Tom Coughlin’s team did something that has not happened under his tenure. The New York Giants quit. They had no interest in being there in a game that many expected to be an emotional win for the Giants’ beloved coach.
A simple explanation of Coughlin’s potential departure would be his brother’s death, but there are likely other significant factors as well. Without personally knowing Coughlin it is hard to know whether a tragedy like that is better soothed at work or at home, so I will not speculate further.
On the other hand, Coughlin’s decision will be unambiguously influenced by both his age and his locker room. Coughlin is 67 years old and the oldest coach in the NFL. He has coached either professional or college football for almost 30 years. Few NFL coaches can last past 65 for a multitude of reasons. Constant travel and spending all day outside working with players is hard enough, but being an NFL coach furthermore entails many long nights of studying other teams. Older coaches certainly have invaluable experience, but they still need to analyze new approaches that teams are taking and to adjust their past beliefs. It is not a job that gets easier with time; in fact it may get harder. Regardless of Coughlin’s decision this year he will retire relatively soon as coaching past 70 may simply be unsustainable in the modern NFL.
Additionally, he has lost his team. There are many reports that the locker room has had severe infighting and that many players have lost the will to play for one another. While situations like this may arise through no fault of the coach, it is nonetheless the coach’s job to fix them. After a 0-3 start and a beat down in Carolina, though, Coughlin may have missed his chance to nip it in the bud. If the team’s frustrations start to snowball then Coughlin’s words and presence will lose meaning quickly. When coaches lose control the best solution is often to bring in a new face. The Giants organization will be slow to fire Coughlin, but Coughlin himself may realize it is time for him to leave.
Oddly enough the recent calling by Giants’ fans for the firing of the offensive and defensive coordinators illustrates the depth of their love for Coughlin. Coughlin has often been close to losing his job, only to soon thereafter win a Super Bowl. Giants fans trust Coughlin even when the team seems poorly coached as it did Sunday.
Coughlin is under contract through 2014 and he will not be pushed out the door, but at his old age he may want to leave a locker room that cannot get its act together.