The New York Giants took a calculated risk of waiving the injured Ballard to make room on the roster to sign defensive tackle Rocky Bernard, and it backfired when the Patriots surprisingly snatched up the tight end off the waiver wire on Tuesday.
"Discouraged is a minor description," Coughlin said Wednesday when asked how discouraging the news was when he learned of it during minicamp practice Tuesday afternoon. "Very disappointing. I am not going to have a lot to say about that one, just the fact that we are disappointed. We are very disappointed."
Coughlin was then asked why the Giants didn't just keep Ballard on the 90-man roster so as not to risk losing him on waivers.
"Don't ask me those questions," the Giants coach responded. "I don't have the answers for you. We are all disappointed. That's all."
The Giants were hoping that Ballard would clear waivers and then be placed on the team's PUP/reserve list. He is expected to miss this season while he recovers from microfracture knee surgery and a torn ACL suffered in the Super Bowl. However, the team was high on Ballard, who had a breakout season last year before being slowed by injuries down the stretch of the season.
"Yes, we thought that he would clear," general manager Jerry Reese said in an interview on SiriusXM NFL radio. "It's rare, but it's not the first time something like that has happened. It's disappointing for us that we didn't get him back. He did a tremendous job for us and we hope he gets well soon and that he can finish his career, whether it's with New England or whatever team he ends up with. It was disappointing, but that does happen, every blue moon."
Reese said there is no bad blood between the Giants and Patriots over the move.
"No, absolutely not," Reese said. "There is no reason for us to have hard feelings about it. When you put a guy on the wire, he's free game for anybody. There are no hard feelings for us. They think that they can salvage the situation, so we will see what happens. We only wish the best for Jake."
Coughlin said he does not think that other teams need to show a certain amount of professional courtesy knowing that the Giants were trying to make a roster move with an injured player who is not expected to play this season.
"I don't think there is any question about that part of it," Coughlin said. "Whatever the options are based on what the rules are, based on the procedural circumstance, all is fair."
At Patriots minicamp, New England coach Bill Belichick said Wednesday he didn't feel his team broke an unwritten rule by claiming Ballard.
"First of all, there aren't any unwrittens," he said. "You can't negotiate a contract, release him, and then renegotiate another contract with him that was already done in advance. I'm sure the Giants weren't doing that. So the player is on waivers, he's on waivers -- ours or anybody else's. I don't know what unwrittens you're talking about. ...
"Any time you put a player on waivers, you know there are 31 teams out there that can take him if they want him. We all know that. There is no secret about that."
The team expected Ballard to return healthy and make an impact in 2013.
"I certainly thought so, for sure," Coughlin said. "So did everybody, the whole building thought that way. Everyone did. It is obvious it was a calculated risk, and it didn't work."
Perhaps adding to the frustration of losing Ballard is the fact that the Patriots certainly aren't hurting at tight end. New England has the league's most prolific tight end tandem in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
Coughlin was asked if he was surprised that the Patriots claimed Ballard despite not needing a tight end.
"I don't have any comment on that one," the Giants coach said. "Nature of the business."
Ballard showed up at practice on Tuesday and said farewell to Coughlin and his teammates afterward. He was a popular player in the locker room.
"He did (appear stunned)," tight end Travis Beckum said. "He built a reputation here, he is very close to the guys here. I think if he could have picked, he would have picked to stay here, but that is not how the NFL works sometimes."
The Giants were expecting not to have Ballard this season, but the shock of losing him still had an impact.
"I was just shocked," said backup center Jim Cordle, who played with Ballard at Ohio State as well. "I just hope (the Patriots) utilize him and he can continue on the track that he was."
The Giants were already in the process of finding a replacement for Ballard since he was injured. Bear Pascoe, Martellus Bennett, Beckum, Adrien Robinson and Christian Hopkins are all among the tight ends competing for playing time. Beckum is recovering from a torn ACL suffered during the Super Bowl but began running on Tuesday and hopes to be back near the start of the season.
Asked what the Patriots like about Ballard, Belichick said, "He obviously had a real productive year last year, and we'll just see how all that goes. We haven't seen him yet."
ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss contributed to this report.