JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- When Tom Coughlin was the New York Giants' wide receivers coach in the late 1980s under Bill Parcells, he was a relentless man on a staff of relentless men. On Christmas, Parcells called the Giants Stadium office to leave a message on Coughlin's voice mail. The phone rang. No one would be working on Christmas.
The phone rang again. Coughlin answered. He was the only coach at the office that day -- had been for hours. "I don't know if I should be proud of that story or not," he said.
A decade later, Coughlin is still living each day as though it has a fuse attached to it. Now the Jacksonville Jaguars' general manager and coach, Coughlin developed his intense work ethic under Parcells -- actually, he learned most everything about football from Parcells.
Teacher meets pupil. Friend against friend.
Coughlin was complimentary of Parcells as he spoke to a small group of media members, but it was what he said away from the pack in a corner of the team's complex that showed both his competitiveness and affection for his former coach.
"He's someone who I have a great deal of respect for," Coughlin said. "Normally, I work myself up for a game, and at the end of the week, I don't like the other guy, the other coach. That's going to be hard with Bill.
"When we were together, I just gave him everything I had, which was in return for what he gave me. I've always tried to instill in my staff that your reputation is based on your work ethic and you have to prove yourself every day. The other thing that I learned from him is that it's necessary to have a chain of command."
Coughlin also learned that it wasn't necessary to be chummy with your assistant coaches to get them to perform. "There's no social with Bill," he said. "You just work your butt off."
In a way, they are mirror images of each other -- tough, sometimes nasty, disciplinarians and franchise builders. What Coughlin has done with the Jaguars in four seasons as head coach is one of the most impressive feats in football this decade. The Jaguars, only a shade over four years old, are one of only six teams to make the playoffs each of the last three seasons.
Jacksonville is prospering while the Carolina Panthers, granted entrance into the NFL the same year as the Jaguars, have struggled, dismissing Dom Capers and hiring George Seifert as coach on Monday. The reason why is simple: Coughlin apparently made smarter choices than his Carolina counterparts did. The cornerstone of the Panthers was quarterback Kerry Collins, who this season quit on the team, and the center of the Jaguars is left tackle Tony Boselli, who is likely to be a Pro Bowl pick for the next 10 years.
Coughlin is one of the most complex men in football. He is a perfectionist, irritable, hard driving. Players used to be forced to keep their feet on the floor during team meetings. He once got mad at a valet driver who turned on his car radio. Pick your nickname, he has so many -- Technical Tom, Tom the Terrible, Tenacious Tom or Tom the Taskmaster. This is a man who every summer watches three movies: "The Godfather," "Patton" and "A Few Good Men."
He is smart, a great talent evaluator and a solid tactician. At one point this season, the Jaguars were crippled by injuries, losing three defensive tackles and a top cornerback and linebacker. Jacksonville also used three different quarterbacks and a revamped offensive line after Boselli was hurt. Still, Coughlin rallied the Jaguars to an 11-5 finish. Quarterback Mark Brunell missed almost the entire month of December with a high ankle sprain, but the Jaguars still won the AFC Central.
Coughlin has also tried to have a better relationship with his players, something that was once a weakness. Several years ago, after Coughlin joined a small group of veteran players in their Saturday ritual of doughnuts and chitchat for the first time, slowly, one by one, the players got up and left. No one was comfortable with Coughlin, who used to be as distant as Neptune. Now, after realizing he needs to be more personable, he joins them on occasion, and players don't run and hide.
Because Coughlin and Parcells are such good coaches, the game between their clubs is almost guaranteed to be a well-played chess match. "The thing about Parcells is he's going to have his team ready," Boselli said, "and Tom will have us ready. You're going to have two well-coached teams on the field."
Coughlin says the last time he spoke with Parcells was a month ago, but some New England coaches believe that Parcells gave Coughlin some tips on how to beat them the week of Sunday's wild-card game. Far-fetched? Maybe. But everyone in the league knows that Parcells often gives Coughlin advice on a number of issues, and no one would be surprised if Parcells slipped in a few tidbits on the weaknesses of his old team.
But when two buddies play each other, well, that is where a coaching friendship gets dicey. Coughlin knows all of Parcells' tricks, and Parcells knows Coughlin well. In fact, Coughlin remembered how the wind increases at Giants Stadium after a gate under the tunnel near the west end zone is lifted. When Coughlin was coaching in New York, and an opponent would try a field goal, that door would mysteriously find its way open, increasing the vortex of wind.
"I'll be looking for that one," Coughlin said with a smile.
Tomorrow (Line in parentheses) Time TV
San Francisco at Atlanta (-3 1/2) 12: 35 p.m. 45, 5
Miami at Denver (-13 1/2) 4: 15 p.m. 13, 9
Jacksonville at N.Y. Jets (-7 1/2) 12: 40 p.m. 13, 9
Arizona at Minnesota (-15 1/2) 4: 15 p.m. 45, 5
C onference championships
AFC championship, TBA
NFC championship, TBA
AFC champion vs. NFC champion, 6: 18 p.m. (Fox)
Pub Date: 1/08/99