By Ernie Palladino
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Over the next day or two or three, Tom Coughlin will sit down with John Mara and Steve Tisch and determine how, or if, his 12-year era as Giants head coach will end.
If the Twittersphere is to be believed -- and there is good reason to doubt anything one sees on that unconscionable rumor mill -- Coughlin will leave of his own volition. It won't be quite the fade away of another old warrior, Douglas MacArthur, but he will leave the battlefield to a younger candidate just the same. Whether he goes on to an advisory position within the Giants' organization, coach another team, or pack it in for the easy life in his beach house in Jacksonville remains to be seen.
The only thing that seems right about the situation is that Mara and Tisch in all probability will make it look like the 69-year-old Coughlin's idea. The two Super Bowl trophies have earned him the right to at least think he'll determine his own fate, even though four straight finishes out of the playoffs and three straight below .500 pretty much ensure the end of any coaching era.
And that is exactly how the old coach sounded following his team's 35-30 loss to the Eagles on Sunday, a game that ended with him surrounded by most, if not all, of his 11 grandkids wearing customized sweatshirts with their first names on the back.
That show of familial support was, unfortunately, the high point of a game that contained so many of the flaws of a 6-10 season. Most, as usual, appeared on defense as the Giants could neither cover tight ends at key times or keep Sam Bradford from mounting extended scoring drives. And, of course, there was the Connor Barwin strip-sack that Walter Thurmond returned 83 yards for a go-ahead touchdown just as the Giants were poised to turn a 27-21 advantage into a two-score lead.
Oh, there were some good parts, as there usually were. The Giants rushed for 208 yards, led by Rashad Jennings' 170. And Eli Manning didn't throw an interception, though Thurmond's return was originally called one before it was changed to a sack and fumble. But those were only numbers, valuable only to winners.
Coughlin went through them all afterward, as he always does. He didn't change despite the cloud that has hung over him since the playoffs became mathematically unattainable with Washington's win Dec. 26. To him, only the game in front of him held any importance.
"You got your questions prepared for what direction I'm going in," Coughlin said at the start of his postgame press conference. "I'm not going to answer anything about that. The season just ended; there will be time for that."
Ownership's decision will come sooner than later. His players can feel change coming, though none would admit they dwelled on the possibility of a new boss.
"It wasn't really mentioned," cornerback Prince Amukamara said. "It was like Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter; you didn't really say his name but guys knew how much this game means to us to finish strong."
They couldn't pull out a final, though meaningless, win to send their coach out on a good note.
"It feels like we're letting that person down," Amukamara said.
Coughlin, meanwhile, strode through the locker room with head held high, smiling. He was not the befuddled coach of a week ago in Minnesota, wondering how his team could fold like it did. He was confident, and happy with his team's overall effort.
"I'm going to give myself a little bit of time," he said from the postgame podium. "I'm sure we'll talk with ownership and then we'll go from there."
Mara and Tisch both have hearts. They should couch it to make whatever happens look like Coughlin's decision. Whether or not they decide he deserves one last hurrah, or it deems the old warrior should just fade away, it should be presented as Coughlin's decision, not theirs.
It's only right. The two Lombardi Trophies he won for the franchise earned him that much.
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