Moving forward, Coughlin insists he has no regretsPosted: Saturday January 04, 2003 6:39 PM
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Never mind that it was almost midnight, the tail-end of an exhausting, 16-hour day. There was Tom Coughlin, bounding off the airplane, practically sprinting through the concourse.
Some people sulk when things go bad. Some people take a few days off. Tom Coughlin -- he goes to work.
"I just keep swinging," he said.
He was back home from Cincinnati where Friday, only four days after being fired as the only coach the Jacksonville Jaguars have ever had, Coughlin interviewed for the Bengals' head-coaching vacancy.
He wore a black suit, a red tie, an American flag pinned to his lapel. He carried a black briefcase. Nowhere was there a sign of teal or gold, the Jaguars colors he wore with pride everywhere he went since he became the "One Voice" of one of the most successful expansion franchises in the history of pro sports.
Now, the voice has been silenced.
"You know, you go as hard as you can," Coughlin told The Associated Press. "You try to do everything right, and hope that in the long run, that prevails. Sometimes it doesn't."
But maybe it will at the next stop.
If Coughlin and Bengals owner Mike Brown can iron out some tough details, mostly concerning power over personnel decisions, Cincinnati is a real possibility.
The Bengals haven't had a winning season since 1990. They just finished 2-14. They are, by almost every account, laughingstocks of the league. That makes them, by Coughlin's standards, the kind of team he might like to coach.
"I've always been intrigued and inspired by things that people say can't be done," Coughlin said.
At the beginning in Jacksonville, people said there was no way an expansion franchise could go from virtually nothing -- a bunch of guys working in a trailer in a parking lot -- to the cusp of the Super Bowl in the span of 24 months.
But flash back to Coughlin on Jan. 4, 1997 -- exactly six years ago Saturday: There he was, standing on the sideline in Denver, watching his team complete one of the biggest upsets in NFL history, 30-27 over the Broncos, to earn a trip to the AFC championship game in just its second year of existence.
By then, Coughlin had already brandished a reputation as a hardworking, relentless taskmaster. His first training camp, during the record-hot summer of 1995 in Stevens Point, Wis., cemented his standing.
He literally drew a line in the sand -- a so-called "Concentration Line" -- at the gate where the players crossed onto the football field. The rules they followed -- no sunglasses, no crossing their legs during meetings, no jewelry and pads, always pads, during every practice -- were part of his legend before he ever coached his first NFL game.
"I'm not used to all this," nine-year veteran Ernest Givins said at the time. "He's jumping on me all the time."
Givins didn't make it through the season.
As the years passed, Coughlin bristled at the media's depiction of the caricature he had become, a stereotype validated time and again by all the unbelievable "Colonel Tom" stories that filtered through his locker room.
But, as almost any player will tell you, silly rules and unbending discipline don't always seem so bad when you're winning. And that's pretty much all the Jaguars did for their first five years.
"I want people to remember those first five years," Coughlin said. "That's important to me."
Only when the winning stopped did the act start to wear thin and not make sense anymore, to fans or players. Three straight losing seasons, dwindling attendance and a growing sense that the players had tuned out their coach left owner Wayne Weaver with no choice but to fire Coughlin, and separate him from the team he built from scratch.
Clearly, he didn't agree with the decision, but does Coughlin understand it?
"I won't let myself go there," he said. "I know that we did some things here that people who don't know the business can't understand. We enjoyed every minute of it. Our family was excited about being here. We leave it at that."
The 56-year-old "former coach of the Jaguars" -- Coughlin practically shivered when a local TV anchor introduced him by that title during a live shot -- won't lie. Getting fired wounded his pride.
Yet, when asked what hurt most about Weaver's decision to fire him Monday, he had no time for self-pity.
"I have absolutely no regrets," he said. "You realize it's part of the business. You try to make sure your family is in good shape with it emotionally, and you look to the future."
For Coughlin, the future might be with the Bengals. It might be with the Cowboys as an assistant to his old friend and mentor, Bill Parcells. Or maybe somewhere else.
But the thought of taking a break while he heals his wounds?
"I don't normally operate like that," he said.