More Than a Coach

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Twelve years. 102 wins. Two Super Bowls. A few infamous press conferences. This is the legacy coach Tom Coughlin leaves behind in New York. What’s not on his resume are the countless hours spent with his players in cramped rooms at the practice facility and hotels.

Here, eight of Coughlin’s former Giants players tell the stories behind the story.

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Victor Cruz, Giants WR (2011-present)

Anybody who achieves any level of success in life always has that person or group of people who gave them a chance and believed in them.

For me, Tom Coughlin was that guy.

I came to the New York Giants as an undrafted guy who needed to wow the coaching staff to make the roster and live out my NFL dream. I had a great camp, but that’s a small sample size. Coach Coughlin believed in what he saw out there on the practice field, but he also believed in me as a man — that I would work hard to become a fixture on this team and help them win. He took a chance on me.

He was also like a father to me and a lot of other guys. He’s always been there for me, whether I was going through something and needed someone to talk to, or whether I was struggling on the field and just needed to vent. His door was always open, and it was open to everyone, whether you were an undrafted rookie or a team captain.

I remember training camp before my second season. I wasn’t having the best camp. Not bad, but it wasn’t like my rookie camp where I came out of nowhere, was catching everything and made a big splash. I was kind of cruising along and not standing out the way I did as a rookie.

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Then, Coach Coughlin came up to me before practice.

“Come up to my office after practice. I want to talk to you.”

When a coach wants to see you in his office, it’s typically not a good thing. And when I got there, he told me, straight up: “We need you to be the Victor Cruz of a year ago.” I needed to be that explosive guy who’s catching everything and out there to prove to people that he can play. And if I couldn’t, there were guys they were looking at on the waiver wire that they wanted to pick up to help the team win.

As soon as he said that, it clicked in my mind that I needed to make a change. I needed to be a different kind of player. A different kind of athlete. A different kind of man. He told me exactly what I needed to hear to go out there and put my best foot forward and really make a change. And that’s one of the things I respect about him most. He doesn’t sugarcoat. He’ll let you know what he wants out of you and what he expects out of you. And then he does whatever he can to help you get there.

No matter what my career has in store, he’ll always be the guy who took a chance on me and helped me become the player and the man I am today.

For that, Coach, I’ll be forever thankful.

 – Victor Cruz

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Eli Manning, Giants QB (2004-present)

When I first came to the Giants, I saw Tom Coughlin as the “head coach.” That was it. As a rookie, I’d see him at practice with that stern, tough look on his face. I’d see him at games, and he’s fired up. The meetings were all very serious. Maybe he’d smile after a win, but it was all business.

Then all of a sudden, the offseason comes. You see him in the lunch room and he sits down to have lunch with you. He asks about your family and how things are going off the field. He tries to get to know you. He smiles. He laughs. That’s stuff you don’t get to see during the season, because there aren’t many conversations that aren’t about X’s and O’s, game planning and defenses. You just don’t have time for much else.

Now, having spent 12 years with him, we’ve developed a close relationship and a great deal of respect for each other. I respect how he conducted his business, how passionate and determined he was about football and being prepared for every situation, and also how passionate he is about his family. He loves talking about his wife, his children and grandchildren. And I think when you can bring that personal connection to a coach-player relationship, that’s something you don’t always see. He taught me lessons about handling responsibilities. Being professional, being proud. Later, when I got married and had children of my own, he taught me about being a good husband, a good father, and a good man.

The quarterback and the head coach go through a lot of the same pressures. They are more tied to their win-loss record than other players and coaches. And through highs and lows, winning Super Bowls or missing the playoffs, he always dealt with that pressure in a first-class way. He’s been a role model in how he’s handled success and how he’s dealt with failure.

Thank you, Coach, for being that role model to a young quarterback and not only allowing me to grow as a football player and as a man, but by being that example and displaying those characteristics I wanted to emulate. At first, I just saw you as the “head coach.” But since then, you’ve been that and so much more to me and the rest of the guys on this football team. We’ll miss you.

– Eli Manning

Nov 16, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin reacts after New York Giants running back Rashad Jennings (23) failed to convert a fourth-and-one against the San Francisco 49ers during the third quarter at MetLife Stadium. The 49ers defeated the Giants 16-10. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Rashad Jennings, Giants RB (2014-present)

The great Bill Parcells recently said of Tom Coughlin leaving the Giants (and I concur): “It’s a sad day because he’s done such a magnificent job with the Giants … I’m sad, but I’m happy. It’s a new adventure, and there’s another life out there as well. Guys like him always make it work.”

I’ve always been the inquisitive type. I am intrigued with people who have achieved great things; I want to know what makes them tick. There is always so much to learn just by being in their presence. In this business, there is no greater achievement than winning the Super Bowl. And as we know, Tom Coughlin has achieved that milestone not once, but twice as coach of the New York Giants.

When I finally got word that I would be playing for the Giants, it occurred to me that I would not only get to play for, but also get to know, Tom. I couldn’t wait to spend time with him, trying to discover what such an outstanding individual was made of. As I got to know him, I found that one of the secrets to his success was his unwavering commitment to personal excellence, not only for himself but also for every member of his staff and his team.

Something this man said to me will forever be ingrained in my mind; I believe it exemplifies who he is, and is a testament to his resilience, his pride and his excellent leadership:

“Faces may change but expectations never do.”

What he was saying is that no matter who you have to work with, you should always expect nothing less than the best from them. That is Tom’s way, and it’s infectious. It led everyone in the Giants organization to want to give nothing short of 110 percent.

One more thing that will forever stick with me about Tom is what he actually titled his book, Earn the Right to Win. Tom has taught me — like no other coach has — that winners don’t just win games, they deserve to win games because they consistently play to win both on and off the field. He taught me that integrity in preparing for life and for football go hand in hand, and they make you a winner, even when the scoreboard says otherwise.

I will always take that with me.

I will truly miss TC, but I know that whatever he does next, HE WILL MAKE IT WORK!

– Rashad Jennings

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Chris Snee, Giants OL (2004-2013)

The question I always get asked is, What was it like playing for your father-in-law?

And the answer is simple.

It was easy.

It was easy because I respected the hell out of the man, and I still do. He drafted me. He guided me. He showed me what this game is all about and how it should it be played.

He also demanded a lot, which, to those outside the Giants locker room, made him look tough, like he was always being hard on us. But really, all he wanted was for us to have complete trust in each other as men and as teammates. He preached integrity and accountability. He demanded it. And if he hadn’t — and if we as players didn’t respect him enough to deliver on those demands — we wouldn’t have had what it took to win two Super Bowls. That all started with him.

That’s who he is on the field. But there’s probably no better example of the man he is off the field and what he means to his family than what happened this year before the last game of the season.

Every year, we plan a family Christmas at a Giants home game. My wife Kate (Coach Coughlin’s daughter) and I pick a game, and her brother and sister, who live in Florida, fly up with their kids. This year, it happened to be the last game of the season at a time where there was a lot of uncertainty about Coach’s future.

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There are 11 Coughlin grandkids and a 12th on the way, and this marked a rare occasion where they were all together. So before we went to the stadium that day, Kate made up sweatshirts for them. They said “Coughlin’s Crew” on the front and had their names on the back.

When Coach Coughlin came out of the tunnel and saw all the grandkids in their sweatshirts, he lit up. The smile and the emotion that came to his face — on what was to be an already emotional day — was incredible. It’s an image I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.

But us being there that day just reinforced what he already knew: Even at a time of uncertainty, we were all behind him. Everyone in this family loves him. We respect and admire him the same way his players do, just on a different level. We’ve always been with him, and whatever he decides to do next, we’ll be behind him and excited for that, too.

I had total respect for Tom Coughlin as a coach, but even more so as a man. I can’t stress enough how much he’s meant to me and how much he’s responsible for the success I had on the field, but also the man I’ve become off it. I consider myself lucky to have had him as part of my football family, and even luckier to have him as part of my family outside of football.

Thank you, Coach Coughlin, for being an incredible coach — and for being so much more than that.

– Chris Snee

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Justin Tuck, Giants DE (2005-2013)

It was the night before Super Bowl XLVI. We were in a convention room at the team hotel getting ready for Coach Coughlin to address the team — kind of like a night-before pep talk. You know, a fiery speech to give us something to think about when we go back to our hotel rooms and spend hours on end not sleeping because we can’t wait to get on the field the next day.

And that’s how he started off — in his own fiery way, just like we expected.

But then, he kind of mellowed out.

Now, before I tell you what I mean by “mellowed out,” let me give you some history.

I’ll be honest: When I got drafted in 2005 and I got to the Giants, I didn’t like Coach Coughlin that much. He was just all football, all the time. All day, every day. Like he was lacking any kind of personality once he left the football field. And I think that was a sentiment most guys who came through shared.

But over time, he morphed from what we thought was a one-dimensional, football-only coach, to a three-dimensional leader. He started asking us about our families and our off-the-field interests — genuine questions that let you know he truly cared about you as an individual.

I guess it’s different with every guy, but since I was a captain, I got a lot of one-on-one time with him, and that really helped me open up and get to know him — and myself — as a man. Those talks are where he became more of a father figure than a football coach. It was a transition he went through in those first few years with the Giants. And if you were paying attention — which I was — you could see the change in him.

Which brings me back to that hotel conference room in 2011, 24 hours away from Super Bowl XLVI.

Like I said, he started off fiery, but then he mellowed out. And then he went somewhere I don’t think anybody in the room thought he was gonna go.

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He told us that he loved us.

All the guys looked at each other like, What? … Did he just say that? It threw us all for a loop. I mean, we’re a room full of big, tough football players. And typically, guys like that don’t talk about “love.” It just doesn’t fit into that tough-guy mentality.

But that just speaks to how Coach Coughlin morphed over time. I think he tremendously changed from the coach he was in Jacksonville, Boston College and other places he’d been — even changed from the coach he was when I got to New York in ’05.

I’m not saying he went soft — he still worked our butts off and he still demanded greatness and accountability. But over time, he just became something different. He really became more of … I guess a players’ coach.

And when he said that — when he told us he loved us — I think we all looked around that hotel conference room and thought, We’re not playing this Super Bowl for the New York Giants, or for ourselves. We’re playing this game for coach, and we gotta win this game for coach. We can’t disappoint this man.

And we didn’t.

We love you, coach. And thanks for letting us know it’s alright to say that.

– Justin Tuck

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Michael Strahan, Giants DE (1993-2007)

Before Tom Coughlin came to the Giants, I thought of myself as a talented player who’d had a good career, but I was resigned to the fact that I would never win a Super Bowl ring. That didn’t look like something that was a possibility based on my age and where the organization was. It just wasn’t in the cards.

But when he first got here, he told me that it could be different. He said he could take us to Super Bowls if we did things a certain way. Honestly, at first I didn’t trust him, and I don’t know how much he trusted me.

We all heard stories about how strict he was coming from Jacksonville. I don’t think too many of us were looking forward to playing for him when we found out he got the job. The issues I had with his coaching style early on were well-documented. To put it simply, we just weren’t on the same page. More accurately, we were at each other’s throats. Anybody who keeps up with professional sports knows that those inner squabbles that go public have a way of tearing a franchise apart. And usually, one party ends up leaving. That’s just how it works. Machismo usually has a way of winning out.

But Tom Coughlin didn’t let that happen. Instead, he did something that you don’t often find in this business: He changed.

It all started from one big argument I got into with him. I think when we both laid it out there, it was clear that we both wanted to accomplish the same things. We were just coming at it from different perspectives. And from that point on, both our mentalities shifted. He stopped being hung up on whether our socks were too low or our cleats were the wrong color. And we stopped viewing him as a boss, and more like a father who just wanted what was best for us.

We knew something was different when he first started trying to tell jokes at practice. At first we’d all look at each other kind of weirded out, to be honest. Almost like, Who are you and what have you done with Tom Coughlin? We’d all nervously laugh, almost waiting for the other shoe to drop, because when he first got there it was easy to think that guy had never cracked a smile in his life.

But then, slowly, we all realized that he was really trying to be different. And once the team recognized he was making that effort, we all came on board to support him. And then something happened that changed the fortunes of the entire Giants organization: We started having fun.

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In my opinion, Coach Coughlin still doesn’t get enough credit for what he’s accomplished as a coach. You can look at other Super Bowl-winning rosters, and the names will often tell the story about why that team won. But when you take a moment to look through the depth charts of those Giants teams, you don’t stumble across many superstars. That’s because we didn’t have the best players. We had the right players. We were a team.

That goes beyond players. That’s coaching. That’s Coughlin.

I remember him giving a speech in the locker room once, and he recalled a time when I told him that I loved him. And he said that that had surprised him at first – “love” isn’t a word thrown around in NFL locker rooms all that much, particularly between players and coaches — but upon reflection, that’s how he felt too. And he told us that was why he made a point to tell his players that he loved them — because he really did.  

You know, there was a time when the very last thing I thought I would ever say to Tom was that I loved him. But now, that’s the only word to describe how I feel about the man. It’s love. I’m a part of his family and he’s a part of mine.

Every single day when I wake up, my clock is set five minutes early because of Tom Coughlin. I approach every day of my post-football career with love in my heart because of Coach Coughlin. Honestly, I don’t think I would be where I am without him.

As a coach, I’m thankful for Tom for bringing me a ring so I could retire. But as a man, I’m thankful to Tom for more things than you could possibly imagine.

– Michael Strahan

Antrel Rolle, Giants DB (2010-2014)

When you talk to a lot of guys about Coach Coughlin, they talk about him being a father figure, about him taking an interest in their families and what they do with their lives off the field.

With me, it was different. Coach and myself bonded over football.

When I went to the Giants, my relationship with Coach Coughlin, I wasn’t a huge fan. I couldn’t understand why the things he emphasized had anything to do with winning football games. I was thinking to myself that what you wear doesn’t make you a good or bad football player. But everything had to be exactly how he wanted it to be, and there wasn’t much room for negotiating.​

We didn’t see eye to eye on that.

Our relationship grew because he knew that I was a guy who wanted to win at all costs, and I knew he was the same way. Once he saw how I approached practice, how I approached the game and how much the game meant to me, I think he understood that he had a player. I think he knew that once he connected with this player, the outcome was gonna be great.

And I felt the same way.

Once we got on that level, our relationship was phenomenal. He would talk to me about everything. If he wanted a message to get across to the guys, because he knew they respected the way I practiced and the way I played the game, he’d come to me. I became his guy. And as he started to trust me on the field and with the other guys in the locker room, it allowed me to connect with him and really see his character. He was one of the most loyal men I would ever meet playing this game. He became my guy, and I loved him for that.

I guess that’s what makes him great. I think the coaching aspect with Coach Coughlin is a given. Everybody knows he’s a great football coach. But the way he treats his players is what sets him apart. He never throws a player under the bus. He always has his players’ back. He recognizes that every player is different. Like I said, we didn’t always see eye to eye. But we both wanted to win. So I think he changed his approach with me a little bit, as he probably has with a lot of guys. That’s how he became much more than just a football coach, by getting to know his guys and treating them as individuals, not finding guys who fit a certain mold of what he thinks a player should be.

Every player looks for something that stands out about their coach. For myself it was the way Coach Coughlin embraced and loved the less fortunate. We would often have kids come from around the world with the Make-A-Wish foundation. Coach would take extreme pleasure and joy out of that. That meant a lot to me. Moments like that really let me see coach beyond the white lines. He loves people just as I love people. You can see the similarities in our smile. So for me the connection between coach and myself goes far far beyond the game of football. It’s reached the game of life.

Coach Coughlin might not be my coach anymore, but he will always and forever be my friend.

Good luck, coach. I hope we see you on the sidelines again soon.

– Antrel Rolle​

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Steve Weatherford, Giants P (2011-2014)

I have a lot of Tom Coughlin stories, but I’ll tell you two. One that illustrates the man he is off the field, and the other on the field. First, off the field.

I almost died in a car accident.

My wife had just given birth in Southern California to our fourth child. That was on Saturday. The first day of minicamp was Monday. So, after spending some time with my wife and new baby girl (and my other three kids), I caught a Sunday plane to Newark so I could be at minicamp the next day.

Coach Coughlin didn’t tell me I had to be there, but I knew how important it was to him to have 100 percent of his roster at minicamp. So when bad weather hit New Jersey and my plane was rerouted to Washington D.C., I didn’t sit around and wait for the charter bus that was running late to take us to New Jersey. I rented a car and hit the road.

Driving up the New Jersey Turnpike in a Volkswagen Jetta, I ran into a portion of the turnpike where the drainage system had been blocked. There was a pool of standing water about six inches deep, and at 4 a.m. in the darkness, I hit it at about 70 mph. The car hydroplaned three times, smashed into the median and bounced over four lanes of traffic before hitting the guardrail like a pinball machine, launching me back into the middle lane of the highway.

I closed my eyes through the whole thing, thinking, I’m about to die.

Finally, when the car stopped moving, I peeled the deployed airbag off my face, climbed out of the car, left it there on the turnpike and walked to the shoulder of the road to call 911. Just as I pulled my phone out, I heard a big splash. The next car that came up the turnpike was a Nissan Altima, and it hit that same body of water and hydroplaned into my car at about 80 mph.

Not only did I escape death in the first accident, but thank God I wasn’t knocked out, because I almost certainly would have died when that other car smashed into my car at 80 mph.

NJ state troopers came and picked me up and drove me 50 miles to Hoboken. I was close to being late for minicamp, and I had just enough time to change my clothes — I had airbag dust all over my shirt and arms and some blood from some minor scratches — get into my car and drive to the training facility, where I went to our trainer and team doctor and told them what happened and that I needed to get checked.

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They came back and said, We don’t think you should practice today.

Five minutes later, Tom Coughlin came rushing down from his office to my locker. He pulled me out of the locker room and into the hallway and asked me what happened. He had this look of panic on his face — the kind of look I’d have if I got a phone call with bad news, or if something happened to one of my own children.

I told him the story, and as I got to the crash itself, he started to get emotional. He gave me a big hug and said, “I’m so thankful that you’re here. I’m so thankful that you’re healthy.” I’d never seen him like that before …

Then, he turned around and went right back into hardcore Coach Coughlin mode.

That was a very special, emotional encounter that I had with my football coach. Not a lot of guys have that with their coach, and that’s one of the reasons I love the guy like I do. It just shows the kind of man he is and how he cares for his players off the field.

Now, let’s talk about him on the field.

We were in overtime against the 49ers in the NFC championship game. It was 25 degrees, 20 mph winds. As I walked out onto the field with Lawrence Tynes to set up for the game-winning field goal, the field was disgusting. Muddy. It looked like a cow pasture. And we had to find a spot to kick where we’re confident we could get the ball placed and my kicker wasn’t gonna slip on his plant foot.

After a delay of game penalty moved us back five years, we found our spot. I went over to Lawrence Tynes, pointed to the spot and said, “We’re gonna kick this (freaking) football right here and we’re going to the (freaking) Super Bowl!”

Except I didn’t say “freaking.” I said some words I wouldn’t want my mom to hear …

I went over to the sidelines to get a towel to dry my hands off, and Coach Coughlin came over to me. The crowd was going crazy and he had his headset on, so he couldn’t really hear me. But I looked at him and yelled it again. “We’re gonna kick this (freaking) football and we’re going to the (freaking) Super Bowl!”

He just looked at me and tilted his head to the side like a puppy with this confused look, like, What did my punter just say to me? He pulled one of his headphones back and put it behind behind his ear, leaned into my facemask and yelled, “What?”

“We’re gonna kick this (freaking) football and we’re going to the (freaking) Super Bowl!”

He just looked at me and said, “Okay … Just go out there and hold the ball and let’s do our job.”

In that moment, he took my mind away from going to the Super Bowl and put it back on finishing the task at hand. Doing my job. Being focused. And it’s something that I’ll never forget, because when I got out on the field, the long-snapper bounced the snap to me and I had to scoop it out of the mud with my wet hands to get it down for Lawrence Tynes to make the kick and send us to the (freaking) Super Bowl.

Who’s to say I would have been focused enough to execute my job and get that bad snap down if Coach Coughlin hadn’t re-centered my focus on the task at hand?

Lawrence Tynes made the kick, but I was the one on the front page of every newspaper in America the next morning ‚ not because of my hold, but because of my celebration.

Look at that … That’s a feeling I’ll never forget, and I might not have ever had the opportunity to celebrate like that if I hadn’t had that encounter with Coach Coughlin before that kick. It could have easily been the complete opposite feeling.

Thanks, coach, for making me a better leader. A more focused person. A more loving person. A more compassionate person. And for really just giving me the life skills and the ability to persevere through anything that life could throw at me.

I think — no, I know — that the five years I spent with you in New York were the best five years of my life.

– Steve Weatherford

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