Cough(lin)ed It Up

How important are coaches in professional sports? Well, I guess that depends on what sport you are talking about. And since this is a football blog, we’ll start there.

In football, coaching is everything. It is the difference between a first down and a broken play. A win and a loss. A playoff berth and a 4-12 season. A Super Bowl championship and setting a franchise back a decade. Obviously the players still have to play, but as the coach you control exactly what your team does on the next play and every play after that. And while some argue that with audibles and changes at the line, players have to be aware of what is going on and make their own decisions, sure that is true, but there is also the helmet earpiece now given to a member of the on-field personnel to be aware of changes being made right before the snap.

If you want to run the ball, you run it. If you want to pass it, you pass it. What the players do is completely up to you and your coordinators as you try to put them in the best possible position to succeed. Remember that phrase, “the best possible position to succeed.”

Is football the only sport where coaching is everything? Not necessarily, but it is by far the most important.

Baseball is probably the closest thing to football, but even in baseball, a lot of it is managing and a lot of it is luck. You can decide which reliever to use and when and sometimes he’ll get the 6-4-3 double play and sometimes he’ll give up the three-run homer. You can put together the best lineup that you think will work against that day’s pitcher and maybe your hitters see the ball well or maybe that day the pitcher throws a gem.

Or you can have Roy Halladay on your team and take naps on days he pitches and just know you will win the game because he is going nine and allowing two runs at most and you will never have to move from your spot in the dugout.

Baseball managing takes a lot of knowledge and a lot of patience and there are definitely right and wrong moves, but a lot of it comes down to luck. And while luck is evident in all sports at sometime or another, you can’t stop a seeing-eye single between short and third and you can’t do anything, but watch the check-swing bloop fall in just over first base right on the foul line in no-man’s land.

And we move down the ladder of coaching importance to the NHL

Try to put together the best line combinations you can think of and then the game is out of your control. You can make some line changes, decide whether or not to pull the goalie, and change your PK and PP around, but besides trying to create chemistry like it’s sixth period science class in high school, the game is about instinct and anticipation and there isn’t much you can do.

And the major sport where coaching matters the least and really not at all. The NBA.

Take a look at the Boston Celtics. The Celtics won the championship last year after walking through the entire league as if they were taking a Sunday stroll through Central Park. Doc Rivers was given a Gatorade shower by the Boston Three Party and all was glorious on the parquet floor in Beantown.

Flashback a year earlier from the night the Celtics finished off the Lakers, actually go back a couple months farther than a year since the Celtics didn’t make the playoffs in 2006-07, and you will find the Boston Celtics pre-Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.

And what do you a find? A team full of a bunch of nobodies. A team that couldn’t get out of its own way. A team that had trouble selling floor seats when Kobe Bryant and Co. were in town. A team whose top seven guys (virtually the entire team) were equal to (actually less) Kevin Garnett in the blockbuster trade that brought KG to the C’s.

So what’s the point? My point is that Doc Rivers could have stayed home on game nights. He could have read (or looked at) Playboy while sitting on the bench and he could have drawn up last second plays with Crayola crayons because it didn’t matter, whatever Doc Rivers did with the 2006-07 Celtics, they were going to lose. And he could have performed the same immature and circus-like stunts with the 2007-08 Celtics and they were going to win the NBA Finals whether he was along for the ride or not.

Doc Rivers had nothing to do with the C’s championship. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett did. And Doc Rivers had nothing to do with the 24-58 season in ’06-’07. His scrub players did. Because how can a coach of a team 34 games under .500 magically become a basketball genius overnight and lead the same franchise to a title? Easy. Acquire superstars.

Now I take you to Sunday where Tom Coughlin coached the Giants as if he was part of any of the following circumstances:

1. Drunk
2. Had a significant amount of money on the Eagles moneyline
3. Thought Brandon Jacobs was on injured reserved
4. Forgot that he activated Lawrence Tynes because John Carney’s kickoffs in the weather could not reach the end zone (yet opted to use Carney for lengthy field goals with Tynes looking on)
5. Forgot that when you blitz on 3rd and 20, multiple opposing receivers will be wide open if a sack is not made

And the list goes on, but you get the idea.

Basically Tom Coughlin took everything from last season right through this past summer and 17 weeks into this season plus a bye week and just erased it with what I am going to say was the worst coached game given the teams and situation that I have ever seen. And I am sure there are Giants fans a lot older than me who would agree with that statement.

How does Brandon Jacobs run the ball on only 19 of 61 plays last Sunday? And as much as I would love to ask a lot of similar questions (like why you immediately go into shotgun on 1st and 5 from the PHI 21 in the first half), I think the Jacobs example sums up the coaching job done by Tom Coughlin on Sunday.

How is “the key” to the offense used so little in a PLAYOFF game after he had just rested for 21 days? How are you calling for a direct snap to Derrick Ward, a play never used before in the 2008 season by an offense who just man-handled teams this season, including the Eagles who they put up 36 points against on the road? Ok, enough with the questions so mind boggling that I can’t even believe the scenarios they relate to actually happened.

Because can you imagine a week ago saying to Tom Coughlin before practice, “Do you think Brandon Jacobs will be part of over/under 33% of the offense this week?” Or how about “Would you ever think about going into shotgun formation from the Eagles 21 yard-line with a 1st and 5 situation?” Either of the questions would have gotten you removed from the practice, stripped of your media credentials, most likely fired from your journalistic employer, and you probably would have had Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser harrassing you for a minute and 30 seconds between 5:30 and 6:00 PM.

So why is it ok that Tom Coughlin actually made those nightmarish feats come true? The answer is simple. It isn’t.

It isn’t ok that Tom Coughlin used the 2008 New York Giants season to wipe his ass and flushed a dynasty in the making down the toilet as if it were Charmin two-ply. And it isn’t ok that other members of the Giants organization are taking the fall in the public eye.

The past week the New York Daily News has been running a poll about which Giants players and coaches to keep and which to let go. The only Giants wanted out by the majority are Plaxico Burress, John Carney, and Kevin Gilbride.

While I happen to agree with the Carney choice, I am uncertain on the Plax situation, and a bit puzzled to the Gilbride vote. If Kevin Gilbride’s head is being called for, shouldn’t Tom Coughlin’s as well? But the same fans who want Gilbride out voted 90% in favor or keeping Coughlin.

Tom Coughlin is the head coach of the New York Giants. Aside from Eli Manning (and coming on strong Brandon Jacobs) he is the face of the franchise. And aside from the fact that he won the Super Bowl last year, what has Tom Coughlin done for the New

I understand this is the NFL and in the day of the salary cap, dynasties are far and few between and winning the Super Bowl every season is an unrealistic goal, but to not hold Tom Coughlin responsible for what happened to the 2008 New York Giants is ignorant and irresponsible.

Is Tom Coughlin not the head coach? Does he not have the final say of what play gets run on the field? Does he not have overriding power on Kevin Gilbride to change or modify a play or gameplan?

From the moment Tom Coughlin signed the dotted line with Big Blue I was against him. But when he took down the New England Patriots and saved my college experience after witnessing two Boston Red Sox championships, I forgave him and gave him a clean slate. But Sunday’s loss to Philly was as bad as any loss I have seen from the Yankees or Giants over the years.

It was worse then the heartbreaking loss to Philly in 2006 and it was even worse than the 20-0 shutout at the hands of the Panthers in 2005. Take away Tom Coughlin’s 2007 magical run in the postseason and he is 0-3. Add in those four wins and he is still only 4-3. But it didn’t take long for the checkbook to come out and give Tommy a four-year, $21 million extension last season.

So, did Tom Coughlin put his players in “the best possible situation to succeed?” What is “No,” Alex. I’ll take overrated and clueless coaches for $800.

In fact, I would say Tom Coughlin put his players in the greatest possible situation to NOT succeed. Honestly I can’t think of a worse situation than the one that actually occurrd on Sunday. You can’t write or makeup the way that game played out or the way the Giants went about trying to advance to the NFC Championship.

The Giants have a great deal of talent, but did they really underachieve, or were they just mismanaged?The G-Men are an incredibly young team and have lots of key players locked up for many years. This season should have taken them to the next tier of greatness that was started last winter. But instead they will be watching the final two rounds of the postseason the same way as me.

***And on another note, Lee Jenkins really wrote this for his Inside the NFL column on SI.com:

Joey Flacco is the new Ben Roethlisberger. Actually, Joe Flacco has already won more playoff games as a rookie than Ben Roethlisberger did, 2-1. Roethlisberger was a sensation in his first season, 2004, when he led the Steelers to a 15-1 record. But he threw five interceptions in the playoffs and the Steelers were pounded at home by the Patriots in the AFC championship, 41-27. Roethlisberger, who remembers every slight, no matter how far back it dates, said he will use that game as motivation for this one.”

If I am a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers defense of the past five seasons or a member of the Baltimore Ravnens defense today, I would be livid reading this. How is Jenkins going to say either of these men had the job of “leading” their teams. They played on the other side of great defenses and were asked to not mess up games rather than go out and win them. A lot of people need to get off the Flacco and Big Ben bandwagons and come back to reality about the abilities and success of the two.

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