Q&A: Tom Coughlin on the 2022 Giants, Eli Manning’s Hall of Fame case and more


The interview was scheduled for 9:15 a.m. Naturally, my phone rang at 9:10. Tom Coughlin was on the other line, still as fastidious about punctuality as ever. Only the former Giants coach is no longer fining players for tardiness to meetings. Now, he’s promoting “A Giant Win,” a book about the Giants’ improbable Super Bowl 42 upset of the Patriots.

Coughlin spoke about that magical 2007 season, his relationship with quarterback Eli Manning, his own Hall of Fame candidacy and the current Giants in a wide-ranging interview. The interview was edited for brevity and clarity:

Why did you write this book?

I wrote the book because it’s coming on 15 years and because I think that it’s the greatest Super Bowl of all-time, it’s certainly the greatest upset of all-time. And because of the circumstance within our nation — COVID, inflation, recession, whatever you want to call it — we’ve all been knocked on our butts. We’ve all been down and had to get back up off the floor. No matter what your economic status is, it still happens to you. This book is one of hope, and it’s one of inspiration. It’s a story about a coach that almost got fired and a quarterback who was constantly doubted. It’s a story of a team that stays together.

What was it like to re-live that season?

I enjoyed it very much because we went into great detail. I would look at drives and look at plays and talk about why and how and what the circumstances were surrounding that call. You’re always reflecting on one or two things, but you’re never reflecting on the entire game and the circumstances that led up to it and all the details that went along with being in Arizona for the Super Bowl.

The fun part for me was just thinking about we won 10 games that year and nobody gave us a chance to win any of the playoff games. It’s interesting because Fox had the Super Bowl with Troy Aikman and Joe Buck, but the Fox Sunday group of experts, not a one of them ever picked us to win any game — Tampa, Dallas, Green Bay and, again, the Super Bowl. That’s always been a great thing for me because I’ve always been challenged by the idea of, ‘Tell me I can’t do something.’ And that’s kind of the persona that our team took.

You and quarterback Eli Manning are forever linked. Can you describe that relationship?

Obviously over a 12-year period, you share an awful lot with Eli. It was great. When he and Abby started a family, we were there for that and that all continues. But the ups and the downs, and the decision when to play him as a rookie. Kurt Warner won the job and started the season and we were 5-3 at one point, but we got into a point where I didn’t think we were going anywhere. We played the Arizona Cardinals out there and after that I made the move and Mr. Mara came down to me right after and he said, ‘You know, we think alike.’

It was a difficult start for any rookie. The speed of the game, the idea of each rookie quarterback is going to be tested and blitzed. You remember those back-to-back Baltimore, Washington games. The crazy number of pressures, and it got frustrating for Eli. It wore him down. He was very ineffective, didn’t play well. Then when you can share something as we were able to share, the whole Super Bowl run. Going through all of those kinds of things does make you closer.

You mentioned that Eli was constantly doubted. At any point before the 2007 season did you have any doubt that he would turn into the quarterback he became?

No, because, remember, we won 11 games the year that he started the whole year his second year. We didn’t always have the best games, and we had to overcome an awful lot of things. But when you saw Eli’s eyes when he went on the field with 2:39 to go, we’re down against the Patriots in the Super Bowl, that, to me, is the definition of determination.

Eli obviously played his best on the biggest stage. As a coach, is that something you believe in, that the best players raise their game in the biggest moments?

That’s basically what it is: It’s be at your best when your best is needed. And that’s exactly what he did. He’s got to be looked at as one of the greatest big-game quarterbacks in the history of the NFL if you really look at the things that were accomplished during the times that they were accomplished under the circumstances that we played. Whatever you take — you take Super Bowl 46, you take Super Bowl 42 — he makes a huge play in both of those of games at the right time to give us a chance to win. I do take personal offense when people try to make light of David Tyree’s catch, saying it was lucky. That wasn’t luck. Then that play to Mario Manningham in Super Bowl 46, that’s one of the great passes of all-time in the Super Bowl.

In a few of years, 49 voters will determine if Eli will go into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Do you believe he’s a Hall of Famer?

Yes, I do. Without a doubt. Two Super Bowl wins against the greatest team in the history — in Super Bowl 42 we played against the greatest offensive team in the history of the National Football League; Tom Brady, the best quarterback in the history of the game; Bill Belichick will go down as the greatest defensive mind/head coach in the history of the game for his accomplishments. To go against them twice and to be voted MVP twice in the games, those are the things.

Certainly there’s losses. I wish I could change that, but I can’t change all of those. We also had bad teams. I’m not going to say we didn’t. He played with some bad football teams. You have to take a lot of things into consideration, but you can’t win unless you’re in it. And look at the point at which he was put in position, we were against all odds, we won and we did it twice.

How about yourself? Do you ever think about the Hall of Fame for you?

No. It would be a great honor, but I don’t have anything to do with that. One of my good friends, Dick Vermeil, was just voted into the Hall of Fame, and I shared that with him, along with Tony Boselli, who was the first player I ever drafted here in Jacksonville. I enjoyed that very much. It’s a prestigious group, and if you ever are in anything, you’re in it to be the best you can be. I remember when I first thought about being a coach in the NFL, the attraction for me, quite honestly, was to coach against the great minds in the world in the game of football, and I was able to do that.

If you can rise to the top of the game, I was an assistant coach in 1990 with the New York Giants when we won Super Bowl 25 and been blessed to be a part of Super Bowl 42, Super Bowl 46. That certainly would be a part of my résumé and, quite frankly, I challenge anybody to take an expansion team over the way we did here (Jacksonville) and start from scratch, which I did. I was also in charge of personnel in those days. I had personnel and coaching, so I hired everybody that touched football, whether they be in training room staff, the weight room staff — you name it, I hired them. I’m proud of that, too.

As far as the current Giants, what do you think the job Brian Daboll has done? What’s your relationship like with him?

Brian has been very good to us because the New York Giants continue to have a great interest in the Jay Fund Foundation. Brian has been great about that. We had a nice lunch last spring with Daniel Jones and Brian and Eli and a group of people that paid for an auction item. We had a lot of fun with that. I’ve enjoyed talking to Brian on occasion. I think Brian’s done an outstanding job. He certainly has a team that believes in him and is playing hard for him. I’m excited for them to be in the position they’re in here in December.

I heard you addressed the team last week. What was your message?

The overall message is tradition and just thinking through hard times and good times and sharing them and letting the players know that in New York, if you order a vanilla milkshake, 50 percent of the people are criticizing and the other 50 percent might think it’s a good idea. You’ve got to fight your way through some things. You can’t let that get you down. And recognizing the great Giant franchise, the red, white and the blue, and being in a tremendous division — it’s right back to where it seemingly was always with all teams competing for a spot in the playoffs. So there’s a lot to put your arms around as a Giant now.

They have a big game against Washington on Sunday. Did you ramp up your motivational speeches before a game like this?

Always. Brian will do the same thing. I had a great team of people that I called my ‘upstairs team’ that we would research all summer, we would come up with great themes and we would back it up with video, speeches — whatever it might be. I’d always spend the summer reading what I thought were classics. Reading about the great heroes of World War 2 — Churchill, Eisenhower, FDR — just so that you had information to share historically. I’m a teacher and not just an X’s and O’s guy. I always tried to teach my players about life and life’s lessons and virtues and values and family and that type of thing. There’s always information, and there’s always a way to do it, and I’m sure that the use of those different means of inspiration are always used. I’m sure Brian is reaching down into his bag of tricks right now.

I know you’ve been through a lot personally recently, but what’s next for you?

I don’t know. I’ve got to work it out. I’ve got to get into a routine I can count on. I’ve always been one of those. I like routines. I think after the holidays I’ll be able to do that. I’ll be able to get to where there’s a specific time for my exercise and other things. Then I’m going to be broad in terms of what my thoughts are and what maybe I can contribute to. I’ve still got all kinds of energy, all kinds of enthusiasm. This project with the book was very helpful. Greg Hanlon and I working together. It did, in a very small way, give me something to do other than my caregiver role. That helped to balance mentally some of my emotions and energy. I would like to have some thoughts about ways in which I can continue to contribute somehow, whether it be in some capacity with some team, not necessarily officially, but unofficially, if that’s what would be.

(Photo: Rich Schultz / Getty Images)


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