When an old media sparring partner asked Tom Coughlin on Monday if he can envision coaching the Giants 10 years from now, Coughlin cracked: “I’m only 45. Maybe that could happen.”
The line got a laugh, but the joke was on most of the rest of us in middle age and beyond, the ones who act our ages and feel the burnout and fatigue — and most of all the cynicism — that often come with extensive life experience.
Maybe the guy really does think of himself as 45 rather than 65, an age that makes him the oldest Super Bowl-winning coach by two years over the previous record-holder, Dick Vermeil.
He displayed his lack of cynicism in a heartfelt Super Bowl eve address to players in which he told them how much he loves them. He displays his lack of fatigue every day.
“He might be 65, but he’s got the energy of somebody quite younger than that,” said Coughlin’s boss, team president John Mara.
That is an important point, because he heads a team led by a quarterback in his prime and which should contend for several more years.
So before signing him to an inevitable contract extension, Mara must weigh Coughlin’s ongoing ability to reach players who in some cases are young enough to be his grandsons. Fortunately for Mara, that doesn’t seem to be an issue.
Coughlin knows Vermeil regretted stepping down after winning his Super Bowl at 63. The late Bill Walsh felt the same after leaving at 57 after his third Super Bowl victory.
It didn’t require much thought for Coughlin to bat away the notion of riding off into the sunset with his second Lombardi Trophy in tow.
Will he be back for the 2012 season?
“I certainly hope so,” he said. “My intentions are to be that way. I do have some ownership that has to give approval, but I’m looking forward to it.”
Besides, what the heck else would he do with himself?
“I don’t fish; I’m not very good at golf,” he said. “My wife said, ’You better have something to do, buddy boy. You think you’re going to hang around here, you’re crazy.”“
Mara half-jokingly said the New York-area media “will have him right back on the hot seat at some point next year after we lose a game or two,” but the reality is, those days likely are over at last.
The debate has shifted to his Hall of Fame candidacy. Coughlin, like his soulmate, Eli Manning, would not bite on a question about his legacy. “I don’t really think about that stuff, to be honest with you,” he said. “It’s not about me.”
Others are free to discuss it, though. “This elevates Coughlin to Hall of Fame status,” Giants Hall of Famer Harry Carson said at the team hotel Monday. “He’s done what all great coaches have been able to do: Get the players to play even when they had adversity.”
Carson learned firsthand how long the wait can be for Hall of Fame recognition, and he learned it again Saturday when he was surprised to hear that Bill Parcells had not been selected.
Coughlin, a Parcells assistant for three years with the Giants, has tied him with two rings as a head coach. Adding a third in the next several years would end any conceivable debate about his Hall of Fame credentials.
“I only think they should question whether they put him on the ballot before he retires or after,” running back Brandon Jacobs said.
Actually, the rules prohibit selecting active coaches, so the wait might take a while. Now that Vermeil’s record has fallen, there is another for Coughlin to shoot at: The Bears’ George Halas became the oldest coach to win an NFL championship when he beat the Giants in the pre-Super Bowl era in 1963.
Halas was 68 at the time. Or 48 in Coughlin years.