If the New York Giants decide it's time to move on from coach Tom Coughlin and Coughlin doesn't agree, the situation could get ugly. No one wants that. If at all possible, the Giants would like to send their future Ring of Honor coach out with the respect and ceremony that his contributions to the franchise's history deserve. But endings like these aren't always easy or neat, and it's possible things could be messy next week when this decision officially gets made.
But what if it doesn't have to get to that point? What if Coughlin, who looked and sounded totally defeated in the wake of Sunday night's loss in Minnesota, makes it easy on the Giants' owners and decides to walk away himself?
Until very recently, I wouldn't have thought it was possible. Everything we've been told by and about Coughlin for years is that he has nothing to retire to, that he wants to coach as long as he's healthy and able and that they'd have to drag him out kicking and screaming.
I'm not so sure anymore. The past few weeks have been very trying for Coughlin, who looks like a man who's realizing none of his tricks work anymore. He's still coaching the way he always has -- high-energy, intense focus on task at hand and simple, direct messaging to the players. He is convinced his players are hearing his message, and the players all indicated Sunday night that he's right. The problem is that the work isn't translating to results on the field, and that's what has Coughlin at a loss.
The things he has done for years to prepare his players to get up for even the biggest of games aren't working with this group. They didn't work Sunday, that's for sure. Coughlin knew the Giants had been eliminated from playoff contention when Washington won Saturday night. He was prepared with a bunch of good speeches about playing for pride. They've worked in the past.
"Last year, we played our last five games with no playoff implications," center Weston Richburg said. "I don't know why it would be so tough to play one. It's our job."
That's Coughlin's message, and they're hearing it. They're just not performing. They're just not good enough. I think Coughlin knows this (he said, "I'm not going down that road" when asked about the talent on the roster Sunday) and that he knows how far this team is from contending. Therefore, it's not crazy to think he could decide he's just had enough.
If he really wanted to do this right, Coughlin would announce this week that Sunday will be his final game as Giants coach. If he did that, Sunday would be a celebration of his time with the team. Who'd show up and boo a two-time champion coach on his way out the door? It would be a chance to remind everyone of the joy Coughlin and his two title teams brought and for fans to thank him as he leaves. It would be a special day.
Of course, that sounds nothing like Coughlin, who'll surely show up Wednesday and go through his usual routine of breaking down the opponent from every possible angle and working to get his team ready to beat the Eagles, regardless of the fact that the game has no significance to either team. In a lot of ways that's the more appropriate way for Coughlin to go out -- nose firmly affixed to grindstone, blocking out all the outside noise.
He still could force ownership's hand and make them fire him. This still has a chance to get ugly. But after the way Sunday night went, and given the way Coughlin and his players have sounded since that game ended, one wonders whether maybe Coughlin looks this whole thing over and decides it's just not worth the effort he's putting into it anymore.
Honestly, who could blame him?