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Bob Papa: Friday's With Coach Tom Coughlin


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When Tom Coughlin stepped down as head coach of the New York Football Giants on Monday, it marked the end of an incredible 12 year run, highlighted by wins in Super Bowls' 42 and 46 against the Patriots. He is one of 13 men to have won multiple Super Bowls. When you add on what he did with the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars in the 90's, there is no doubt that one day he will be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

As the radio play-by-play man for the Giants as well as host for numerous Giants tv shows, I've had to work closely with Coughlin. As he concluded his final press conference, my brain was racing through all of the experiences I had with him. Suddenly I felt sick to my stomach knowing that my Fridays will never be the same.

Most people can't wait for Friday to arrive. Friday means the end of the work week. No more b.s. in the office. It's fun time with family and friends. I looked forward to Friday for a very different reason. Fridays are when we taped the radio pre game show with Coach Coughlin.(If the game is Monday then Saturday became Friday. That's how it's viewed inside the NFL world) Producer John Schmeelk and I made sure we were outside coach's office by 1:55pm. We were never scheduled to interview him before 2:10. But being five minutes early wasn't just for his players!

That's where the photo at the top of this blog comes in. That photo hangs on a wall outside of Coach Coughlin's office. It's a photo of Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Punch Imlach after winning the Stanley Cup. Imlach was a hard-nosed coach who demanded a lot of his players. But he got results. Sounds like the guy I was waiting for each week. But even the toughest, most disciplined coaches can crack a smile. Imlach with his feet up, a glass of champagne and the Stanley Cup by his side enjoyed the moment. No better feeling that winning a title and writing on the board "No Practice Tomorrow". Every Friday I leaned against a file cabinet and stood next to that photo outside of coach's office. I had seen THAT smile on his face in Arizona and Indianapolis after beating the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

Coach Coughlin would finish a staff or leadership meeting and start walking towards his office. He would see John and I and he would make believe he was annoyed that he had to do the interview. "Ugh, you two guys, how many more interviews do I have to do today?" As he breezed past us, he'd say, "let's go fellas, I've got things to do." We would then follow into his office and sit opposite his desk.

The first few years, he was intimidating. He would test us by pushing certain buttons. He always had a piece of information that he could needle us with. He wanted to see if we could take it. Did we dare have the guts to dish it out?

Having worked with Hall of Fame coaches like Bill Parcells and Chuck Daly, I learned that you had better respond to the digs. My go to move was to start the interview off with a question that the media may have badgered him with all week. Something that I knew he didn't want to talk about on a Friday afternoon. He would look at me with his steel blue eyes and this look on his face, "are you kidding me with this garbage?" I'd wait for him to start to answer and then I'd just start laughing.

But the reason why I will miss Fridays with Tom Coughlin is because I learned so much from him. It was the end of the week as far as practice. He was relaxed. Before we hit record, he would share information with us about his team or the opponent. We'd talk about other sports, or books that he had read. We'd talk about how much the game has changed. It was like sitting in a mini classroom. But he would really get going when we discussed his charity, TCJayFund.

Before every radio interview I give a count, "three, two and one..We are joined by Giants head coach Tom Coughlin.." Over the last couple of years coach decided that he would do the count. Always in control.

The Fridays on Saturday were even better. I would bring my sons with me. They liked to run around on the field in the field house before practice. Guys like Lawrence Tynes, Steve Weatherford and Zak DeOssie were out early. That's what special teams guys do. One Saturday Lawrence and Steve asked my kids to field punts and kicks. Coach Coughlin walks onto the field and he sees us. He immediately heads over to my sons Will and Nick, who were 13 and 11 at the time, and starts coaching them on the art of fielding punts. Not a quick "this is how you do it either". The ball is in the air and he's right beside them coaching them on the proper technique!

Many times they sat in his office as I recorded the pre game show. But never once did he not speak with them about their school work, sports or whatever was going on in their lives. He made them feel like they belonged on that couch. Several years ago we brought one of my son's friends. His father had died suddenly of a heart attack just a few weeks earlier. The family are huge Giants fans. Coach spent quite a bit of time talking with the boy about life. About the boy's father. Coach had us all watch practice and he told several of his key players like Eli Manning and Victor Cruz what the boy was going through. Once we were in the cafeteria Eli, Victor and many other players made sure they said hello and took a picture. Till this day coach will ask me how the family is doing. He genuinely cares and he doesn't forget.

After his press conference I made that same walk to his office that I had made so many times. Coach was standing behind his desk going through things he was planning to keep. There were rolls of bubble wrap on a desk that never had a piece of paper out of place for 12 years. There were three others in the office. Kim Kolbe has been an assistant to the head coach of the Giants since Ray Perkins. Chris Pridy and Ed Trigg were also there. They too assist coach in so many ways. It was emotional. I exchanged a hug with coach and I thanked him for everything. I looked around that office and a flood of emotions hit me. It may have been Tuesday afternoon but it took me back to Friday.

I will never forget what my Fridays were like for a dozen years. A picture of a hockey coach on the wall and a front row seat at the desk of one of the finest men you will ever meet. Tom Coughlin

 

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The Fridays on Saturday were even better. I would bring my sons with me. They liked to run around on the field in the field house before practice. Guys like Lawrence Tynes, Steve Weatherford and Zak DeOssie were out early. That's what special teams guys do. One Saturday Lawrence and Steve asked my kids to field punts and kicks. Coach Coughlin walks onto the field and he sees us. He immediately heads over to my sons Will and Nick, who were 13 and 11 at the time, and starts coaching them on the art of fielding punts. Not a quick "this is how you do it either". The ball is in the air and he's right beside them coaching them on the proper technique!

 

Makes me laugh, probably will always be that way. "Don't play football at grandpa's house" because theres probably no way they can just play ball in the yard, it turns into coaching clinics and drills and shit.

 

Coughlin would probably pull his car over in the worst neighborhood if he saw someone using improper technique.

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