For Tom Coughlin it has been about people.
The goal has been to win football games, but the greater responsibility has been developing people along the way.
“It is our duty to equip these men with the virtues that will last a lifetime. The values like honesty, trust, responsibility, respect, service and integrity, those are the things that we teach in addition to the football,” he said, addressing the media the day after announcing his resignation as the New York Giants head football coach.
About 30 miles away, Stephen Boyd cried as he watched Coughlin speak. Boyd, a former two-time Pro Bowl linebacker for the Detroit Lions and current head football coach at Chaminade High School in Mineola, N.Y., played for Coughlin at Boston College.
“If my college coach was here, right now, and asked me to jump over this building, I’d at least start climbing up the side of it,” he said.
Coughlin arrived at Boston College in 1991 after winning Super Bowl XXV with the Giants as the team’s wide receivers coach. After four losing seasons, Boston College needed a culture change. Coughlin brought it. He told the Eagles they’d be tough and the best conditioned team in the country. Immediately he created a sense of urgency to get things done the right way. Winter conditioning was grueling and players left the team.
“Listen, it wasn’t easy, but he got the most out of all of us,” Boyd said in an interview Friday.
The reason Boyd said he would climb a building for Coughlin is based on the trust established in their relationship.
“He’s going to do everything he said he’s going to do and he expects the same from you. You trust he’s asking you to do things for the right reason and you’re only going to get to where you want to go.”
Boyd also knew Coughlin cared about him. It happened when Boyd returned to Boston College for his sophomore year. Two weeks earlier, Boyd’s mother had been in a car accident. When Coughlin saw Boyd his first question: why didn’t you call me? Followed by, what do you need?
“He just had this look of concern. I saw a different side of him.”
Boyd echoed sentiments shared last week by so many players Coughlin had guided.
“He held you to such a high level of accountability because he wanted the best for you,” Boyd said.
Phil McConkey was the first to introduce the Giants to Coughlin. McConkey, an undersized, overachieving free agent who had made the Giants after serving in the U.S. Navy, was cut going into the 1986 season. Before being reacquired by the Giants, he spent the first month of the season with the Green Bay Packers where Coughlin was his wide receiver coach.
“Now, remember with my background: military, father was a Buffalo cop, (Bill) Parcells and (Bill) Belichick,” McConkey said. “These were very demanding people. Nobody was more demanding than Tom Coughlin.”
Still, McConkey said he was left with the experience that Coughlin cared about him.“He had a side that was compassionate; it wasn’t as overt then as it is now.”
When McConkey made it back to the Giants he told Parcells about the Packers’ wide receiver coach. Parcells hired Coughlin as a Giants assistant in 1988.
In 2004, Coughlin’s first year as the Giants head coach, McConkey brought a guest to the team’s training camp. George Bodine had played football at Syracuse when Coughlin was a graduate assistant coach for the Orange. Bodine never figured Coughlin would remember an underclassman who had yet to become a letter winner. McConkey attempted to make the reintroduction, but it wasn’t necessary. Coughlin extended his hand first and asked George, by name, how he was doing.
“I mean more than 40 years later. Just unbelievable,” said McConkey, who is now the president of Academy Securities.
At that final press conference with the Giants, Coughlin said as he grew in the coaching profession, relationships became the primary objective in his career.
“While the two Super Bowl trophies right out here are incredible accomplishments, and I’m very proud of them, don’t get me wrong, I believe it is the unbreakable bond between coach and player that defines me as a coach.”
Everyone saw this on display. Prompted by a question asking what his message would be to quarterback Eli Manning, Coughlin said Manning would handle the situation. He said Manning is who you’d want your son to be. Then the coach directly addressed his quarterback, who had spent part of the press conference with his lip quivering, emotionally moved by the farewell scene.
“He thinks he’s the reason. He’s not the reason. Eli, it’s not you, it’s not you. It’s us. We win, we lose together. When we lose, I lose. When we win, you guys win. That’s the way it is. That’s the game. I know what it is. I got the game. I got it.”
Now, according to multiple reports, Coughlin is expected to interview for the Philadelphia Eagles head coaching vacancy.
When – and if – he coaches again, it’ll be about the people, just like it has been.