Old-school Coughlin has quite a track record

In many ways, Giants coach Tom Coughlin is the antithesis of Eagles coach Chip Kelly. Yet Coughlin has been willing to listen and make adjustments along the way.
In many ways, Giants coach Tom Coughlin is the antithesis of Eagles coach Chip Kelly. Yet Coughlin has been willing to listen and make adjustments along the way. (BILL KOSTROUN / AP)
Posted: October 25, 2013

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The Eagles announced on Jan. 16 that they had hired Chip Kelly as their head coach, and with that, the oldest of old-school men left in the NFL began reading up on his new colleague and adversary.

Though Tom Coughlin had noticed the eye-popping offensive numbers that the University of Oregon had been putting up, Kelly's tenure there had been a matter of curiosity to him, little more. But now Kelly was on his way to the NFC East for at least two games a season against the Giants. Surely the arrival of such an innovative football mind would compel Coughlin to change his offseason plans and preparation, wouldn't it?

Um, no.

"We spent the offseason like everybody else did," Coughlin said Wednesday, four days before his team faces the Eagles for the second time this month. "You look at your opponents. That's it. That's what you do in the offseason. You take your opponents. You start with your divisional foe. They've got a new head coach. What's his background? Done."

This is how we've done it before. This is how we'll do it again. And again. And again. So the Giants prepare their defense for the Eagles as they would for any opponent that has dabbled in the read-option or the pistol or the hurry-up: Coughlin calls out "Mach" (as in Mach 1, the speed of sound) and has Eli Manning and the Giants' offense snap the ball every 20 seconds. The notion that Kelly's system might revolutionize the NFL was just something to cause Coughlin to turn up his nose.

"You knew that that was coming," he said. "So it wasn't any surprise."

He is one of the last of his kind, really, a coach who would seem a better fit during the days of Vince Lombardi, Woody Hayes, and George Halas. Sunday's game, truth be told, is symbolic of this cultural shift, both in the NFL and across the landscape of American culture and sports.

Coughlin is the emotional disciplinarian. He's a raw, scarlet face on a frozen night in Green Bay, shouting at his players during the 2008 NFC championship game, shouting at the officials, shouting at everyone in sight. He's football as it has always been. Kelly is the breaker of every unwritten rule, motivating his players less with his temper than with his creativity, going for it on fourth down and kicking conventional wisdom in the teeth. He's what football appears to be becoming.

That the Giants are 1-6, sliding toward their first losing season under Coughlin since 2004, and the Eagles are 3-4 under Kelly, after winning just four games last season under Andy Reid, only accentuates the disparity between the coaches' styles. At the moment, it's easy to argue that the stodgy, grumpy Coughlin - 67 years old, in the midst of what might be his last season with the Giants - represents everything that's antiquated about the NFL. Kelly is new. Kelly is different. Kelly is cool.

"That's what it's about," said defensive tackle Mike Patterson, who spent eight years with the Eagles before joining the Giants this season. "I'm sure [Kelly] wanted to come in there and bring his own style. He doesn't want to fill somebody else's shoes. He wants to make his own shoes.

"In a way, you have to give him credit. If he sees something, he's running with it. He believes in what he's doing."

That's the thing, though: Every coach believes in what he's doing. The question for Kelly is whether he'll be humble enough to adjust his approach if circumstances demand it. Coughlin was. His job was in jeopardy in 2007, and he entered that season with a mandate to listen a little more, to lighten up, to foster a working environment that wasn't as oppressive.

He's still oh-so old-school, and maybe his way doesn't work the way it once did. The Giants are awful this season and vulnerable to ridicule, and maybe Kelly really is the future.

But remember: Tom Coughlin did adjust. He did lighten up. And during the 10 years he has been their head coach, the Giants have won three division titles, reached the playoffs five times, and won two Super Bowls.

Wouldn't Chip Kelly sign up for that? Wouldn't you?


msielski@phillynews.com

@MikeSielski

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