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Coughlin still ahead of Reid in coaching ranks

Nick Fierro

6:27 PM PST, January 18, 2012

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As the football world continues to examine New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning and assess where he ranks in the hierarchy of NFL quarterbacks, perhaps a more fitting inspection should be done of the only professional head coach he's ever had.

Specifically, how does Tom Coughlin stack up against his principal NFC East counterpart, the Eagles' Andy Reid? (And please, Redskins fans, don't even think about bringing up Mike Shanahan and his two Super Bowl wins back in the Pleistocene.)

Tom Coughlin or Andy Reid? It's worth a debate, as their career numbers are remarkably similar. But Coughlin's teams are tougher and his game day adjustments are better — and the feeling here is that had Coughlin been coaching the Eagles the past dozen years, the Birds would have at least one Super Bowl title by now.

In 13 seasons, Reid is 136-90-1 (.601), including 10-9 in nine playoff appearances. He's led the Eagles to the conference championship game five times, winning once, and lost his only Super Bowl appearance. He has the most wins and highest winning percentage of any coach in franchise history.

In 16 seasons, the last eight with the Giants, Coughlin is 152-121 (.557), including 10-7 in the playoffs. Like Reid, he's lost more conference title games (two) than he's won (one), but guided the Giants to one of the top Super Bowl upsets of all time when they beat the unbeaten New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.

Combined with what Coughlin's done to get the Giants to this year's NFC Championship Game, it's not a stretch to say he has the more impressive resume. But it's not a slam dunk.

The guy's job has been on the line no less than two seasons of the eight he's spent with the Giants. Of course, the first time was 2007, when his team responded by winning the Super Bowl; and the second was this season, in which his team is more than halfway toward duplicating that feat after two dominating playoff victories.

Coughlin's Giants career has been strange: Five playoff appearances, but one and done in three of them. And he's lost to Reid's Eagles the only two times they've met in the playoffs.

Coughlin became available for the Giants to hire in 2004, the same season the Eagles peaked under Reid with their Super Bowl appearance. But since being hired, Coughlin also has won more playoff games (six) than Reid (five), with the same number of conference game championship appearances.

Projecting him as coach of the Eagles instead of Reid, would the Eagles still be without a Lombardi Trophy?

The feeling here is no, and it has less to do with the raw data than the feel for what Coughlin brings to the table as a thorough game planner and taskmaster.

Coughlin's rigid discipline was unheard of by the Giants at the time. It was not enough for players to be at meetings on time, but they had to be there five minutes early, the reason being that he wanted their heads totally cleared by the start.

Furthermore, their feet had to be on the ground the whole time. Think about that: not even allowed to cross their legs, much less prop them up. The idea again was to keep their minds focused on what was being presented and not getting too comfortable in their seats.

His approach was met with resistance at first, but it eventually paid off in 2007.

The following year, the Giants were by far the best team in football — until Plaxico Burress's gun went off in that nightclub incident. The fallout from that event, combined with his absence the rest of the way, took away the "by far," and they lost a playoff game to the Eagles in a defensive scrum at the Meadowlands.

Before and after that game, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson kept pounding the point home about how much less difficult the Giants were to prepare for without Burress because of the red-zone dimension he gave them.

Not coincidentally, the Giants went 0-for-3 in the red zone in that contest, which they lost by eight points.

Point is, the '08 debacle couldn't be blamed on Coughlin. And neither could the epic Miracle at the Meadowlands II, when his punter panicked under a heavy rush and kicked the football to DeSean Jackson instead of out of bounds, as he was ordered to do. That fluke ending, which doesn't need to be repeated here, kept the Giants, who still won 10 games, out of the playoffs.

Even with all those things conspiring against him, Coughlin has found a way to be more successful than Reid.

Taking it a step further, had Coughlin been with the Eagles since 1999, it would not be unreasonable to think he might have delivered more than one championship, considering the talent they had and the appropriate emphasis he places on having a superior defense.

Coughlin eventually had to dial down his fanatical rules, but he's straddled the line very nicely in remaining more rigid than Reid. Reid, on the other hand, seems to straddle the other extreme line of being too easy. This season, with so many young players and not enough leadership provided by the older ones, that approach backfired spectacularly.

In a year that required him to lean on them a little harder, he backed off even more than usual, perhaps too concerned with violating the many silly rules of the new collective bargaining agreement that has turned pro football into glorified two-hand touch.

Reid still brings a lot to the table. And who knows? Maybe with his job on the line as it supposedly is now — hard-core Eagles fans remain skeptical of owner Jeffrey Lurie's postseason address indicating that to be the case — Reid's players will respond with a little more focus in 2012.

But until that happens, there's no way to say Coughlin isn't the better coach, win or lose this Sunday at San Francisco.

Coughlin's teams have just been a little tougher when it matters than the Eagles. It's a sobering reality for the Eagles now — as they reside in the same division as a proven winner who doesn't appear to be moving on very soon.

nick.fierro@mcall.com

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