Tom Coughlin’s seat isn’t necessarily hot. It’s more like lukewarm heading into the final two games of the NFL season. His bosses don’t want to fire him, and they might use any excuse to keep him.
It’s also possible that they’ll have no choice if he loses his last two games.
That’s the precarious position Coughlin has put himself in with two games to go in the Giants’ season gone wrong, which started at 6-2 and is now in the throes of what Justin Tuck called an “historical” collapse. They are 1-5 in the second half, coming off a hideously pathetic, 23-10 loss to the Washington Redskins. They head into their Christmas Eve showdown against the Jets, facing humiliation and possible elimination.
Coughlin can still survive. There’s a possibility he can even survive if this injury-riddled team doesn’t make the playoffs. But what he can’t survive is the spectre of his team quitting on him down the stretch, the way they did two seasons ago. When they pushed the Green Bay Packers to the final minute and followed that up with a season-saving win in Dallas, it sure didn’t look like they had any quit in them.
Now? Who knows? They’ve been a Jekyll and Hyde team all year long. They’re certainly capable of completely unraveling down the stretch.
And if they do, John Mara and Steve Tisch, the stability-loving owners of the Giants, could be forced into making the decision they don’t want to make. They love Coughlin. They admire his work ethic and preparation. They believe (correctly) the post-2006 version is respected by his players. His teams, for the most part, play the right way and stay in contention. He runs a tight, disciplined ship that rarely gets any unwanted attention.
Sometimes it’s just time for a change, though. But if Mara and Tisch do it, they better have an answer to these two questions:
Is there somebody out there who is a better coach than Coughlin? Do they really think someone could have done any better with this flawed, battered and overrated team?
If they believe the answers are yes, then the shortlist to replace Coughlin could be an incredibly short one -- and really only two or three of the potential candidates have any real appeal. They’d have to look at all the big names, of course, because it’ll be hard to fire a coach with a ring off a near-playoff season and replace him with an unknown assistant. In Pittsburgh, you can do that and cross your fingers that you’ve found Mike Tomlin. In New York you can’t take the chance that you’ve landed Ray Handley instead.
That said, here’s a look at five of the most popular names being kicked around as candidates, mostly outside of the organization. One look at this list, though, and the conclusion might be that if these are the guys on the shortlist, the Giants are better off with what they already have:
He’s No. 1 on everyone’s list outside the organization and he’s likely high on the theoretical list inside, too. He not only has a Super Bowl ring – which seems like a must when you’re replacing a Super Bowl-winning coach -- but he has a high profile and he worked for the Rooney family in Pittsburgh, which isn’t insignificant given the Rooney’s close (and family) ties to the Mara’s. He would bring instant stability, respect, credibility and he can coach, too.
Maybe the only other candidate that fits the Giants’ profile. He coached for a long, long time in Tennessee and showed a remarkable resiliency. Whenever his teams seemed to be on a downward spiral, he found a way to turn things around. He never won a Super Bowl, but he got there (and got within a yard of winning it). Mara also knows him well from their years serving together on the NFL’s Competition Committee. The only worry is that his long term in Tennessee included a battle with a general manager and ended with him fighting with his owner over a franchise quarterback he didn’t want.
He’s the last of the Big Three on the market – the three replacement coaches the fans seem to talk about most – but he seems to be the least likely. He certainly can coach, but he brings some baggage that includes the ugly end of his tenures in both Oakland and Tampa Bay. There wasn’t a lot of winning near the end in Tampa, either. But the thing that might frighten the Giants away the most is that he’s outspoken and a bit high-octane. They prefer a more quiet, professional perception of their coach.
There was a time when many people assumed he’d be the next coach of the Giants when Coughlin retired, and the Giants’ owners still like and respect “Spags.” He might even be a candidate to return as defensive coordinator if Coughlin stays and fires defensive coordinator Perry Fewell (which seems to be a longshot). The problem with Spagnuolo as head coach is the Giants can’t fire a Super Bowl-winning coach and replace him with a lesser coach who failed to win in St. Louis in the wide-open NFC West.
OK, they’re probably not going to hire a 64-year-old coach to replace a 65-year-old coach. But you know why he makes sense? Because he fits the Giants’ profile. Their hires over the last 30 years have either been high-profile head coaches from elsewhere (Dan Reeves) or former Giants assistants they got to know and respect while they were in New York (Bill Parcells, Ray Handley, Jim Fassel, Tom Coughlin). Things have changed in the organization – most notably ownership, because this would be the first hire since Wellington Mara and Bob Tisch passed away – but Crennel did get an interview when the Giants hired Coughlin and could get a look again. Of course, he’d only be a short-term solution, and he might end up as the head coach of the Chiefs. But he does fit the old profile, and since John Fox and Sean Payton have jobs and will keep them, very few other candidates do.
By RALPH VACCHIANO