Tom Coughlin, the one coach who doesn’t fear Bill Belichick

Tom Coughlin and Bill Belichick have a long history; they were assistants on Bill Parcells’s Giants staff in the late 1980s and have met in two Super Bowls.
Tom Coughlin and Bill Belichick have a long history; they were assistants on Bill Parcells’s Giants staff in the late 1980s and have met in two Super Bowls.John Minchillo/Associated Press/File 2014/Associated Press

We are talking about the Fraidy Cat Coaches. We need not name names here but you know who they are. We are talking about just about every head coach in the NFL.

They talk a good game during the week, but we know it’s empty verbiage. All their years of football study and training are rendered useless when they step on the field and see Bill Belichick and Tom Brady standing on the opposite sideline.

All football acumen vanishes. They screw up the coin flip (don’t they know Belichick wants them to take the ball first?), then they call for some stupid double reverse or fake punt.


They allow the Patriots to have their way. After taking their punishment, they hear Belichick and the Patriots say nice things about them, but they know it’s lip service. The Patriots are laughing at them. There is no respect.

It’ll be different Sunday afternoon at 4:25 in the Meadowlands. The New York Giants probably won’t win the game, but they will not lose because their coach is overwhelmed or afraid of the Hoodie. The coach of the New York Football Giants is Tom Coughlin and he fears nothing. Including Belichick.

Coughlin knows almost everything there is to know about Belichick the coach. They spent some formative years together (1988-90) in the House of Bill Parcells when the Almighty Tuna was winning Super Bowls in East Rutherford, N.J.

Coughlin was the Giants wide receivers coach while Belichick was deep into his reign as the Tuna’s defensive coordinator. Coughlin was an even bigger football nut than Belichick. When Parcells called the Giants team offices on Christmas Day, it was Coughlin, not Belichick, who answered the phone. After two rings.

Here’s a passage from Parcells’s 2014 biography written with Nunyo Demasio: “Parcells viewed Coughlin as an ideal assistant and future head coach. Thanks to his leadership, intensity and indefatigability. ‘Strong like Ajax,’ Parcells says.”


All these years later, Coughlin stands as the one coach the Patriots and their fans take seriously. As a head coach, he is an amazing 5-1 lifetime against the Hoodie (including two wins while Coughlin was in Jacksonville and Belichick in Cleveland). Since New Year’s Day 2008, Coughlin is 3-0 against Belichick and the Patriots, including two Super Bowl conquests. No other team has a winning record against Belichick/New England in that time.

My favorite moment of Giants game week came when Belichick was on a conference call with the New York media and was asked to describe Coughlin as a coach. Belichick began his answer with, “Tom is very intense . . . ”

Huh? Belichick? Calling another coach “intense’’? That’s like Curt Schilling describing another person as “kind of a blowhard.’’

Tales of Coughlin’s intensity are legion. His profile always has been that of a Nixonian/wingtips-at-the-beach kind of guy. He’s a workaholic and master disciplinarian. When this reporter described Coughlin as something of a “madman” during his tenure at Boston College, Coughlin called the Globe offices to complain that the characterization “might hurt recruiting.’’

No chance, I told him. “Everybody already knows.’’

The kids who played for BC in those days certainly knew. You could never be late. Never embarrass the team. Woe was the hotshot letterman who dared skip class. That meant running stadium steps at 5:30 a.m. for the next week.


Coach Coughlin always knew. His attention to detail was legendary. When Boston College PR interns were hired as valet drivers for a BC booster event, Coughlin fumed after a student volunteer changed the radio station on the coach’s car while bringing the vehicle back for pickup. Coughlin had the kid called to his office, where he firmly explained the inappropriate nature of the transgression.

Coughlin was no less strict with his own children. The four Coughlin kids were pillars of politeness, trained in the school of eye contact and accountability. Coughlin and his wife today have 11 grandchildren.

For all the old-school regimen, the intense Coughlin has a soft, caring side. Ask the McGillis family, who lost son Jay after a seven-month battle with leukemia in the summer of 1992. Jay McGillis was a defensive back for Coughlin’s first BC team and the coach honored his young player, creating the Jay Fund, which still provides financial, emotional, and practical support to families of young people suffering from leukemia. BC’s annual spring game is the Jay McGillis Game.

Coughlin restored BC to great heights in his short tenure (three seasons, 21-13-1). He had the Eagles inches from an appearance in the 1994 Sugar Bowl before an untimely fumble against West Virginia on Nov. 26, 1993. He was also the driving force behind the expansion of Alumni Stadium. He left BC to become the first head coach of the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars.

Today Coughlin, 69, is the oldest coach in the NFL (Pete Carroll, 64, and Belichick, 63, are second and third). He’s 169-144 lifetime in NFL regular-season games, and owns a 12-7 playoff record, including 2-0 in Super Bowls, both against You Know Who. He’s only one regular-season win behind Mike Shanahan and only three behind Parcells, who ranks 11th in NFL history.


The top of that list is littered with guys who would not have feared Belichick. Guys who have their teams ready to play Big Boy Football on Sunday afternoons. Guys like George Halas, Tom Landry, and Curly Lambeau.

Guys like Bill Parcells.

And Tom Coughlin.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Shaughnessy.