The inevitable conclusion to four straight non-playoff seasons by the New York Giants happened Jan. 4 when Tom Coughlin announced he was stepping down as head coach.
Though Coughlin wasn’t technically fired, he surely felt the pressure that comes with three straight losing seasons.
But he shouldn’t have.
In case we forget, the 69-year-old former assistant under Bill Parcells in New York won two Super Bowls during his 12-year run as head coach of the Giants. For perspective, that’s 1–2 more than a handful of franchises have won in their entire history.
While past performance shouldn’t always be a reason to keep someone aboard, it does prove this: When he has talent, he gets the most out of it. What else can you ask for in a coach?
Yet Coughlin isn’t the one in charge of providing the talent, and it wasn’t there these past few seasons.
Look at the front seven on defense. Only Jason Pierre-Paul—who missed the first half of the season with his infamous hand injury—is an above-average player. But even he had only one sack to show for his eight-game performance, and who knows what the Giants can expect from him in the future, while essentially playing with one-handed.
Consequently, the team’s defense was dead last in total yards allowed at 420.3 per game and third-to-last in points surrendered at 27.6 a game.
That explains all their late-game collapses—six in all—where the Giants were ahead or tied in the fourth quarter but ended up losing. Yes, Coughlin took heat for going for it on fourth down late in the game against the Jets when the field goal was there, but could you blame him? He had dealt with a leaky defense all season and was looking for a bigger cushion to make up for it.
Of course, even to blame this all on the front office is a little difficult. After winning Super Bowl XLVI following the 2011 season, the Giants needed some help on offense to supplement Eli Manning. Since that time, they’ve used all four first-round picks on offensive players—including two on offensive linemen to give the unit a much-needed boost.
But injuries ended the career of first-round pick (2012) running back David Wilson. While tackle Justin Pugh (2013 first-round pick), center Weston Richburg (2014 second-round pick), tackle Ereck Flowers (2015 first-round pick), and standout wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (2014 first-round pick) all look like good picks, the other side of the ball wasn’t upgraded with the same urgency.
Defensive linemen from that last Super Bowl-winning team Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck were 28 and 30 by the time the Giants hoisted the Lombardi Trophy—not exactly young by NFL standards—and were a big part of the team’s defensive success. Both have moved on, as has fellow lineman Linval Joseph—the team’s second-round pick in 2010, who had a great 2015 season with Minnesota.
But injuries and/or ineffectiveness have plagued a number of recently drafted Giants linemen since then, including Marvin Austin (2011 second-round pick), Devon Kennard (2014 fifth-round), Jay Bromley (2014 third-round), Jonathan Hankins (2013 second-round), and Damontre Moore (2013 third-round).
It’s something Coughlin had little control over—yet somehow he was responsible for.