Coughlin gets 1 more chance


CALDWELL, N.J. (AP) – Tom Coughlin was given a one-year reprieve to turn the New York Giants into a legitimate contender.

While the team’s owners didn’t give him an ultimatum, their message was clear.

“I think he knows we need to do better, that our expectations are much higher,” co-owner John Mara said in a conference call Wednesday. “I think we have enough talent on this roster to do better.”

Mara and co-owner Jonathan Tisch gave the 60-year-old coach a one-year contract extension through 2008, an agreement reached just days after the Giants were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs for the second straight season.

It was a disappointing finish for a team that won the NFC East in 2005 with an 11-5 mark and thought it had a Super Bowl shot coming into this season. A 6-2 first-half fueled those expectations.

However, injuries to seven-time Pro Bowler Michael Strahan and leading receiver Amani Toomer, dumb mistakes and a subpar second half by quarterback Eli Manning led to a 2-7 finish that caused fan unrest and put Coughlin’s job in jeopardy after New York’s 23-20 playoff loss to the Eagles in Philadelphia on Sunday.

In the two days that followed, Tisch and Mara talked football and future plans with Coughlin, and he convinced them he could make Manning better and the team a winner.

“He has a vision and he understands how that vision can now move forward,” Tisch said. “He did not have to save his job. He did not have to talk us into anything.”

The owners didn’t ask Coughlin to make any changes and they said they were satisfied he was the right man to lead the Giants.

“Tom Coughlin is our coach for 2007 and hopefully for many years after that,” Mara said. “That is the final decision.”

Hopefully is the key word, though. If there is another disappointment, the Giants might be knocking on the door of former Steelers coach Bill Cowher or Notre Dame boss Charlie Weis.

“When I become convinced that somebody in this organization is not capable of doing the job any longer then we are not going to hesitate to take action,” Mara said. “That is not the case here. I believe that Tom is an excellent coach and I believe that we will win with him.”

Coughlin, who was to earn $3 million in 2007, appreciated the decision but said he wasn’t surprised.

“I did not have any feeling I wasn’t going to be retained,” Coughlin said in a separate conference call.

Terms of the one-year extension weren’t immediately available.

Strahan, who missed eight of the last nine games, middle linebacker Antonio Pierce and Pro Bowl tight end Jeremy Shockey all welcomed Coughlin back for a fourth season.

“Like I’ve been saying, the coach is the real deal,” Pierce said. “He’s a good coach and he does a good job and we all share in what happened this season.”

Some fans, probably those who called for Coughlin’s job in the wake of a 30-7 loss to the Saints on Dec. 24, won’t be happy with the decision, Mara acknowledged.

“I am certainly sensitive to what the fans think,” Mara said. “I have received a lot of mail. But at the end of the day, you can’t make decisions on what the fans say, but what your eyes tell you and what your experience in the game tells you.”

Coughlin, who has a 25-25 record with the Giants, plans to meet individually with his coaching staff in the next week. Change is probable.

Coughlin made one move down the stretch, relieving offensive coordinator John Hufnagel after the Saints game and giving quarterbacks coach Kevin Gilbride the play-calling duties.

Despite reports that players were tuning out their no-nonsense coach, Mara insists Coughlin still has the respect of the team.

“I don’t buy that,” Mara said. “I think there is substantial support for him.”

Strahan agreed.

“I know the perception is that he is unapproachable and distant from his players, but that’s not the case,” he said. “I had some of my best conversations with him this season, and he showed me how much he cared about me as a person and as a player.”

Mara said a major part of the interview process was listening to what Coughlin had to say about Manning, and he was satisfied with the answers.

“Eli needs to play more consistently,” Mara added. “He would be the first one to admit that. Something that I have been concerned about is his play over the second half of the season. There is nobody in this building that doubts his ability and that feels like he is not the guy to lead us to where we want to get to. But he has to play more consistently.”

Coughlin believes Manning will improve next year, his third as the starter.

“He is the quarterback of the future, and certainly we have work to do there in consistency, in offensive point production, along those lines, but I’m very confident that we will achieve in that area,” Coughlin said.

Before joining the Giants, Coughlin was Jacksonville’s head coach from 1995-2002 and went 72-64.