goes back with
more than 35 years, when the first-year Maryland football coach was a backup quarterback at Syracuse and Coughlin, now on the eve of his second
as head coach of the
, was his offensive coordinator.
Coughlin is older and grayer, but he shows the same steely-eyed approach in coaching the likes of
that he did with Edsall, whose disappointing college career led ultimately to his decision to become a coach.
"You can just hear the same messages when you watch the press conferences and he talks about preparation, he talks about hard work, doing things the right way, that's the great thing about Tom — he's still Tom, he's still Coach," Edsall said Friday in College Park. "He might have tweaked some things, but he hasn't lost those core values and ideals that make him successful."
Edsall, who worked under Coughlin as a defensive backs coach at Boston College from 1991 to 1993 and then with the expansion
from 1994 to 1997, said Coughlin's softer side has been overshadowed by his tough-guy image.
"What people don't really see is how genuine, and how much he is concerned for his players," Edsall said. "They [the players] might not realize it as they're going through it, but basically what he's trying to do is make you a better person all the time. I read a story about
, who said that his first year he didn't understand him but 'now what he's trying to do is make us better men.' He's never going to stop trying to help you reach your potential and go beyond."
Much of the way Edsall deals with his players at Maryland, and before that at Connecticut, stems from the manner in which he was treated by Coughlin. Unhappy with the lack of playing time, Edsall called his parents back in Glen Rock, Pa., to tell them he was coming home. His late father told Edsall to tell Syracuse coach Frank Maloney and Coughlin of his decision. Edsall did, and wound up finishing his career there despite rarely playing.
"The one thing with Tom was, he was never going to tell you what you wanted to hear, he was always going to tell you the truth, and he was going to be a stickler for details," Edsall recalled. "Making sure that things were being done the right way."
It didn't change as their relationship grew from assistant coach and player to head coach and assistant, from college to the NFL. Dick Jauron, who served as Coughlin's defensive coordinator for his first three seasons in Jacksonville, said there were many similarities between Edsall and Coughlin by the time he worked with them in the mid-1990s.
"They're both very focused, very detail-oriented, very smart people," Jauron, now the defensive coordinator for the
, said Wednesday. "When I met Randy, he and Dick were very much alike — they have strong virtues and are hard workers."
Edsall said "everybody's personality is different, but what I believe in, in what you have to do to be successful, I took a lot from my working with Tom." Edsall said that when he joined Coughlin at Boston College, he told his wife that they probably wouldn't be there very long.
"He probably had bigger aspirations than Boston College," Edsall said. "That's the thing, coming up in the profession, you always want to get with somebody you can learn from who knows what it takes to be successful, has a plan to get it done. That's how you grow as a coach, how you grow as an individual. The years I spent playing and coaching for Tom played a significant part in who I am and shaping what my philosophy is and what you have to do to be successful for the long haul."
Fran Foley, who also coached under Coughlin at Boston College and later joined the Jaguars in player personnel, said Coughlin took a similar approach with the Jaguars as he did in college. He took five members of his staff with him.
The first training camp was held at Wisconsin-Stevens Point, a move designed partly to bring what Foley called "a ragtag bunch of castoffs, free agents and rookies" together as well as to get away from the searing summer heat of Florida.
"He wanted more of a collegial atmosphere," said Foley, who is now director of football operations at Maryland for Edsall. "He has matured with the salary cap, and has learned that the top of your roster's got to be treated differently."
Edsall laughed at the memory of that first training camp.
"We went up there and they probably had the hottest summer they ever had — temperatures over 100 degrees," Edsall said. "It was quite an experience. Intense. He was never going to joke about [the weather]."
The Jaguars wound up playing in the
championship game in Coughlin's second season there — losing to the same
the Giants beat in the Super Bowl four years ago and will face tonight at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. He ended up taking the Jaguars to a second AFC championship game.
"You don't bet against Tom Coughlin when his back's against the wall, I'll tell you that right now," Edsall said. He's a fighter, he has a plan and he knows what the plan is. He's not going to let the critics change his point of view or his plan. When the going gets tough, he's not going to wince, he's not going to falter, he's going to stay the course and the people that he leads are going to see that he's not shaken or any of those things. ...It's him against everybody else — that's the thing."
Edsall said that much of Coughlin's personality stems from his background growing up in Waterloo, N.Y., and being a backup wing back who occasionally got to block for the likes of future Hall of Famers
and Floyd Little at Syracuse.
"He's had to work for everything," Edsall said. "He's the other guy in the backfield with Larry Csonka and Floyd Little. You're not getting the ball there, you're blocking and doing the things you have to do. Everything Tom has ever gotten in his life he's worked his tail off to get. In Tom's mind, he says, 'Every day I've got to prove myself. I'm going to prove people wrong.' That's just his mentality, and that was the mentality he would instill in you as a player."
Jauron said Coughlin is going "to work like his back is to the wall even when it's not".
Coughlin's second Super Bowl appearance as a head coach comes in a season during which the Giants were at one point 7-7 and had lost twice to the
, leading to speculation in the national and New York media that his job was in jeopardy. It is similar to what happened in 2007 before the Giants made the same kind of late-season run they have this season.
Edsall said his longtime mentor and friend has not received the respect he should.
"I think he's one of the best coaches out there who's not gotten the credit he deserved just because he's not a guy who's going to be a politician and tell people what they want to hear, a media darling," Edsall said. "Tom is one of those guys that's just focused. He knows what he needs to get done and he feels has to get done with his football team to be successful. He's working to try to make those players better people, and getting them focused for the task at hand. Whether he wins this Super Bowl or not, I think he's a guy who should be inducted into Canton [at the Pro Football Hall of Fame]. What he did at Jacksonville was phenomenal. There were so many people who counted him out."