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Big Blue Facing a GIANT Coughlin Conundrum

As the 2010 league year commences, the New York Giants find themselves in a significant predicament as they set to open their brand new 1.6 billion dollar home in the swamps of Jersey. In what amounts to be one of the most historic moments for a franchise embodied in steep tradition beginning 85 years ago, the opening of the New Meadowlands Stadium figures to be a rebirth and celebration of Giant glory for every fan, player, coach, and executive. With one exception. Head Coach Tom Coughlin. For him, this grandiose event in NY sports history is not a rebirth but a crowning achievement and a likely conclusion to a storied career.

After delivering on his promise of "restoring NY Giant pride" by bringing home the coveted Lombardi trophy in February 2008, coach Coughlin signed a 4 year contract extension worth roughly $21 million dollars making him one of the top paid football coaches in the world. With two years left on his deal, he will be 64 years old at the start of the coming regular season. In the NFL, head coaches rarely, if ever, coach the final year of their contract and enter a "free agent" type process. Historically, when a head coach has two years left on his contract, at the completion of the first of those two years, the coach is either extended or terminated. Its unlikely Tom Coughlin will be extended at the end of 2010. While its possible he may decide to coach out the final year of his current deal in 2011, it too is extraordinarily unlikely as it could create a season long media distraction focused on who is next in line for one of the most coveted jobs in sports. That's not Coughlin's style. If the fans and media have learned anything about this man over the last 6 years its that he absolutely abhors distractions. Additionally he's humble and likely would grow very uncomfortable with the attention that comes with being a lame duck. What is most likely is that 2010 will be Coughlin's final year as head coach of the New York Giants and quite possibly in the NFL.

Several months back, with the Giants mired in a miserable and difficult end to a terrible 2009 campaign, former Steeler great Jerome Bettis made headlines by predicting that former Superbowl winning coach Bill Cowher would ultimately replace Coughlin in the near future. "I believe he's going to be with the Giants. I think that's the team that he really coveted", Bettis said. "This is where he always wanted to be. The Mara family, he's been very close to them. … He's known them very well and was on the inside track, before the Giants won the Super Bowl, for that job and I think he's holding out for that opportunity if it presents itself". Interestingly, Cowher did not deny Bettis' indication and offered only this in response when pressed on the issue, "“I haven’t talked to Jerome Bettis in two years. I’ll leave it at that". It would be naive to suggest that John Mara and Steve Tisch along with Jerry Reese did not hear Bettis' remarks along with Cowher's sly and calculated retort. Accordingly, its fair to suggest that due to the overwhelming need for a strong presence who promotes long term belief in a system and an environment that bases itself in stability and focus, ownership may have thought twice about wanting Coughlin's return for 2010 and their epic opening of the new stadium. Especially when arguably the best and most qualified strong presence is sitting in the TV studio waiting for the job.

Since taking charge of the team in 2004, Coughlin has amassed a regular season record of 55 wins and 41 losses coupled with a 4-3 post season mark. These numbers are not earth shattering or highly impressive by any means. He certainly will be a very long shot to even be considered for Canton when the day comes. However, there is one thing that he did bring that trumps any win/loss statistic. He brought a magical championship that no one saw coming. His David's slayed Goliath on that night in the desert, etching his name into that steep NY Giant tradition so prominently that he himself is part of what the franchise will celebrate on that September Sunday this year.

-Kenneth Hirsch

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