EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Of course it was a prepared speech. It had to be. Preparation is right there next to breathing on Tom Coughlin's priority list. The now-former New York Giants coach's farewell news conference on Tuesday wasn't going to be some unpredictable Q&A with reporters. Coughlin had a message, and he delivered it with military-grade energy and precision.
"While the two Super Bowl trophies out here are incredible accomplishments, and I'm very proud of them, don't get me wrong," Coughlin said in the climax of his pulpit-pounding speech, "I believe it is the unbreakable bond between coach and player that defines me as a coach and any humble success we might have had here as New York Giant coaches."
Yes, pulsing at the center of a news conference he didn't even have to give was a message from Coughlin to the Giants and any other NFL team looking for a coach this offseason: Rather than focus on what's hot or what's wrong, consider what's important.
"While it is the job of the head coach to get the technical football right, to make sure the X's and O's are efficient, that the players have a great plan and a chance to win games," Coughlin said, "it is our duty to equip these men with the virtues that will last a lifetime -- the values like honesty, trust, responsibility, respect, service and integrity. Those are the things that we teach, in addition to football."
You want to know who the next Giants coach will be. Whether he'll be an "offensive-minded" or "defensive-minded" coach. Whether his "system" will suit Eli Manning. Whether he'll keep offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo (assuming the new head coach isn't McAdoo himself). These are all good, buzzy questions being asked around the league.
But the better question, when looking for a head coach, is what kind of leader he is. Whether he can dig into the hearts and minds of his players, find what moves them and use it to motivate them and galvanize them and spark something in them that drives them to win games. That's the skill that brought the Giants the greatest of Super Bowl glories during the time Coughlin spent as their coach. That's what matters.
Someone asked Giants owner John Mara whether the idea of changing the offense around Manning was a factor in the decision about the next coach, and he said, "It's certainly a factor, but at the end of the day you have to get the right man for the job."
Not just empty words, those. The Giants clearly hit that part of it out of the park 12 years ago, and everyone here knows there's no guarantee it goes as well this time. Quality NFL head coaches are a bit like quality NFL starting quarterbacks, in that there might not be enough of them for all 32 teams. The skills required for the job go well beyond the televised decisions about when to throw challenge flags or go for it on fourth down.
"It has become the source of drive for me, that when our players, whether they're still in their career or after their career, when they come back to me and say, 'Coach, I love you,'" Coughlin said. "They follow that up by saying they've become better men, better husbands, better fathers, better friends because of their experience having been a New York Giant."
You as a fan who just wants the team to win games can dismiss this as sappy hogwash, but you'd be missing a vital point. Coughlin's players don't love him because he coddled them and let them do whatever they wanted to do. Quite the opposite, actually. Coughlin's players love him because he drew something out of them. They love him for giving them the incentive and the ability to make themselves successful. That's a skill that transcends any coaching system or philosophy.
"Championships are won by teams that love one another, respect one another, play for and support one another," Coughlin said.
Two of those aforementioned Super Bowl trophies in the lobby of the Giants' building prove the man knows whereof he speaks. The Giants -- and any other team out there looking for a new coach -- would do well to pay attention. What do you want in your next head coach? Offense? Defense? College? Pro? Young? Old?
Leader. That's what you want. A leader of people, one who understands the skills and responsibilities inherent to the task. Nail that part and the rest will all fall into place.