Coughlin deserves one more year

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Tom Coughlin was handed an early holiday gift in the form of a vision, a question about a 2015 season with Odell Beckham Jr. and a returning Victor Cruz elevating Eli Manning while driving defensive coordinators mad.

"It would be a good idea," Coughlin said through a thin smile.

So would allowing the old man to coach them.

One of the best receivers on the planet, Beckham is playing his you-know-what off for that old man. The rookie took his game to new places with his 12-catch, 143-yard, three-touchdown performance in a 24-13 victory over Washington, proving that The Catch was a beginning and nothing remotely approaching an end while also setting fire to the notion that the 68-year-old Coughlin can no longer inspire the kids.

"There is a lot to look forward to going into next year," Beckham said, "being realistic."

Coughlin should be along for that ride. On his way toward the winners' locker room Sunday, the man who will make the call on the coach, co-owner John Mara, was given the opportunity to declare his man safe for next year. He politely took a pass.

"I have no comment, and I hope you understand why I can't," Mara said.

Approached after his postgame news conference, Coughlin said he didn't want to address his job status until he's done trying to beat the Rams and the Eagles. But people close to him say he does want to return for a 12th year with the New York Giants, and Coughlin has told ESPNNewYork.com that he believes he can coach into his 70s.

We'll see if he gets his chance. Once upon a time, employed by a different outlet under different circumstances, I wrote that Coughlin should be fired as head coach of the Giants. His players wanted him gone at the end of the 2006 season, Coughlin's third, and so did some officials in the building who were sick of dealing with him.

Mara came closer to terminating Coughlin back then than he ever admitted. The coach ultimately saved himself when he offered to tweak his draconian approach to the players and the media and promised to get the best out of the franchise quarterback, Manning.

The following winter, I stood near the changed man that was Coughlin in the tunnel of the old Giants Stadium as he prepared to walk with Manning and teammates into a post-parade pep rally. He was dressed in black -- like a priest, said the New Jersey state senate president at the time, Richard Codey -- and he was holding the Vince Lombardi Trophy in his arms. From close range, I remember how shiny that trophy looked against his black coat, and I remember thinking that the next time Coughlin was in danger of losing his job I would give him the benefit of the doubt.

Frankly, there should be a rule in sports that goes something like this: For every championship you win, you earn one close call in your favor. Tom Coughlin earned the benefit of the doubt last year for winning Super Bowl XLII, and he deserves the benefit of the doubt this year for winning Super Bowl XLVI.

"There is a lot to look forward to going into next year."
Odell Beckham Jr.

He's on his own next season, of course, when nothing could spare him if the Giants miss the playoffs for a sixth time in seven tries. Kevin Gilbride, offensive coordinator, has already been sacrificed at the altar of change, and Perry Fewell, defensive coordinator, is likely to meet the same fate in a few weeks.

But right now, despite the 5-9 record and a third consecutive season out of the tournament, Coughlin remains the most viable option for his own job. He has a two-time Super Bowl MVP at quarterback who believes in him, who still very much wants to play for him, and he has the same outward energy and enthusiasm of a man 20 years his junior.

Coughlin still rises at 4:45 a.m. on practice days, 6 a.m. on game days. He projects none of the self-defeated vibe that defined some of the other pro coaches who were pancaked in this market, the Mike D'Antonis and Mike Woodsons. The Rex Ryans too.

In fact, Coughlin was done an injustice by those who lumped in his situation with Ryan's as things spun away from both. Coughlin was the New York coach who won the rings Ryan guaranteed, remember?

No, Coughlin hasn't been at the top of his game in 2014, not even close. But he was working with a brand new offensive coordinator and system, and working around Cruz's injury with substandard personnel. Jerry Reese did draft the amazing Beckham after 11 other teams didn't, and he does deserve full credit for piecing together two championship rosters in eight years on the job.

But as much as the GM likes to meet with Manning before every season to charge the quarterback to improve his game, it's time for Reese to start making a few more plays, too.

Reese is almost certainly safe because the Giants change general managers as often as people change social security numbers. Coughlin? He might be safe on one hand, and a victim of Giants public policy on the other.

In 2010, after refusing for weeks to chase away the circling vultures and declare Coughlin a keeper, Mara confirmed his coach would return once the final game was complete.

"I don't feel every time there's a headline or speculation about somebody's job status that it's my job to step in and make public statements about it," Mara explained that day. "That's not the way we run our business."

Sometimes exceptions need to be made. During one grim period of what would be a 10-6 season, Coughlin admitted to ESPNNewYork.com that the constant noise about his status impacted him.

"I try not to let that be bothersome to me," he said then, "but it's really difficult to ignore it. Every time we lose a game, that stuff comes up."

It's come up again this year, again and again and again, and Mara hasn't budged. So be it. If Coughlin would prefer that his employer deliver votes of confidence for the record, he'll need to work for someone else.

Either way, the head coach deserves one last shot in 2015, when another non-playoff year will ensure the end of his Giants career. The old man will be all out of benefit-of-the-doubt reprieves then, unless, of course, he becomes the first man in franchise history to win three titles.

Under that scenario, Tom Coughlin might be asked to coach the Giants into his 80s.