CHICAGO -- You cannot undo what's been done, and Tom Coughlin isn't the sort of man to waste his time trying something so foolish and futile. The New York Giants are 0-6 for the first time in 37 years. There's no fixing that. There's nothing the head coach or anyone else can do to make it better. In front of Coughlin lies a miserable 10-game expanse of which he and the Giants must make the best. Beyond that, likely, lies a decision about if, at the age of 67, he wants to stick around and be part of a rebuilding project for a franchise he's led to two Super Bowl titles in the last seven years.
How does Coughlin approach all of that, from the vantage point of the first 0-6 start he's ever had as an NFL head coach? The same way he'd approach it if he were 6-0 -- with a laser-like focus on what he can control and what's right in front of him.
"You go back to work," Coughlin said late Thursday night, after the Giants played their best game of the season and still lost 27-21 to the Bears at Soldier Field. "You have to put everything you can into preparation and try and go win a game, just like you'd do under any other normal circumstance. We're all sick of the losing, but we put ourselves in this position. So we keep striving to improve in the areas we need to improve and to come up with ways in which we can be better."
That's what's on Tom Coughlin's mind at 0-6. You want to talk and wonder and speculate about his future? Go right ahead, but please forgive him for declining to join you. That's not who he is or how he operates. And for that reason, he's probably the best coach the Giants could have to manage them through a season that's over three weeks before Halloween. All that's left for these Giants is pride -- the ability to get themselves up for a game every week and put forth a respectable, professional effort. They are not a contender, right now, for anything but the No. 1 pick in next year's draft. The only remaining question of significance is whether they will quit the way you see teams quit every year when it's over, or if they'll play hard until the bitter, meaningless end. You'd better believe that matters to Coughlin, and because it matters to him, it matters to his players.
"We're always confident, and that hasn't changed and it won't change," Giants guard Kevin Boothe said. "This stinks, but we have a lot of proud guys in here that have won championships. That's the culture of this organization and of this team, to never give up."
Coughlin's mission over he final 11 weeks of this season will be to maintain that. He's not getting fired, now or at the end of the season. And he doesn't sound as though he has any interest in firing anyone himself. Asked if the 10 days between this game and the next might allow him to "make changes," he scoffed.
"What changes would we want to make?" he asked. "I don't see it. I'll look at everything. I'll evaluate everything."
But he's not likely to start firing coordinators in-season, because Coughlin doesn't believe in angry firings as the way to fix anything. Blood for blood's sake is a frustrated fan's instinct, and there are surely coaches, owners and general managers in the league who would operate that way if caught in these circumstances. But the Giants' coaches, owners and GM aren't like that. They're going to swallow this, cope with the fact that the team they put together is a terrible one, then go back to work in the offseason and fix it.
Meantime, though, they're not sitting on their hands. GM Jerry Reese has added pieces since the start of the season, and Brandon Jacobs, Jon Beason and John Conner all played very well Thursday night. Reese deserves a lot of blame for this mess, but he's looking for ways to make it more manageable. Coughlin is, too, and the work ethic they're showing in the face of futility filters down to a locker room that's maintaining its pride and professionalism under circumstances that would crush a lot of teams.
"We've just got to keep playing," said Jacobs, who rushed 22 times for 106 yards and two touchdowns. "This is a lot of adversity that's been placed in our path, but the only way we can overcome it is to stay together and keep working to get a win."
It's the only thing Coughlin knows how to do, and you can be certain it's the only thing he's thinking about. What lies beyond December is a complex, murky end of an era. If Coughlin wants to come back and coach the Giants in 2014, he'll know that he's doing it without Justin Tuck, without Hakeem Nicks, without David Diehl. Probably without Chris Snee, his son-in-law, which means without his grandchildren greeting him in the hallway and the locker room after home games. A lot will be changing with these Giants in the next offseason, and when the time comes, Coughlin's going to have to decide whether or not he wants to come back and help put the pieces back together.
But those are thoughts and discussions for another time. As much as people always want to talk about Coughlin's retirement plans, to this point he has none and doesn't want to spend any time contemplating them. That just doesn't make any sense to him. He has work to do and a game to coach next week.