Tom Coughlin is no ordinary vice president.
He’s executive VP of football operations for the Jacksonville Jaguars — where, as a head coach over two decades ago, he put an expansion team in the AFC championship game in just its second season. He’s also the former head coach of the New York Giants, where he won two Super Bowls and pulled off one of the game’s biggest upsets by stunning unbeaten New England in Super Bowl XLII.
But that was then, and this is now … and now Tom Coughlin no longer coaches. And if you think he’s going to miss the hands-on routine of that demanding job, well, you’re getting warm.
“This is a new and different experience for me,” he said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast, “and, quite frankly, something I’m going to have to learn when to keep my mouth shut and when to interject what I see and hope that I can affect whatever I see in a very positive way.”
That may be more difficult than it sounds — especially with someone like Coughlin, who loved teaching players and walking the sidelines and who didn’t leave coaching voluntarily. Immensely popular with Giants’ fans, he was nevertheless fired after the 2015 season and spent the past year working in the NFL as a senior advisor to football operations.
“I’m going to miss that a whole lot,” he said of coaching. “But probably more than that I’ll miss the interaction that I came to enjoy with the players, my fellow coaches, et cetera, et cetera — the preparation part of it, the competitive nature of the game, the competitive nature and instincts of the individual, the game circumstances, the situations that come up, trying to put your hands on and help guide young men in a lot of different capacities and ways.
“And, certainly, during the course of a 60-minute NFL game when the games are on the line and when the difference between winning and losing is so minute that the interjection of a good idea and a good thought and a well-timed decision can mean winning and losing. I’m going to miss all of that stuff. But I’m going to try to stay as involved as I can and try to put myself in a position where I can help as much as I can.”
Thomas Wolfe once wrote You Can’t Go Home Again, but Coughlin is proof that maybe Wolfe was wrong. In Jacksonville, he returns not only to where he lives but to where he enjoyed great success as the Jaguars’ first head coach. Only now he’s not the team’s head coach; he’s someone who can serve as a sounding board for coach Doug Marrone.
“Doug has welcomed and asked many, many questions,” he said, “about what I thought about this, what I thought about that, and so on and so forth, as we shape our offseason and training camp and move on toward the 2017 season.”
One of those questions involved what to do with quarterback Blake Bortles, who slumped last season, with the Jaguars responding by picking up his fifth-year option. Coughlin was supportive of the move and explained why.
“He’s a very talented young man, I can tell you that,” he said. “I’ve been on the practice field, and I’ve watched him with a very keen eye, trying to assess just that. It was strictly a very good strategic move by the Jaguars to pick up his option, and it was a very good move for Blake as well.
“What we’ve been able to do is do some things which theoretically could help our team going forward — for example, the tags will be available to us, et cetera, et cetera, (and) our negotiating start-point … should Blake have a great year … would be where we are now with the option. So those things are all, we thought, a very good strategic reason for picking up Blake’s option.
“He has really improved his mechanics. He’s worked hard in the off-season. He’s worked hard right here on our practice field as we’ve been outside working. And we’re addressing a lot of things that will help him: The improvement of the offensive line, the running game — things which can naturally take the pressure off the quarterback and allow him to perform within himself so that he can take the rudder and doesn’t have to make every play himself.
“Certainly, you need him to make big plays throughout the course of the year. But if you have some balance involved, and if you’re doing a good job up front you can help, obviously, the quarterback to do that.”