pay for a meal again in any of the five boroughs. Particularly moving were Coughlin’s words to his quarterback Eli Manning:

Hard-asses get a bad rap sometimes. They’re not seen as typically capable of extending forgiveness, or being empathetic or sentimental. That has been Coughlin’s reputation, and in his speech, he makes it clear why he is the way he is. “There’s a higher value than winning, and it’s team.” That sounds a little too much like coach Taylor on Friday Night Lights talking, but Coughlin means it. It’s tough to be warm and fuzzy and still get everyone rowing in the same direction. When the group then starts to underperform, the leader pays the price. “When we lose, I lose”. Coughlin won in the hearts and minds of many this week as he graciously absorbed the penalty for those under his charge.

Sam Freedman at The New Yorker wrote a nice piece on the Coughlin/Eli relationship this week. The full press conference is worth watching: