Here's an angle on Sunday's game between the 3-4 Eagles and the 1-6 Giants that is beyond the normal implications of a divisional match— Giants head coach Tom Coughlin could be fired if his team loses.
It seems impossible to me that you would scapegoat your multiple Super Bowl winning coaching for one bad season and some terrible personnel decisions from higher up… but that is the emotional reality of the Giants' organization and their fan base culture right now.
Coach Coughlin is on a very short leash right now in the collective New York state of mind.
“We’re excited and happy about beating the Vikings this past Monday,” Coughlin said. “But quite frankly, we’re back to work and need to focus on a divisional game with Philadelphia."
These Giants still want more than one more victory, and they’re not ready to head for the Jadeveon Clowney sweepstakes just yet. Safety Antrel Rolle, in his paid weekly WFAN spot, said it was a “wonderful feeling” to finally taste victory again, and then, as he often does, he set a lofty goal for the Giants.
“I think the pressure is on more now than ever,” he said. “In my eyes, we have to win out. We have to win out. We dug a pretty good hole for ourselves, and we have to fight like hell to get out.”
To Coughlin, it’s “much easier” to fight now, after a win, than it was during the losing streak. It will be easier to point out mistakes — and there were many of those on Monday night — because players will be ready to listen. And that's an important point, because it illustrates the psychological component of coaching in the NFL. If your players feel they have more to gain by slacking off in effort instead of buying into a coaching message to work harder and get better, you are coaching a losing team. The trick is to keep your players focused on the possibility that they can attain greatness by working harder and getting better. And "greatness" is usually a combination of team wins and personal stats.
“You can compliment, and then you can correct,” Coughlin said. “The compliments go along with the objective, which is winning, and then you can go into the details of how you are going to improve.”
Coughlin praised the Giants' pass rush against the Vikes, which was routinely in Josh Freeman’s face, saying that the defensive line, backed by a rejuvenated Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul, took “steps forward.” He also praised the Giants' rushing attack, simply because its 32 carries (for a paltry 64 yards) created the illusion of offensive balance.
But the coach was hardly pleased with the play of his special teams, which made mistakes that easily could have cost the Giants the game. Early in the third quarter, Rueben Randle had taken off on a punt return, only to have the ball knocked loose and recovered by the Vikings at the Giants’ 31. A Rolle interception snuffed out the Minnesota drive, but Coughlin still called Randle’s fumble an “obvious fundamental error.”
The coach seemed even more annoyed about the 86-yard punt return TD his team allowed to Marcus Sherels, the third punt return TD Big Blue has allowed this season, pointing out that the Giants’ players were trailing the Vikings during the entire play, completely forgot to guard the sideline, and were “not necessarily in very good position.
“We just didn’t cover well,” Coughlin said.
Fans in general can accept that kind of explanation of failure as long as their team wins the game. But if the Eagles beat the Giants in Philly this Sunday, no such honesty from Coughlin will be tolerated.
An Eagles victory on Sunday will have the Giants' fan base calling for Coughlin's dismissal.
But how unrealistic is blaming the head coach for a losing trend? After all, a coaching change alone rarely has a dramatic effect on a team with personnel problems. Which is, of course, exactly what the 1-6 Giants have— personnel problems..
"So maybe Tom Coughlin decides, at 67, he doesn’t have the energy to oversee the rebuilding process in East Rutherford. Maybe Giants' ownership, angry at how quickly this team has gone from parade to parody, will quietly nudge him in the [retirement] direction behind closed doors." — Steve Politi, Newark Star-Ledger
A lot of drama unfolding in this one…
It is clear that something will change if the Giants bottom out in 2013, because the NFL is a results-driven business.
But anybody who thinks a new voice in the meeting rooms and on the sidelines is all that separates the Giants from a return to the top of the NFC East standings is kidding themselves.
This is a cautionary tale for the Jets, too, should things go south now for Rex Ryan in his make-or-break season. It’s easy to fire a coach in the NFL, but rarely does that make an immediate impact. It's mostly about the quality and the motivation to excel of your personnel.
Look at the Eagles. Look at Tampa Bay, where Greg Schiano foolishly left his lifetime appointment at Rutgers to coach in Tampa. The Buccaneers were bad under players’ coach Raheem Morris, so ownership did what ownership usually does — it hired the polar opposite of Morris in taskmaster Schiano.
After Thursday night’s 31-13 loss to the Panthers, Schiano is 0-7 this season with many of the same players who made him look good early last year. Now losing 11 of his last 12 games, it appears the support of the Tampa community has been lost, too. A billboard with the words "FIRE SCHIANO" over simmering flames on ESPN-TV is just the latest example of that… But if the axe falls, the new guy should keep his résumé updated. The Bucs have an inferior overall personnel problem.
Schiano had a promising start at 6-4 last fall, but it’s clear from this season that his approach at Rutgers isn’t working in the NFL. But bad teams make good coaches look bad more often than bad coaches make good teams look bad.
Coughlin, we know, is not a bad coach. Has he made mistakes on the sideline this season and in the past? Yes. Could he benefit from changes to a system, especially on offense, that’s gotten stale? Yes.
But he is still the same coach who won those two Super Bowls. The disappearance of the Giants pass rush, the ever-changing (and deteriorating) personnel at running back and the sudden inability of receiver Hakeem Nicks to catch the ball haven’t helped Coughlin's mission to perpetuate a winning legacy..
Eight teams changed coaches after the 2012 season. Those eight teams are a combined 27-29 so far in 2013, with only one of them looking dramatically improved from a season ago.
That one team is Kansas City, where the 2-14 Chiefs from a year ago are 7-0 under Andy Reid — the coach that Kelly replaced in Philadelphia — and it proves the point more than refutes it. Had the Eagles really tuned out Reid? Or were they (the players) just not good enough anymore?
Here's a New York fan's perspective [and no, it's not Sunny!!!]—-"Just changing the head coach is usually not enough to change a team's fortunes, unless the roster was stacked with talent and the incumbent coach was completely inept. This Giants team has major holes at OL, LB, CB, RB and needs an infusion of talent. Having said that, the current coaching staff is not using the available talent to its best level. Gilbride's offense is very cerebral and requires the WR and QB to be on an almost Zen-like level of communication – which would've been difficult even 20 years ago when teams could keep all their talent year in and year out. In this era of free agency, it's impossible to keep all your good players and improve your deficiencies at the same time, so something has to give. The Giants have had Nicks for 3 seasons and Cruz for 2 – the resulting effect being the 3rd WR and the rest of the offense sometimes looks lost. The line stinks, and there is little threat of a running game. I understand that – but if the WR has to guess, mid-route, what the QB may or many not want him to do, then the system may be too complex. Kevin Gilbride likes his system and will not change, so its up to Tom Coughlin to make a change in OC—and immediately. If not – he may be gone himself. "
And you thought we were tough on our head coaches in Philly?!!