Coughlin unplugged

The Coughlin family has been through much worse than some public criticism. Tom Coughlin has had to keep his composure through much tougher times than a tight game in the fourth quarter. <BR><BR>

Think deciding which play to call in overtime is difficult? How about speaking to your son on his cell phone as he races out of the World Trade Center on 9/11?

Tom Coughlin's toughest coaching job ever came on Sept. 11, 2001 when his eldest son, Tim, a bond trader on the 60th floor of the South Tower, was fortunate enough to escape, getting out of the building about 10 minutes before it collapsed.

"It was close enough for comfort," said Tim, currently working in the City for Morgan Stanley. "I had enough time to get out and get far enough away to where it was safe."

But Tim, 31, knew others that weren't as fortunate, including best friend Chris Lunder, who was lost in the attacks.

"That time for me and my family was very tough," he said. "It took me a long time to come to grips with some things. But as a family, we were very lucky. As bitter as I was about the whole situation, there was an inner warmth for our family."

Racing down the steps to safety, Tim was first contacted by his brother Brian, who phoned from Florida. "We couldn't make calls out," Tim recalled. "But they were able to get through to me."

By the time Tim reached ground level, coach/father Tom was on the other end of the horn from Jacksonville screaming for his son to get out as fast as possible.

"It was very comforting to have him on the other end of the phone," Tim said. "I can't tell you how great his voice was to hear. It just snapped me to attention and helped me focus on what I needed to do, which was get out of the building.

"He had seen everything on TV and knew how bad it was. My dad just wanted me to get the heck out of there."

"It was an awful day that obviously affected the whole country," Tom's wife Judy said. "We were so blessed to have (Tim) spared. It was incredible. We remember it every day and give thanks."

Fast forward 28 months, and Tim now felt blessed to have his father, recently named New York's 16th head coach, watch the NFL playoff games on Jan. 11 with him, his wife Andrea and daughter Emma Rose in their Ridgewood home in northern New Jersey.

"That was wonderful, getting to watch football with him is a lot of fun," Tim said.

So is knowing that your old man is back where he belongs.

"Tim is thrilled," Judy said. "His wife said the grin on his face is from ear-to-ear and it hasn't stopped since his dad was named Giants coach."

Most of the talk since Tom Coughlin took over on Jan. 7 is about his toughness, his strict, no-nonsense coaching approach.

But his family has also seen the other side of the 57-year-old Coughlin.

"I've always said that people don't know him," his wife said. "The football side of Tom and the personal side of Tom are so different. He does run a tight ship, but there is so much more to him than that."

The dictator she knows would stop at nothing to help ailing children; he started the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund to aid kids with Leukemia and cancer-related illnesses.

"He visits those kids in the hospital," Judy said. "There are a ton of things he does like that. He has such a tender heart, especially when someone approaches him like that. Especially for kids, it wouldn't matter whose kid, if they needed something it would get done."

For eight years in Jacksonville, Coughlin tirelessly attempted to get his team playing at as high a level as possible. However, the everyday life Coughlin led came to a screeching halt once he was let go by the Jaguars following the 2002 campaign.

"He missed it, he missed it a lot." Judy said. "After about two months, he was beside himself. Coaches don't have any time for themselves so they don't have any hobbies. They don't know what to do with themselves if they're not coaching. That's what happened to him. There was nothing for him to do. He was like a lost soul. It was a long year."

As Coughlin's wife, Judy can say things his players would never get away with; such as comparing her husband to an animal.

"He was like a fish out of water," she said. "He wanted to be helpful but he couldn't be. He doesn't know how to live in my world. He's never been there. He was like having a pet. Really. He was no trouble, but he was always underfoot."

Tim believes his father's year off was very beneficial.

"He's driven full-speed his whole life," he said. "Not many people can do that. I admire him for that.

"It's given him a better aspect for life. He's gotten to go grocery shopping, spend time with his kids, basically just do normal things."

Like being a father. Coughlin's strict, disciplined approach between the white lines was also on display in the Coughlin household, although, Judy says he "never takes anything football-related out on his family. Never, ever, ever."

However, all four of Coughlin's children – Tim, Brian, Keli and Katie – knew who ruled the roost.

"When they were little they all had a job," Judy recalled. "One of them was to line the shoes up in the garage. To me that was absolutely ridiculous. But that was the job and if they didn't do it they heard about it."

Growing up, Tim remembers his father's insistence on punctuality, a trait many of the Giants are going to have to learn in short order.

"During high school, one day I came home from football practice about 15 minutes late," Tim said. "He didn't talk to me for a week. Things he thought were important he wanted to be important to you as well."

Tom's appointment also serves as a homecoming of sorts for Tim. He used to hang around the team and assist equipment manager Eddie Wagner when he was younger. An excellent athlete, Tim also played football at the University of Virginia with former Giant Charles Way for a year before opting to play baseball. He helped his dad's team in any way he could.

"I used to warm up Phil Simms before games," Tim said.

According to Judy, Tom needed no warm-up time to become a grandparent. Tim and Andrea's daughter was born when Tom was still employed by the Jags. But Katie's son, Dylan, was born last Sept. 2 and has become grandpa's pride and joy.

"This man who was not around for four of our children is now an authority on all babies," Judy laughed. "He knows more about babies than any mother. He did get to learn about babies. It was an experience he never had and an experience he'll never forget."

On the flip side, something the Coughlins wish they could forget are all the negative reports about Tom's radical coaching behavior.

"I've been joking with everyone that I'm not going to read another sports page for years," Tim laughed. "I'd be naïve to say he isn't driven and demanding because he is. But the media hasn't given him a fair shake. A lot of what's been written has been exaggerated. Is he driven? Yes. Is he demanding? Of course. But the guys who want to win will love him."

"There have been reports I've asked him about when I've read them in the paper," Judy said. "I'd ask him, 'are you kidding me?' But nothing stands out. Nothing really surprises me and if it does it probably isn't true. Sometimes things get misinterpreted.

"He's learned from his experience that he can handle things a little differently and do better in some of the areas where he wasn't as strong."

The entire Coughlin family is thrilled that Tom has come full circle, returning to the place of one of his first professional coaching jobs, when he toiled under Bill Parcells as New York's wide receivers coach from 1988-1990.

"He's always had a special place in his heart for the Maras and the organization," Tim said. "My dad's an extremely loyal person."

"Going to the Super Bowl as a coach is as you close as you get to euphoria," Judy added. "Those were some of the most wonderful years that we've had. It means a lot to him to be back here."

It wasn't an easy road for Coughlin, but his never-say-die attitude is one of the reasons the Giants, especially owner Wellington Mara, fell in love with him.

"I admire my dad in a lot of ways, especially his guts," Tim said. "If he believes in something, he'll go after it."

The Giants head coaching job is just another example of a mission accomplished for Tom Coughlin.

"Of all the places we could have ended up, it's wonderful to be back here," Judy said. "We couldn't be happier with where we ended up. It doesn't get any better than this.

"I haven't seen him this excited in a long time."

If Coughlin has his druthers, the same will soon be said about the Giants and their fans.

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