Under Tom's Thumb

The unholy spawn of Draco and Emily Post, Tom Coughlin is determined to win with the New York Giants
The unholy spawn of Draco and Emily Post, Tom Coughlin is determined to win with the New York Giants
September 26, 2004

Tom Coughlin has more rules of order than Robert. There's only one thing wound tighter than the New York Giants' coach, and that's his wristwatch, which famously runs five minutes fast. As a result Coughlin gets a five o'clock shadow at 4:55—or would, if he believed in facial hair, which he barely tolerates.

Already this season, four Giants—linebackers Barrett Green and Carlos Emmons, cornerback Terry Cousin and defensive end Michael Strahan—have been fined for arriving at team meetings a couple of minutes early, which is too late for Coughlin. "Meetings," he explains, "start five minutes early."

While in those meetings, players cannot cross their legs or wear a hat. (Mr. Peanut will never play for Tom Coughlin.) If a cellphone goes off, so will Coughlin. When he coached the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars, players were required to keep both feet on the floor during video sessions, a rule previously enforced only on soccer throw-ins and in Catholic-college dorm rooms.

But a funny thing happened to those ragtag Jags. They began living on Coughlin Time. After a few months, even Coughlin's cable guy showed up early. The Jaguars went to the AFC Championship Game in only their second season and had the best record in the NFL three years after that. The guy's no slouch, which reminds us: No slouching in meetings. That's another Coughlin Rule.

Coughlin put the Ban in Ray-Bans. Early during his tenure in Jacksonville, assistant coaches were not allowed to wear sunglasses on the sideline, because Coughlin considered it a sign of weakness that prevents another man from looking you in the eye. Coughlin's own blue eyes don't need laser surgery, they perform it. Especially if you bend over in practice, sit on your helmet, take a knee or go a week without a haircut.

Last week Coughlin arrived at one of his own press conferences nine minutes late. (WHO WILL FINE TOM? asked a New York Daily News headline.) But can you blame him? Just looking at a motley assortment of sportswriters—with our question-mark posture, our crossed legs, our caps, sunglasses, cellphones, stubble—is more than he can bear. Asked about Strahan's fine in a press conference, he said, "That's between me and everybody else [on the Giants]." Then he walked out of the press conference. The first rule of Fight Club is, Don't talk about Fight Club.

And Coughlin doesn't. Amish swimsuits reveal more than Coughlin. The Jaguars played in Alltel Stadium, which more than one spurned writer called No Tell Stadium.

All of this makes Coughlin as popular as gout. Some Giants complained to the NFL Players Association that his off-season workouts were too hard. Terry Bradshaw called him, on the Fox pregame show, "mean and hateful" and "a jerk." And so he has become, in the public eye, scary or laughable or both—part martinet, part Martin Short. Last week, in an SI poll of current and former players, Coughlin was voted the NFL's worst coach.

That is why I want him. I need him. If Coughlin can't turn around the Giants—who finished 4-12 under coach Jim Fassel last season and were 1-1 after a 20-14 upset of the Washington Redskins on Sunday—the football coach can be my life coach. Those of us who've never been in the Marines, Jesuits or Leavenworth crave discipline in our daily lives, whether or not we know it, and regardless of how draconian. Draco, the ancient Athenian lawmaker, advocated capital punishment for petty crimes, not unlike Mike Shanahan. The Denver Broncos coach fined and suspended defensive tackle Daryl Gardener last season for a long list of infractions, including, by various reports, watching an "explicit" video and wearing a leather jacket on a team flight. Call Shanahan the Inflexible Flyer.

But I'll take him, too. Shanahan will make me straighten up and fly right. Give me also Rice coach Ken Hatfield. He'll cure me of my own foul mouth. If one of his players cursed when Hatfield was at Clemson, he would stop practice and ask the offender to repeat the phrase, using a wholesome euphemism in place of the vulgarity. As team rules go, this might seemlike bovine excrement—but you would say that, you cynical offspring of a female dog.

I want to be chewed out by a latter-day Vince Lombardi, who was twice the taskmaster Coughlin is. Starting meetings five minutes early is so five minutes ago: Lombardi's watch was set 10 minutes ahead, to Lombardi Time. Of course, Lombardi also wore white socks with slacks, a practice that would have gotten him fined by ... Tom Coughlin, who forbids his Giants to wear white socks when traveling, even if they're just popping down to the hotel lobby for a newspaper.

And so, as someone whose New Year's resolutions have never outlasted the Fiesta Bowl halftime show, who hasn't had both feet on the ground since I stopped listening to Casey Kasem, I choose Coughlin as my personal drill sergeant.

Of course, rules can be taken too far. Former Chicago White Sox general manager Larry Himes had a rule that all Sox must wear socks when traveling.

Don't let him near the USC Trojans.

The Giants coach is no slouch, which reminds us: No slouching in meetings. That's another Coughlin Rule.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)