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Palladino: Regardless Of Who Wins Sunday, Coughlin Should Be HOF-Bound

'From the Pressbox'
By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns

Ernie is the author of "Lombardi and Landry."

Today's plane ride will take the Giants from Newark Airport to Indianapolis and Super Bowl XLVI.

For Tom Coughlin, it may have been something quite different. Come Sunday night, that short journey may prove the culmination of a career-long trip to Canton.

Of course, you'll never get the old coach to admit such a thing. Maybe some journalist in the post-game interview room will be able to pry some vague reference about his future, about whether he plans to continue coaching past his current 65 years of age, or whether, win or lose against the Patriots, he belongs in the hallowed halls where coaching brethren Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick will undoubtedly wind up, Parcells possibly as early as Saturday's announcement of the Class of 2012.

Maybe then Coughlin will entertain such lofty questions, if at all. But certainly not now. At the moment, this man who barely gives himself time to consider what he'll have for the next day's breakfast is busy with some weightier matters, like touching up the gameplan to beat the AFC's No. 1 seed at Lucas Oil Stadium.

So, to take the burden of the future off his shoulders, let's conduct a discussion of our own.

Quite simply, it reads here, Coughlin belongs in the Hall of Fame whether he wins a second Super Bowl championship or not. A win Feb. 5 would simply seal the deal, drawing him even with his old boss, Parcells, and placing him one behind an even surer selection in his Super sideline counterpart, Belichick.

It won't be all because of his Giants career, either. What also gets included in the resume is his work in bringing the Jacksonville Jaguars from expansion team in 1995 to an AFC Championship Game participant a year later, where they lost to the Patriots 20-6.

Through smart player procurement and demanding coaching, the man Jags owner Wayne Weaver hired on Feb. 21, 1994, a full 559 days before the Jags ever set foot on a gridiron in anger took the Jags to four straight playoff appearances, including another conference title berth in 1999. Only recently, when Weaver sold his team, he admitted that firing Coughlin after his eighth season at the helm marked one of the owner's greatest mistakes.

Super Bowl victories are glitzy, of course. They're the things that grab everybody's attention. But advancement deep into the playoffs with two teams has to count in the final summation, too.

What may be swept under the pile of statistics, wins, and losses is the biggest reason the Hall-of-Fame and Coughlin have been mentioned in the same breath lately. The coaching job he did in 2011 was his best ever. True, this 9-7 record won't get Coughlin the Coach of the Year Award when Alec Baldwin announces the winner Saturday. That will probably go to either Jim Harbaugh, who brought the 49ers up from never in his rookie coaching season, or Green Bay's Mike McCarthy.

But Coughlin, who won that award his second season with the Jaguars, gets just as many points as anyone else for keeping the Giants together during a season-long plague of injuries that would have sent any other team spiraling into oblivion. The Giants may not have looked pretty at times; downright ugly, actually. But Coughlin kept them playing until they regained some semblance of health.

At their nadir, their embarrassment against the Redskins for their fifth loss in six games, he became the master psychologist in emphasizing the positive with a "Chin-Up" speech and the reinforcement that the NFC East title was still out there for the taking.

Everybody knows how that turned out.

Here they are now, poised for a Super Bowl XLII rematch against Belichick's Patriots.

The outcome shouldn't make much of a difference as far as Coughlin's credentials go. He already has a full resume.

The plane ride to Indy is just the capper.

Do you agree that Coughlin deserves Hall of Fame immortality? Make your case in the comments below...

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