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Coughlin vs. Parcells: Who's The King Of NY?

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Tom Coughlin and Bill Parcells are two of the best coaches in New York Giants history, but who is the best? Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images.
Tom Coughlin and Bill Parcells are two of the best coaches in New York Giants history, but who is the best? Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images.

By the time New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin raised the Lombardi Trophy high into the air inside Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on the night of February 5, 2012, the debate had already begun. That debate, of course, is the one that will really begin to gather some steam once Coughlin decides to hang 'em up for good.

The debate about who is the greatest coach in Giants history: Tom Coughlin or Bill Parcells.

The way I see it, the debate doesn't even need to exist. I mean, not everything needs to be contested, does it? But I already know the answer to that: these days, everything does need to be debated. So even though both Coughlin and Parcells have left indelible marks of greatness on this storied franchise, at the end of the day, all anyone wants to know is who was the best?

Now I may be in the minority here, and a lot of old-school Giants fans may disagree with me (I'm fine with that and, in fact, I fully expect it), but the answer to that question is Tom Coughlin.

At first glance (and when I say first glance, I mean their coaching records, because that's all that's ever visible on the surface of debates like these), it's hard for the two to be any more similar. Parcells was head coach of the Giants for eight seasons (1983-1990). His record was 77-49-1 (.611 winning percentage) with five playoff appearances, four division titles and two Super Bowl titles. Coughlin has been head coach of the Giants for nine seasons now (since 2004). His record is 83-61 (.576 winning percentage) with five playoff appearances, three division titles and two Super Bowl titles. See? Those numbers are pretty close. How about this: both coaches have identical records (8-3) in the playoffs as well.

Of course the similarities between the two are always going to be there. Not just in their coaching records with the Giants, but in their coaching styles as well. After all, Coughlin was a disciple of Parcells, a graduate from the old Bill Parcells School of NFL Coaching. Coughlin was the Giants Wide Receivers coach from 1988-1990, and was a part of the team that upset the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV. So he knew a thing or two about winning in New York even before he was handed the reins 14 years later.

Where they differ in their success is what sets them apart. Bill Parcells won two Super Bowl titles with two teams that were arguably two of the most dominant teams of the decade. The 1986 Super Bowl team finished the regular season with a 14-2 record, and the 1990 Super Bowl team was 13-3. Both of those teams had dominant defenses that could shut down anyone who stepped on a football field, including the likes of Joe Montana, John Elway and Jim Kelly.

On the other hand, Tom Coughlin won two Super Bowls with teams that were not dominant by any stretch of the imagination. In both 2007 and 2011, the team barely squeaked into the playoffs, and they were underdogs in six of those eight playoff games. While the defense of both of Coughlin's Super Bowl teams stepped up considerably in the postseason and was a major part of those title runs, they were by no means considered one of the more dominant defenses in the league. Although the Giants ran through the 1990 playoffs and won the Super Bowl without Phil Simms, Coughlin's two Super Bowl teams had absolutely zero Super Bowl expectations entering the playoffs. You can make the case that every Giants playoff win in the Coughlin era was more improbable than the one before it.

What really sets Coughlin apart from Parcells though is how the New York media handled each coach in the early part of their respective careers. Coughlin caught a lot of heat for the better part of the first half of his tenure with the Giants, and had players openly talking to the media about their discontent with the way Coughlin handled the team. Players like Tiki Barber and even Michael Strahan were in a constant tug-of-war with Coughlin, and the city was just about ready to run him out of town about halfway through the 2007 season. 

Then something happened.

Instead of shrinking away from the harsh pressure of coaching in the biggest media market in sports like so many have had before him, he completely transformed himself and his coaching style. Suddenly, the atmosphere and whole culture of the team had changed and the bitterness in the locker room all but disappeared. Then the winning began soon after.

Bill Parcells never faced the kind of adversity that Coughlin faced, and he certainly never had to change any part of his coaching philosophy. Coughlin adjusted and adapted on the fly, and those adjustments won him and his team two Super Bowl titles in five years. To change the opinion of the notoriously rigid, demanding New York sports media and fanbase and go from being vilified to victorious is no easy feat, and nobody knows that better than Tom Coughlin. For that reason, he's accomplished more in his tenure with New York than Bill Parcells — although by the narrowest of margins.