Monday January 4th, 2016

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. —If Sunday was the end of an era, no one told Tom Coughlin. The Giants head coach radiated frustration during his postgame press conference while discussing his team’s eighth loss by fewer than seven points this year. All the while, he talked like a man who had not yet moved on from the afternoon’s 35-30 defeat, much less his team’s 6-10 season or his 12-year tenure in New York.

“The frustration continues,” Coughlin said. “You’ve got your questions prepared for what direction I’m going in. I’m not going to answer anything about that.” Pressed for more at the end of his seven-minute Q&A, Coughlin said, “No one has decided anything.”

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If team ownership or Coughlin does decide that New York will have a new coach next year, Coughlin’s last gameday with the Giants will have been an odd one. While the team prepared to face the Eagles in a nearly stakeless game, reports flew about its coach’s future. Jay Glazer said he expected Coughlin to “ride off into the sunset” (though he later clarified that he was not reporting that Coughlin would leave this week). ESPN’s Dan Graziano wrote that Giants ownership would meet Monday to discuss the plan at head coach. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that owners John Mara and Steve Tisch had not yet shared their thoughts on the topic with each other as of Sunday morning. And each new piece of information was usually saddled with a “probably” or a “maybe,” sometimes with a “could” or a “might” tacked on too, leaving Giants faithful hunting for clues.

Coughlin reportedly asked his entire family to come to Sunday’s game, for instance. That seemed like news to some. Brian Billick tweeted that Coughlin’s pregame photo-op with his family “may be a sign of his pending retirement.” But then again, Coughlin’s family often comes to watch him coach. Yet, maybe this gathering actually was meaningful, given all 11 of his grandchildren showed up this time, each wearing a blue sweatshirt with COUGHLIN’S CREW printed on the front. Were they headed to a family-friendly cruise postgame to celebrate Grandpa’s retirement? Did Judy Coughlin just need a last-minute photo for some belated holiday cards? Could be. Maybe. For his part, Coughlin said the gathering was planned as a chance to celebrate the holidays, not a farewell.

Coughlin had a chance to eliminate all of the chatter Thursday but hedged instead. “Do I want to come back?” he said. “I don’t know if that’s a great question right now.” Players said Coughlin handled the week of preparation like any other and demanded that they do the same.  “That’s professionalism,” center Weston Richburg said. “I wouldn’t be able to do it. That’s a guy’s livelihood that he put on the backburner for us…That’s really admirable.”

During a meeting Saturday, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo implored his players to play their guts out Sunday, given the situation. But he would not explain what the situation was, per se. “It was almost like Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter,” Prince Amukamara said. “They didn’t really say his name but guys had a sense, like…we know who to do it for.”

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Coughlin’s decision to put off a decision meant there would be no ovation waiting for him when he walked onto the field Sunday, nor a pre-game montage. He didn’t want any of that. He wanted to coach.  “The situation is not about me,” Coughlin said last week. “What I want to do is win a game on Sunday.” His inability to do that, due in part to a third-quarter Eli Manning pick six and a failed last-minute drive, meant there would be no major postgame theatrics either. Instead, Coughlin walked off the field to light applause from the fans surrounding the team tunnel.

Justin Pugh would rather Coughlin stay in East Rutherford, N.J. for a while longer.

“I love him,” Pugh said. “I want him to be my coach.” While he talked, his teammates walked away from empty lockers and unfulfilled dreams, leaving behind a fourth straight year without a playoff appearance. But before they left, each had something good to say about the man they call T.C.

“He is going to get on you when he needs to get on you and he is going to let you know when you do things right as well,” Hakeem Nicks said, “So it has been a pleasure playing for him.”

Manning credited Coughlin with teaching him the importance of preparation, calling the only NFL head coach he’s ever had “a great influence.”

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“We will fight for him, continue to follow him, and there is no doubt in my mind that [he] is the man for the job,” Rashad Jennings said. “I am definitely proud to play under him.”

The mood was much lighter back out on the field, where the Coughlin Crew hung around under MetLife’s lights long after the stadium emptied out. With the place all theirs, the youngest grandchildren bounded around the end zone and bounced off the field’s walls, until, eventually, they were told it was time to go.

If that was the end, so be it.

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