Idiot to genius: the Tom Coughlin story
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jan 21, 2008
By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts man of reason
Football fans are crazy.
That's why they're called fans, short for "fanatics," because in their passion and devotion to their team they lose touch with reality.
Exhibit A: Tom Coughlin.
Coughlin is obviously a pretty darn good football coach.
He first achieved national accliam when he resurrected a moribund Boston College program suffering a post-Flutie hangover. His three-year career there (1991-93) was highlighted by one of the most monumental upsets in college history: the No. 17 Eagles toppled No.1-ranked 10-0 Notre Dame in South Bend, 41-39, in 1993. As the Cold, Hard Football Facts noted earlier this season, the Irish have literally never recovered from that defeat. And it made Coughlin a hot commodity in the NFL.
He took over the expansion Jaguars in 1995 and led them to the AFC championship game just a year after they were freshly minted, upsetting a hugely favored Broncos team along the way.
He took those same Jaguars – not the most talented group in the league, mind you – to a 14-2 record three years later. Jacksonville reached the playoff four times in the franchise's first eight years (all under Coughlin), and he left town with a more than respectable 68-60 record, plus a 4-4 mark in the playoffs.
Landing in New York in 2004, he took the Giants to the playoffs in two of his first three seasons.
That's a pretty impressive record of success for any non-Belichickian head coach in the NFL.
And yet, a month ago, sitting on a 9-5 record and poised for a return to the playoffs, Tom Coughlin's approval rating (according to Giants fans voting on ESPN.com) was 27 percent.
How bad is 27 percent? Well, George Bush's approval rating at the same time was 36 percent, and he's about as popular as the security guard in the Champagne Room of your local strip joint.
Coughlin's crime? His Giants lost a game, 22-10 at home to the Redskins.
Never mind that the Giants had just won two big road games in Chicago and Philadelphia to establish themselves as solid playoff contenders – all of those good deeds had been forgotten in a flash.
A month later, Coughlin is as popular as Broadway Joe in New York City, and for good reason. But why the total lack of faith from the panicky fans? Reason can't provide an answer.
Check out Coughlin's approval rating chart for the season (courtesy ESPN).
At 0-2, he was as popular as syphilis. Even after six wins in a row from Weeks 3 to 8, he was only at 75 percent – a full quarter of the fans were still steaming about those two defeats at the start of the season, or even Big Blue's first-round loss in the 2006 playoffs.
Coughlin had won seven of eight when the Giants got rolled by Minnesota, 41-17, in the 11th game of the season, and all of a sudden he was back at Bush levels – his approval dipped 40 points, from 72 percent to 32 percent, in the time it took to say "And it's another turnover for the Giants!"
Did Coughlin go from genius to idiot in a week? Only in the feeble, angry minds of the fandom.
And he's not the only coach to see his fan base turn on a dime.
Consider Norv Turner.
In Week 11 – WEEK 11! – his approval rating was 6 percent, the lowest any coach of any team registered during the 2007 season (according to ESPN's ranking system). By the time the Chargers had reached the AFC title game, Turner could have eaten free in any San Diego restaurant.
Only a few coaches are able to go an entire season without dipping below 50 percent approval with the ESPN.com crowd – which might be a little tougher than the average fan, but is clearly representative of the overall mood of the base.
Cleveland fans were ready to run Romeo Crennel out of town in Week 1 (16 percent) and in Week 4 he was up to 85 percent.
Green Bay's Mike McCarthy, a huge Coach of the Year candidate, couldn't keep his ahead over 50-percent approval, dipping to 26-percent approval after his Packers dared to get blown out by Chicago, 35-7, two days before Christmas. Accounting for the historically blind homerism of Packers fans and the holiday spirit, 26-percent for a guy whose team ended the season with the NFC's No. 2 seed with pretty rough treatment.
Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin had the highest approval rating of any coach, 95 percent in September, but was all the way down to 27 percent after the Steelers got blown out by the Patriots, 34-13, in December.
The only coaches to stay at or above 50 percent all year were Tony Dungy, Bill Belichick, Wade Phillips, Jon Gruden and ... Ken Whisenhunt?
Yes, Arizona fans deserve the 2007 Miss Congeniality award. Beaten down by years (and years, and years) of losing, they showed unique patience with their rookie head coach. Even at midseason, when Arizona lost to a slumping Carolina team just as the Cardinals were getting into the playoff race, the fans still supported Whisenhunt (well, 50 percent of them).
Apparently, this proves that the only way to get a reasonable fan base is to lower their expectations so much that they'll be able to take the inevitable losses in a football season with a grain of salt.
But for the other 31 franchises? It's win or suffer the wrath of the fanatics. Nobody knows the feeling better than Super Bowl coach Tom Coughlin.
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