Tom Coughlin gets his contract, and Parcells-like status; a German Giant waits for his visa

Tom Coughlin. (Photo via Giants.com)
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A weekly column about what the Giants are up to when they're not playing football.

Tom Coughlin just signed a contract extension through 2014. He has won two Super Bowls in his eight seasons as Giants’ head coach, which was also true of Bill Parcells when he abruptly resigned several months before the 1991 season.

Earlier in the week, before the extension, Gary Myers of the Daily News figured that now was as good a time as any to start the debate: Coughlin or Parcells?

It’s generally a fool’s errand to determine which of two coaches with relatively similar resumes is better in the abstract. Parsing out the talent of the players from the coach to ascertain which coach did more with the available talent is impossible. So is accounting for other factors, like pre-free agency vs. post free agency eras, quality of the competition, and help from assistant coaches.

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If the question is which Giants coach presided over better teams, the answer is Parcells, though not by as much as I would have suspected: Including playoff games, their records stand at 85-52-1 for Parcells, and 82-57 for Coughlin.

A more interesting question might be how both coaches will be remembered decades from now.

Parcells has certain advantages when it comes to eternal hold on the Giants fans’ imagination. The narrative surrounding Parcells was that through the force of his Jersey Guy personality, he restored the manly pride to a franchise that had been getting slapped around for the previous fifteen years. Parcells had other things going for him as well: He was charismatic and seductive, while Coughlin is gruff. He was a swaggering tough guy with a toothy grin, while Coughlin’s an uptight guy with a beet-red face.

Plus, Parcells’s Super Bowl teams resemble more the Platonic ideal of what a champion should be: They were dominant teams, low-gear steamrollers that did it with a formula of defense and ball control. By contrast, Coughlin’s winners have careened their way to the Promised Land, which it seems they’ve been doing for his entire tenure.

It’s fitting that last season alone featured three of hallmarks of the Coughlin era: A late-season collapse, rampant media speculation and fan sentiment that Coughlin should be fired, and an out-of-nowhere Super Bowl run. With that, Coughlin completed history’s quickest turnaround from the firing squad to Made Man status.

Now, he’s certified in the pantheon of all-time great New York coaches. This wasn’t the case after his first Super Bowl. The miraculous quality of it, augmented by David Tyree’s helmet catch and the fact that the Giants defeated the undefeated Patriots, made Super Bowl XLII seem like more a gift from the football gods than an affirmation of Coughlin’s greatness.

That oft-cited refrain in his defense,“Tom Coughlin is a good coach,” was pretty much the extent of the grudging respect that that Super Bowl bought him. But even that compliment was tinged with backhandedness, reducing him to a competent grunt and not a mythic figure like Parcells who transcended the prosaic world of X’s and O’s.

Consequently, he remained fireable: Good coaches get fired all the time. Legendary ones do not. He was respected but not revered or beloved, kept at enough of a remove that, three-quarters through last season, many fans believed that while he was certainly a good coach, he just wasn’t the right coach going forward.

But that was the fans. Meanwhile, the players were embracing Coughlin in a way no previous Giants team had.

Perhaps this was because Coughlin really had mellowed a bit with age, and was letting himself be embraced. Take the Giants’ over-the-top celebration after their regular season win in New England, when, impromptu, they lifted Coughlin in the air.

A little later, Antrel Rolle, who in 2010 had made damning comments about Coughlin’s ability to relate to contemporary players, announced that he had done a 180 on the man. Coughlin was ‘Trel’s guy; Rolle said that one of the things that motivated him was saving Coughlin’s job.

All those corny mantras (“Finish,” “Talk is cheap, play the game”) once seen as evidence of Coughlin’s hopeless geezerdom, were now being parroted by the players he was supposedly so out of touch with. For one of those mantras, “No toughness, no championships,” he got the chance to practice what he preached. After taking a nasty sideline hit to the leg in Week 16 against the Jets, Coughlin shrugged it off and kept on coaching. Thus, the 2011 Giants season was given its symbolic moment of the general’s dismounting his horse and joining his soldiers in the fray.

As the Giants kept winning and each game took on life-or-death implications, his post-game speeches were captured by N.F.L. Films and replayed. The longtime caricature of the aloof old white guy droning on to a locker room of disinterested young black guys was proven false: It was evident that Coughlin connected with his players.

He’s here to stay now, free to coach out his remaining years as a living legend. There’s no more debating his merits and drawbacks; it’s pretty much all canonization from here. We’ll hear plenty about Coughlin’s preparedness, his competence (as evidenced by his percentage of successful challenges), the resiliency of his teams, and, lastly, his integrity.

This last point, that old maniacal Colonel Coughlin, once known for his borderline sadistic training camps, is actually a man of integrity, will go down as a big part of his legacy. It presents a favorable point of comparison to Parcells, who, along with his good qualities, was also known for his mean streak, ego, and predilection for waffling. Many Giants fans harbor bitterness toward Parcells for deciding the leave the franchise after presumptive first choice to replace him, defensive coordinator Bill Belichick, accepted another head coaching job. It’s hard to imagine Coughlin leaving on similar terms.

In their purported morality and Catholic-infused brand of old-timey solidness, the Giants and Coughlin are a spiritual match. That’s one reason he became coach: Through stops at Boston College and Jacksonville, John and Wellington Mara looked at Coughlin and thought, Now there’s a Giant.

And that’s what John Mara was talking about in the wake of Coughlin’s extension, when he said, “In so many ways Tom represents to me who and what the head coach of our franchise should be.”

IT EVIDENTLY TOOK THE TEMPORARY BREAKUP BETWEEN Osi Umenyiora and his agent, Tony Agnone, to negotiate the contract bump that will bring him back as a happy camper this year. (Estimates range here, but Umenyiora will either get $6 or $6.5 million, up from the $4 million he was scheduled to make).

Umenyiora fired his agent two days before he signed the contract. Apparently, Agnone was a conscientious objector to what he believed “was a substandard deal,” according to Umenyiora. But with Umenyiora guaranteed to become a free agent after this coming season, Agnone will represent him for his next round of negotiations.

It’s worth noting that all of the drama surrounding Umenyiora the past few years has yielded a mere $2 to $2.5 million one-time payment. Two thoughts in light of this: 1) The idea that Osi was an out-for-himself team-killer now seems preposterous, and 2) Jerry Reese handled this masterfully.

MARTELLUS BENNETT, THE PRESUMPTIVE STARTING TIGHT end with a reputation for being high-maintenance, showed up to training camp at 291 pounds, then promptly injured his hamstring.

The obvious suspicion was that Bennett, a former second-round draft choice who failed to get untracked with the Cowboys, was out of shape.

Not true, said Bennett. Using the “all muscle” defense, Bennett turned the tables on reporters, saying, “What you should be writing about is how much of a freak Martellus turned himself into.”

He claimed the injury resulted from working out too hard, and not the other way around. “Faster, strong, jump higher, run longer, great conditioning. Every conditioning test we’ve had, I aced. Everything we’ve been doing. Routes, I’ve been running smoother, more explosive out of all my cuts. Just been beasting out all summer.”

Also during this exchange, a shirtless Bennett looked down at the pack of mostly schlubby, middle-aged reporters and said, “Do I look fat?”

DEFENSIVE TACKLE MARKUS KUHN, THE GIANTS' sixth-round draft pick from Germany who is not a United States citizen, hasn’t participated in O.T.A.s because he’s still waiting for his work visa.

Work visas take between two weeks and six months to receive. While the bureaucracy slowly churns, Kuhn waits on the sideline, in uniform but unable to participate. Interestingly, according to the Star-Ledger’s Jorge Castillo, he’s able to participate in the classroom portion of O.T.A.s but not the on-field part.

Some guys just stand out because they look a little different, and the guys that stand out are the guys fans root for. If Markus Kuhn were named Joe Smith, and he was a solid lineman for Auburn, nobody would really care about him.

But he spells Marcus as “Markus,” he’s German, he has a mullet, he has a large, fleshy face that seems milimeters from bursting out of his facemask bars, and he harks back to the days when big, burly men proudly sported paunches. He doesn’t look like a defensive lineman so much as a bouncer at a mid-80s discotheque in East Berlin.

So Giants fans are keeping a closer eye on this guy than most sixth-round picks.

IF HE CAN PLAY, THIS GUY'S GOING TO BLOW UP.

While on a clothes-shopping trip with his agent, David Wilson stopped by FAO Schwartz, noticed some jugglers outside for a promotion, asked if he could give it a try, “and he was a better juggler than they were!” according to a New York Post tipster.

We’ve already seen Wilson do 21 straight backflips, and we’ve already heard him proclaim he has the best attributes of both Arian Foster and Ray Rice, two of the best running backs in the N.F.L. He’s fun-loving and loquacious. If he plays as well as he talks (and does backflips and juggles), he’ll be a star in New York.

On a related note, this Giants team is full of magnetic personalities. For Giants fans who came of age in the 1990s, when the franchise was characterized by the twin qualities of being dull and outmoded, having a team with David Wilson, Victor Cruz, Jason Pierre-Paul, Antrel Rolle, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and even Chris Canty is an embarrassment of riches.

ON THE SUBJECT OF THOSE INSIPID GIANTS TEAMS of the 1990S, the Houston Chronicle catches up with the hero of that era whose excellence was swallowed up by all the mediocrity around him: Rodney Hampton.

Hampton has put on a few pounds since his playing days, but he seems to be doing well for himself by running a nonprofit organization called “Hamp’s Camps” that administers sports afterschool programs in Houston.

Hampton was great for a few years, a guy whose understated excellence resided in doing everything--running, catching, blocking--very well. But like most running backs, his window of effectiveness was pretty small. He played a fairly important role for the 1990 championship team as a rookie, amassing 729 yards from scrimmage before a broken leg sidelined him for most of the playoffs. Other than that, he toiled on some pretty forgettable teams.

The highpoint of his career came in the first round of the 1993 playoffs, on a frigid day against the Minnesota Vikings, when he took a sweep and stiff-armed and galloped his way to a 51-yard touchdown, pulling the Giants into a tie in a game they would ultimately win, 17-10.

But the Giants lost the next week, and three years went by before Hampton’s next playoff game. By that point, he was a shell of his former self and was coming off an injury. He contributed minimally in a bitter first-round defeat, also to the Vikings.

YOU'VE PROBABLY HEARD ABOUT THIS really nice story involving Brandon Jacobs:

A six-year-old Giants fan whose favorite player was Jacobs was upset that the Giants couldn’t afford to bring him back. So he mailed Jacobs $3.36 he had saved up.

Jacobs tweeted about it, writing, “I almost cried. I am still trying to hold it in. I may have to pay him a surprise visit.”

Two days later, he announced plans to take six-year-old and his own son to Chuck-E-Cheese’s.

Nice job.