|The Giants have stuck by Coughlin, and it has paid off with another Super Bowl berth. (Getty Images)|
New York Giants fans face a conundrum today, and a serious one -- one they never thought they would ever have to face.
They can never ever fire Tom Coughlin again. Those days are finally and completely over.
Oh, they can try. They've been so good at it before. Coughlin has been fired 1.73 times for every one of his 84 wins as the Giants head coach, the highest proportion since the merger. Every time the Giants don't convert a third-and-seven, Coughlin is on the hot seat. Every time someone shanks a field goal, Coughlin is gone.
It's a tradition unlike any other.
|More on Giants, Super Bowl|
Monday Musings: Coughlin is in no rush to retire
|NFL coverage on the go|
But now, with as many Super Bowl appearances in the last five years as Bill Belichick, and with two more than all the people who fired him ever thought he'd have, Coughlin is now bulletproof. The Maras, who have stuck with him through thin, now have enough thick to allow him to retire as the Giants' head coach, thus leaving every conversation in every bar in every borough to go exactly like this:
"Coughlin sucks. They should fire him."
"Two Super Bowls. He's goin' nowhere. Your round."
And every midweek Giants story to begin like this:
"After Sunday's inexplicable loss to the Redskins, Tom Coughlin is on the hot seat. Well, he would be if not for the fact that he has complete and irrevocable scholarship in this town for all eternity."
Sucks a lot of fun out of both the bar and journalism trades there, doesn't it?
You see, the quiet revelation here is that it is Coughlin who is the perfect coach for New York. He is not a fascinating conversationalist for headline purposes. His smiles, when he deigns to show them, tend to have a "You can smile too, but don't expect me to believe you because I know what you've been saying about me" quality about them. He doesn't lead with his yap; he doesn't jut his jaw out and dare you to pop him one; he doesn't dress stylishly and promise stylish football; and he definitely likes the world at arm's length.
But here's the thing. You can't lick him. You can fire him all day long, and he comes back up every time, like one of those bottom-weighted punching clowns you buy your kids when you want to scare the hell out of them while never getting off the couch. He doesn't fire. And he doesn't care that you fire him until you're blue in the chest.
Now that's New York in a nutshell.
Oh, Rex Ryan talks it, and he makes sure you hear it, but after a while, New Yorkers like a little more in the bag than just gas. They want what every fan wants -- a big win now and then. Coughlin delivers, and delivers while having someone's foot aimed at his behind.
And John Tortorella doesn't mind spoiling for a fight, and he seems genuine in doing so, but he has not yet led the Rangers to the Stanley Cup, which means he is still, and at least for the moment, more show than go.
And Mike D'Antoni, who promised uptempo basketball to make your hair bleed, is still stuck with the Knicks instead.
Joe Girardi of the Yankees tries the closest to emulate Coughlin, since he is also fired at a pretty impressive rate per win, but he has only one World Series title in four years, or five fewer than Yankee fans expect of him. And besides, there are as many people in New York who hate the Yankees as like them, and the Yankees have the added advantage of dealing with a salary cap that is the equivalent to the worth of the European Union.
Girardi, though, works for more volatile folks and could be fired with that 71st loss at any time. Coughlin, though, has been defended by people who think of "stay the course" as a mandate from heaven. He is so set now that he could sleep through entire games (which by the way he never has, so stop imagining there's some sort of Coughlin's Fight With Narcolepsy story here) and people would say, "I don't like that nap thing he's got going, but he's been to two Super Bowls."
Not only that, he's done this with two teams thought dead barely a month earlier, so he's gone to the Big One twice while having been fired within the last 60 days of each appearance. No other coach in the history of "You're fired" has ever done that, and New Yorkers, even ones who hate the Giants, understand that in a visceral "You can't kill the son of a bitch, and that's pretty damned impressive" way.
So now New Yorkers, faced with the reality that they can never fire Tom Coughlin again, will either have to shift their target to Ryan, who has the far more difficult task of convincing the day care center he coaches that he is a tough taskmaster after years of letting them rummage through the toy chest, or Girardi because a $291 billion payroll means he should be winning closer to 147 games per year than the 100 a year he has now.
But they won't have Tom Coughlin to even think of kicking any more. That's puts a lot of pressure on them in these stressfully successful times.
Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast Sports Bay Area (CSNBayArea.com)