Tom Coughlin just won a Super Bowl with a team that squeaked into the playoffs on the final day of the season, and finished 9-7. His Super Bowl win five years ago was also unexpected, and it came with an upstart team riding a hot streak. He’s repeatedly survived in his position in the boiler room powered by the New York media despite the utter lack of job security and intense scrutiny he faces nearly every offseason.
So when his contract extension was inevitably announced, it was expected that long-term security and a strong vote of confidence would finally arrive. They did, sort of.
The team finalized a two-year extension for Coughlin Wednesday afternoon that will keep him under contract until the end of the 2014 season. The end result is a two year extension, but the contract is actually a brand new three-year deal, and not just two more added years onto Coughlin’s one remaining year in his current contract, according to Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News. It’s worth $20 million and $6.7 million annually, which ranks Coughlin’s yearly paycheck sixth among head coaches, behind Bill Belichick (who’s widely rumored to be making $7.5 million annually), Sean Payton, Jeff Fisher, Pete Carroll, and Mike Shanahan (all of whom are paid $7 million, according to Forbes).
Coughlin escapes lame duck status since he won’t enter the final year of his contract this fall without an extension, a fate he was sure to avoid. Allowing a Super Bowl winning coach to start a season without a contract securing him beyond the end of said season is the ultimate sign of disrespect. However, a three-year commitment is a hesitant, and mild show of gratitude, despite the fuzzy and warm words both Coughlin and the Giants’ brass will say publicly.
His age was a likely factor. At 65 years old, Coughlin is the oldest active head coach in the NFL, and by extension in February he became the oldest coach to win a Super Bowl. He’s said repeatedly that father time is a friend, not a foe, and he hasn’t felt a strong desire to walk away from the game.
Retirement wasn’t given any consideration this offeason. While reading Coughlin’s words and then seeing his increasingly red-faced gesturing on the sidelines, it seems like in his mind retirement is something to be avoided, not embraced.
Here’s what he said just a few weeks ago…
“I’m not mentally, not physically, ready [to retire]. I feel I have good energy. I’m excited every day. The competitiveness, the nature of the business, is something that I’m still excited about. I don’t wander down that path. I don’t think about retirement. I enjoy the situation I’m in. I appreciate the backing I’ve received from [Giants] ownership and the way the players have responded to our program.
“I really don’t feel any pull or tug in another direction. I look at it on a yearly basis. In our business, no matter how many years they give you on the contract, it’s a one-year deal anyway.”
Those don’t sound like the words of a man who enjoys being away from a football field. Instead, Coughlin’s beginning to sound like the NFL’s Bear Bryant.
The most important part of that quote, though, are the very last words. Coughlin’s perspective here is vital, and he’s been around long enough to know that the coaching business is one where championships earn respect, but not necessarily job security. He knows that only the truly elite, upper echelon coaches are tied to one franchise, and given ultimate, unquestioned security.
But Coughlin is an elite coach, and now he’s lacking an elite commitment. Owner John Mara likely wants to gauge his head coach as he fades further into the clutches of age, and he’ll keep renewing the team’s commitment with short contracts until Coughlin no longer wants to continue. That’s why this deal is sufficient, but a four-year extension would have kept Coughlin on board until he reached the still manageable age of 70, and it would have given him further security through a greater commitment. Given his longevity, age shouldn’t be a concern, as the former Jaguars coach will likely be on a sideline until he’s at least 98.
Now Coughlin will coach just one more year before dealing with lame duck questions again entering the 2013 season. That’s not how an elite head coach–and maybe the NFL’s best head coach–should be treated as he fades into possibly his final years.
It’s alright, though, because contract questions are becoming routine now.