From Jon Wagner / SNYGiants contributor
It’s funny what a couple of Super Bowl wins can do for deflecting the inevitable second-guessing of an NFL head coach.
All week long, leading up to the New York Giants’ last preseason game against the New England Patriots, the talk around the New York City area was the move that Tom Coughlin’s intra-city coaching rival, Rex Ryan, made by inserting starting quarterback Mark Sanchez into the Giants’ game with the New York Jets, during the fourth quarter last week.
Ryan was harshly (and rightfully) criticized for the resulting shoulder injury that figures to keep Sanchez out for at least the Jets’ regular season opener on September 8th.
But Ryan doesn’t have the pair of Super Bowl rings that Coughlin does. Rather, he lays claim to repeated, unfulfilled NFL title guarantees, after he came oh so close to reaching the league’s biggest game in each of his first two seasons as head coach — before he subsequently overestimated how easy it was to reach that level again.
Yet, while no coach is perfect, a bad decision is still just that, no matter the track record of the coach making it.
Still, to this point, Coughlin, despite playing key running back Andre Brown against the Patriots on Thursday night — causing Brown to leave the game with a fractured leg — has been able to steer clear of the same type of denigration that befell Ryan for his misguided choice that led to Sanchez’s injury.
To a large extent, it’s just dumb luck. If Sanchez would have rallied the Jets to a confidence-boosting, fourth-quarter win, and had Brown shown marked improvement in New England, while getting in some extra work that could have served him and the Giants well in their regular season opener, Ryan and Coughlin would have each seemed like gutsy geniuses.
Of course, that’s not what happened in each case. However, the responses from the media and fans were noticeably different for each coach.
Some of that also has to do with how each coach handles the media. The always straight-laced and direct Coughlin doesn’t normally have the same tendency to put his feet in his mouth the way Ryan does (and no, that’s not meant to be a shot at Ryan and the deal with his wife’s feet — although that is another example of the differing public personalities between the two coaches).
While Ryan is still dancing around the issue of how his top quarterback (by default) is still too hurt to play right now, Coughlin hasn’t yet been under quite as much fire for Brown’s injury, even though he gave an uncomforting explanation of why he played Brown against the Patriots, when he said simply that Brown needed to play better than what he showed the week before.
Perhaps there was something in the water in New Jersey this week, as the incidents with Sanchez and Coughlin were followed up with Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood choosing to go for two points sooner than he needed to in a 52-51, overtime loss at Fresno State, hours after the Giants’ loss in New England.
Coughlin though, had the benefit of learning from Ryan’s mistake and head coach Bill Belichick’s example of fully resting his own starters against the Giants on Thursday night.
More importantly, in terms of avoiding ridicule, Coughlin has what Belichick shares and what Ryan lacks — those scorn-shielding Super Bowl rings.
That may only last so long for Coughlin though, if the Giants miss Brown enough that it causes their coach a chance at contending for a third Super Bowl title.
Although there’s another big difference between Coughlin and Ryan, in that Coughlin’s job is safe while Ryan is on the coaching hot seat, mistakes like the one Coughlin made with Brown don’t go unnoticed where it counts the most — if not in the media, then certainly under the fully supportive, yet ever watchful eye of team president, CEO and co-owner John Mara.