FOXBOROUGH — This is not going to be easy for Tom Coughlin.
He will probably bang the table a time or two, knock over his drink, spill clam chowder (New England, of course) on his lap and then get up from his seat in the Gillette Stadium press box and do a couple of laps on the concourse to blow off steam and keep himself under control.
Then Sunday’s Jaguars vs. Patriots AFC Championship Game will start.
It’s Bill Belichick vs. Coughlin again (sort of) just two weeks shy of the 10-year anniversary of the Giants incredible upset of the undefeated Evil Empire in Super Bowl XLII. Just to show it was no fluke, the Giants and Coughlin beat Belichick and the Patriots again four years later in Super Bowl XLVI.
Just seven points separate the Patriots from seven trophies.
Superman met his Kryptonite.
“I texted coach Coughlin the other day and I told him I saw a lot of similarities between his Jaguars team and our Giants teams,” Justin Tuck, a two-time Super Bowl champion, told the Daily News.
Coughlin, fired by the Giants after the 2015 season, worked in the NFL office in 2016 and is now the Jaguars vice president of football operations. So, he won’t be down on the sidelines to help his protégé Doug Marrone take down Belichick and Tom Brady. It will be out of his control once the game starts, which is an uncomfortable feeling for a control freak.
So, maybe he will shake Brady’s right hand just a bit firmer to put pressure on his injured right thumb during the pre-game warmups. Or perhaps he can walk around the field prior to kick-off with David Tyree’s helmet under his arm. He can also point to the five Super Bowl championship banners at Gillette and then whip out a picture of the two Lombardis he added to the Giants trophy case and show it to Belichick along with snapshots of his grandchildren.
Now that would be fun.
“Have you watched him?” Tuck said. “It’s not like the booth really contains him. I’ve been watching him go crazy up there. That’s how he is. He cares about the game, he cares about his players. He has passion for the game. Now as an executive he’s bringing the same passion to that role as well. It keeps him young.”
Belichick, 65, and Coughlin, 71, won Super Bowl XXV together as assistants on Bill Parcells’ staff with the Giants. Coughlin was the wide receivers coach and Belichick was the defensive coordinator who also coached the defensive backs. Their units went against each other in practice and they built up mutual trust, respect and admiration.
After the Giants beat the Patriots the second time in the Super Bowl, Belichick embraced Coughlin for what seemed like forever. This past summer, the Jags travelled to Foxborough to practice against the Patriots for a few days. The friendship between Belichick and Coughlin helped set up those sessions and now five months later, their teams face each other with the winner going to Super Bowl LII.
During the time he was in Foxborough in August, Coughlin visited with Belichick and also with New England owner Robert Kraft. Were his two Super Bowl victories discussed? “That really wasn’t brought up,” Coughlin said.
Once the regular season opened, Coughlin no longer granted interviews. He wants Marrone to speak for the team. Belichick gave a typical Belichick response when asked last week if he was concerned about Coughlin’s success against New England. “I look at the team and it’s a strong team,” he said. “They are good in every area. Whoever is doing exactly what down there, you would have to talk to them about that. I don’t know.”
Even so, two years ago, after Coughlin was let go by the Giants, which ended his coaching career, Belichick had lots to say.
“Tom’s had a great career as a head coach and as an assistant coach… He’s been a friend of mine for a long time,” Belichick said. “I have a lot of respect for Tom and his family, the way he approaches his job and the way he coaches. We had had a great relationship at the Giants when we were on the same staff and have had good relationships throughout our respective careers. A lot for him to be proud of and unfortunately a couple of his biggest wins came at our expense. He deserves a lot of credit for all that he’s accomplished in his career.”
At Super Bowl XLVI, before he beat Belichick again, Coughlin said of The Hoodie, “I certainly do admire him and he’s done an outstanding job. He’s an exceptional football coach.”
Coughlin is not coaching the Jaguars, but his imprint is all over the team. That should make Patriots Nation nervous.
All the clocks at the Jaguars facility are set five minutes ahead so the players, of course, will be five minutes early to Marrone’s meetings. If they are three minutes early, they are late and get fined, just as Michael Strahan was in the early years with Coughlin before he bought in and saved himself some money.
Coughlin sits in on the game plan meetings with the coaches and patrols the practice field, although he resists the urge to do any coaching. Surely, he’s given Marrone some advice on how to beat Brady.
The Jaguars were 14-48 in four years with Gus Bradley before he was fired with two games remaining last season. Marrone was 1-1 as the interim coach and Coughlin retained him after he joined the organization in January. Belichick reportedly gave Marrone a strong recommendation. Belichick was 3-1 vs. Marrone when he coached the Bills in 2013-14.
Result: Jacksonville is in the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
Coughlin and Marrone have formed a strong bond — they played at Syracuse generations apart and Coughlin was later an assistant coach for the Orange and Marrone later became the head coach. Marrone has embraced having Coughlin as a mentor; he accepts and seeks his advice and doesn’t seem to mind that players call both him and Coughlin, “coach.”
It will take both of them to come up with a plan to win this game. Even if the Jaguars are built like the Giants with a strong running game (Leonard Fournette), a disruptive pass rush (Calais Campbell, Yannik Ngakoue), tough forces inside (Malik Jackson, Marcell Dareus) and excellent corners (Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye), an inconsistent Eli Manning in his fourth season in 2007 was still way better than Blake Bortles.
But the Jaguars have the pieces to get pressure on Brady, especially right up the middle, which has always given him fits. If Bortles can avoid early mistakes that don’t create a short field for the Jacksonville defense, then the Jaguars can potentially pull off the upset, especially if Brady’s thumb prevents him from slinging the ball.
Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, now an NFL Network analyst, told the Daily News that Coughlin has credibility when it comes to laying a plan for how to beat the Patriots “in this moment.”
Coughlin is the only coach to defeat Belichick in the Super Bowl.
“He can stand up there and say, ‘This is how we beat them. Now look at how we are built. We can beat them,’” Warner said. “There is a level of confidence to be gained from something like that and from having a guy in that building telling you this is how and this is why we can duplicate what I did before. There is something unique about that situation.”
Warner hopes that sometime before kick-off that Coughlin addresses the Jaguars in a group or individual setting. He believes it would give them confidence because he has the two rings to prove the Patriots can be beaten. “I don’t think these young kids that just see Tom Coughlin in this role up there — I don’t think that is going to work,” said Warner, who played for Coughlin with the Giants in 2004. “I think he has to be present with them and a reminder to them like telling Calais, ‘I see so much Strahan in you.’ That kind of stuff just lifts guys.”
Is this special for Coughlin to be going against Belichick again, although from a different perspective?
“I don’t know if he would look at it from that angle,” Chris Snee said. “I think I know who he is. I think he would be more proud of the fact that he helped Jacksonville get to its first Super Bowl if it happens.”
Snee is Coughlin’s son-in-law and another two-time Super Bowl champion with the Giants. He works as a Jaguars scout now. He knows how much those championships meant to the grandfather of his children.
“It certainly completed him in the eyes of everyone,” Snee said. “Everyone knew he was a good football coach. Everyone knew how his teams were going to play and be coached. Like any coach or quarterback, their stamp is winning the Super Bowl and big games. Winning those two Super Bowls cemented him in the eyes of everyone else. If you polled players who played for him, they would tell you he is a helluva football coach without those two Super Bowls. I’m proud to say I’m a two-time Super Bowl champion. It’s so hard to achieve.”
Coughlin will always think like a coach, but he has made a successful transition to the front office, a role that Parcells in Miami and Mike Holmgren in Cleveland did not enjoy. As the first coach of the expansion Jaguars when they joined the NFL in 1995, Coughlin lost two AFC title games, the first one to Parcells and Belichick in 1996 when they were in New England.
Belichick is not going to be intimidated by going against another Coughlin team, although it would not be surprising if he went back to look at the old Super Bowl tapes.
“If nothing else, I’m sure there is a huge mutual respect,” former Jags QB Mark Brunell said. “They are two of the best who have ever done it.”
You have to wonder if Coughlin was able to get through airport security this weekend with the Kryptonite.
Send a Letter to the Editor