It was a surprise to many recently when former Giants coach Tom Coughlin surfaced as a candidate to be the 49ers’ next head coach.
After the firing of Jim Tomsula following a 5-11 season, San Francisco had quickly conducted interviews with the likes of Chip Kelly, Dirk Koetter, Hue Jackson, Anthony Lynn and John DeFilippo, and the names of Mike Holmgren and Mike Shanahan also had been thrown into the hat.
But Coughlin, the longtime head coach in New York who took his team to two Super Bowl rings, was a startling addition. Coughlin, 69, is much older than the other coaches interviewed and was known as an outspoken and strong personality as coach of the Giants and Jaguars in a 20-year NFL career in which he’s gone 170-150 in the regular season with seven seasons of 10 or more wins, nine trips to the postseason and a 19-12 playoff mark.
It didn’t seem that Coughlin would be a good match with young CEO Jed York and general manager Trent Baalke, who had problems with another strong-personality head coach, Jim Harbaugh.
That still may be the case. Coughlin may be too hard-edged for York-Baalke, or they may not like his philosophy or methods. That will be determined after Baalke’s first interview with Coughlin, which took place Tuesday in New York, according to Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group. Will Coughlin get another interview, this time with York?
But one thing that shouldn’t be held against Coughlin – if the 49ers believe he’s the best man for the job – is his age.
Coughlin hasn’t been away from the sidelines, as Shanahan and Holmgren have been. He’s been an active head coach in the league in every season but 2003 since the Jaguars hired him in 1995 from Boston College.
As Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com noted this week, Coughlin has the pedigree of success the 49ers say they’re looking for, and a shared link with Baalke to Bill Parcells. Though Coughlin likely wouldn’t be around for the long term, he wrote, he might be the right man to stop the franchise’s slide and get it pointed in the right direction.
“The Niners could do worse than to hire Coughlin as a “bridge” coach to settle down the football side of things in Santa Clara,” Gutierrez wrote.
As Inman pointed out, Coughlin will turn 70 in August – but coaches at that age have had success. At ages 70 and 71, Marv Levy was a combined 20-12 with the Buffalo Bills in 1995 and 1996 and 3-1 in two trips to the playoffs those years. The Chicago Bears’ George Halas was 21-18-3 from 1965-67 at ages 70-72.
This week, Parcells told a reporter in Philadelphia – where Coughlin also is a candidate – that Coughlin remains an energetic, winning coach.
“I don’t think there’s a number on what someone’s capable of,” Parcells said. “Now if the guy doesn’t have any energy to do the job, then I think age can be a factor. But if he has the energy to do the job and still knows what he’s doing. … I know guys Tom Coughlin’s age that know a lot more about football than some of the 30-year-olds that are coaching it.”