|After starting 6-6, Coughlin's Giants rallied to win three of their next four to claim the NFC East. (Getty Images)|
Three NFL coaches were asked a simple question: Is Tom Coughlin a great coach?
"He's one of the best I've ever competed against," one NFC assistant said.
"People don't want to acknowledge how he's one of the top five or so coaches in football because he's always so angry and unfriendly," said another coach.
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"Not great, but very good," yet another coach said. Coughlin, the coach explained, is the most underappreciated in these playoffs.
Now, you wouldn't think this, as much as Coughlin is seemingly fired every year and twice on Thursday by fans and the media. Coughlin has been almost fired so much, it's like he works for Donald Trump.
Of all the coaches remaining in the NFL postseason -- along with Belichick, McCarthy, Payton, Harbaugh & Harbaugh, Fox and Kubiak -- Coughlin is perhaps the most overlooked and underappreciated. Even Kubiak gets more credit as having salvaged a season riddled with injuries and Fox is seen as the originator of the Tebow phenomenon.
Coughlin? He's the old guy with the funny sideline expressions, fired yearly by the tabloids.
Coughlin just churns along: spitting, wincing, throwing up his hands, cursing, fighting and, most of all, coaching his rear end off.
Coughlin is far from perfect. He's still been unable to decipher his team's problems from the middle of the regular season. If Coughlin were financially compensated every time "late-season swoon" appeared in the same sentence with his name, he'd have Bill Gates money.
Coughlin keeps fighting. His coaching tenure has been rocky, and he's the biggest case of cranky pants in the NFL -- but he keeps fighting and fighting and fighting some more. This is the essence of Coughlin.
The seat gets hot and Coughlin slips on the asbestos underwear. The pressure builds and he stares back at the abyss with that wince and stare. The doubters pack the press conference and Coughlin breathes fire. He's become one of the toughest and most battle-hardened coaches in the sport, and the Giants reflect his stubborn personality.
"We know it's one-and-done, [and] we aren't going to let that happen," defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said. "We're going to go out there and we're going to walk away with a win."
Guaranteeing a victory: that's the Giants.
"I would expect a team that is playing in a divisional playoff round to think they should win the game," the Packers' Mike McCarthy said. "What are they supposed to say, that they're going to lose? I think a guy should expect to win. That's the National Football League."
But my guess is McCarthy is speaking of the quote differently with his team in private. He's probably rubbing the Packers' faces in it. Did you see the Giants guaranteeing they're going to beat you? You believe that (expletive deleted). The quote Coughlin gave after the Giants embarrassed the Atlanta Falcons was typical Coughlin (particularly the last sentence).
"I think today we played outstanding defense and that set the tone for everything else that happened in the game," he said. "It was wonderful to see it, and it has happened over the last two or three weeks of the season. If we can continue to play defense like that, we can make ourselves heard in this tournament."
Once again Coughlin's Giants are being heard from loud and clear.
This season was typical Coughlin. The team at one point was 6-6, and yet again there were questions about Coughlin's future. And while the Giants appeared to be headed for mediocrity, their .500 record came with a caveat. The team had a brutal stretch in which they played the Patriots, 49ers, Saints and Packers. Each of those teams New York played tough except the Saints. The Giants almost gave the Packers their first loss.
There was something there, even if it didn't look that way. The Giants would win four of their next five. They'd destroy Dallas and the physical beating they administered to Atlanta is illegal in certain states.
It's disingenuous to say Green Bay should fear the Giants, but I do believe the Giants were the worst draw for the Packers, even worse than the hot Saints. New York's defense, like it did when the Giants made a Super Bowl run and ultimately defeated the unbeaten Patriots to make history, is playing perhaps as well as any in football. The Giants are capable of disrupting any offense, including Green Bay's.
This doesn't mean the Giants will win. It does mean Eli Manning and a fierce defensive line gives them a solid shot.
And here we are again. Another hot Giants team led by Coughlin ... the only great coach in history who is fired every year.