EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Thursday was an emotional day at New York Giants training camp. GM Jerry Reese held his emotions in check as he faced tough question about the team's failure to keep Steve Smith and its relative inactivity during free agency. Earlier, head coach Tom Coughlin was obviously bothered during his own news conference by the loss of Smith and by having to answer questions about the contract negotiations when he's not the one who handles contract negotiations.
There's a sense around the Giants that Coughlin is concerned about his roster's sudden lack of depth in key places. Coughlin will turn 65 at the end of this month, and while the Super Bowl title he won four years ago bought him considerable goodwill with Giants fans and ownership, he's got some things working against him. The Giants have missed the playoffs each of the past two years, and if they miss again this year, it's possible that Coughlin, the team or both could decide a change is in order. The Giants recently gave Coughlin a one-year contract extension that takes him through 2012, but that seemed more of a formality designed to avoid forcing him to coach as a lame duck. He's effectively coaching year-to-year, and he realizes that and says he's fine with it.
"Frankly, I equate it with Walter Alston," Coughlin told me Thursday, invoking the old Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers manager who famously held that job for 23 years from 1954-76 without ever having a contract longer than one year. "I mean, let's go. Let's do one year for a while and see where we go with it."
There was much chatter late last year about the Giants possibly considering a change. The name of former Steelers coach Bill Cowher came up a lot, and as critical late-season losses to the Eagles and Packers cost the Giants their playoff spot, the noise grew louder. But immediately after the season, Giants owner John Mara said the team would not be replacing Coughlin, hadn't considered it and had, in fact, reassured Coughlin of this much earlier than Mara told the media about it. The Giants run a patient, sensible, non-knee-jerk operation, and Mara was sincere when he said at the time, "That's now the way we do things here."
"I'm appreciative of being a part of an organization like that," Coughlin said Thursday.
As for how much longer he will be a part of it, he insists he doesn't spend time wondering. He's certainly not dumb, and he certainly realizes he and the team are under pressure to atone for the disappointments of the past two years. (Though he bristles at the characterization of last year's 10-6 record as disappointing.) But he correctly believes that the only thing he can do to ward off job-security questions is to win, and that's where he says his focus is.
"What's on my mind is this year, this team and being a playoff team this year, being a winning team this year," Coughlin said. "Be the best you can possibly be, and hopefully that's good enough to win a world championship. That's what we're here for. The goal's always the same."