Eli Manning said he had high hopes for this season, believing until just recently that the Giants could make it to the playoffs and make a run at another title.
But there was also another reason he wanted that to happen. Actually, another person.
With the Giants sitting out the playoffs for a fourth straight season and posting three straight losing records, there seems to be a very good chance that Tom Coughlin’s tenure as the team’s head coach will end. Which is why Manning joined the chorus of players who have expressed remorse for letting down their coach.
“I wanted to do my job and do my job well and get into the playoffs and have a big season so that he can continue being the head coach because I have such respect for him,” Manning said of Coughlin on a Monday conference call. “He’s the only coach I’ve had in the NFL. In that sense, I feel disappointed that I wasn’t able to play at a better level for him.”
As touching as that sentiment may be, Coughlin was upset to hear it when it was relayed to him later in the day.
“I feel badly that they feel that way,” Coughlin said. “It’s a shame that they have to be put in the position where they have to respond about something to do with me…. We try like heck not to put these young men in a position where they feel badly about the circumstances that the head coach finds himself in.”
The noble grabbing of responsibility for the current predicament is almost farcical. On one side are the players, which Manning once again echoing sentiments from the postgame locker room on Sunday night.
“I think he’s done a good job of getting us prepared and we have to do a better job of playing better, finishing games, and doing our job,” Manning said.
And then there is Coughlin, always trying to protect his players.
“I’m here for them,” Coughlin said. “If you want to break it all down, blame it all on me. I’m the head coach, I’m responsible. We lose, I lose the game for our players. Put it that way, leave it that way.”
It’s not that simple and neither is entirely accurate. There is also a third element – the architecture of the roster – that cannot be ignored. But when Coughlin was asked about the talent assembled on the team Sunday night following the 49-17 loss to the Vikings, he didn’t bite.
“I’m not going there,” he said.
Manning said Coughlin hasn’t brought up the subject of his job security with the team, but he hasn’t had to. They know. And Manning knows better than anyone, even if refuses to dwell on it.
“It’s not on my mind right now,” Manning said. “What’s on my mind is finishing this season and trying to finish the season strong and getting a win versus Philadelphia and end on a high note. We’ll see what happens after that.”
That’s just the way Coughlin wants it. He said he plans to address the team about his situation, but only in terms of encouraging them to ignore it.
“I will tell the team not to be distracted by it,” he said. “I’ve tried very hard, and you know this for a fact - the situation is not about me. I’m hoping that the players, they’re not going to get centered around that.”
This week, with no postseason to play for and the winds of change howling against the shutters, it might be almost impossible to fulfill what could be Coughlin’s last request.