Posted by: Mike Cornelius | December 19, 2019

Far From Broadway, A Revival Closes Early

It’s a story Broadway patrons will recognize. Whether local or from out of town, the throngs who wander the Great White Way after lining up at the TKTS booths in Time Square or Lincoln Center or the Seaport to snag discounted seats for that day’s performances know that with firm directing and a strong cast, a revival can be a show well worth seeing. Even though they may be intimately familiar with the play’s story or the musical’s songs, the right actors and good choreography will make the old production seem entirely new. There are even Tony awards given annually for the best dramatic and musical revivals, honors most recently won by the 50th anniversary return of “The Boys in the Band,” one of the first plays to put gay life in its appropriate place in the mainstream, and an innovative take on that venerable favorite of high school drama clubs, “Oklahoma.”

But those theater fans would be quick to point out that not every revival is a guaranteed box office hit. Rave reviews and smashing success in one era do not ensure a similar result at a later time. Familiarity carries the heavy burden of expectation, and if the results are in any way less than anticipated, the rebooted production can seem like nothing more than an outdated and shopworn staging, one that audiences will dismiss as a feeble attempt to profit off reflected glory.

Which brings us to this week’s news of the abrupt end to Tom Coughlin’s tenure as executive vice president of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Hoping to improve the sagging fortunes of his franchise, Jags owner Shad Khan hired Coughlin in 2017 on the strength of his earlier performance as a head coach in both Jacksonville and the Meadowlands. Coughlin was the first coach for the expansion franchise Jags, leading the team for eight seasons starting in 1995, after which he spent a dozen years on the sidelines as head coach of the New York Giants.

Through those two decades of NFL generalship, Coughlin built an imposing record of success. In just the second year of the Jaguars existence he led the team to a Wild Card spot in the playoffs, and once there guided the franchise all the way to the AFC Championship Game before Jacksonville’s season finally ended at the hands of the pre-dynasty Patriots. That was the first of four straight winning records and trips to the postseason, a run that was bookended by another appearance in the conference title game. To do so much in such a short period of time with a roster that, like all expansion teams, was initially made up of the rest of the league’s castoffs, cemented Coughlin’s reputation as a successful head coach and earned him enormous goodwill in northeast Florida.

It also made him a popular pick for the Giants coaching job when he was offered that position prior to the 2004 season. Just as he had in Jacksonville, Coughlin quickly made winners out of a team that had regressed since losing Super Bowl XXXV to the Ravens in 2001. He had New York back in the playoffs in his second year, and in his fourth season at the helm, with Eli Manning leading the offense, Coughlin’s Giants ran the postseason table, a run that was capped by David Tyree’s “helmet catch” of a Manning pass that kept the winning fourth quarter drive alive as the Giants shocked the previously unbeaten Patriots and probably ninety percent of fans watching Super Bowl XLII. Four years later Coughlin had New York back in the season’s final game, and once again the Giants brought a bitter end to the season of Belichick, Brady, and fans across New England.

But even the most successful Broadway shows don’t run forever – well, except for “Phantom of the Opera” – and when Coughlin’s second Super Bowl title was followed by four indifferent seasons and zero trips back to the playoffs, the Giants parted company with their coach. By then Coughlin was sixty-nine years old, and no one would have been surprised had he chosen to call it a career. But like many who either play or coach our games, Coughlin couldn’t walk away from the prospect of hearing the cheers of the crowd and seeing a scoreboard showing his team ahead with no time remaining. When Khan offered a renewed run at the very theater where he had first starred, this time as the franchise’s chief of football operations, Coughlin was only too ready to once again take the stage.

For one season at least, the old magic was there, and the crowds loved it. With Coughlin making management decisions, Doug Marrone on the sidelines, and the previously unheralded Blake Bortles at quarterback, the Jaguars posted a 10-6 record and returned to the playoffs for the first time in a decade. Just as the team had twice during Coughlin’s coaching tenure, Jacksonville advanced to the AFC Championship before finally losing, as New England got a bit of revenge on the man who had proven to be such a nemesis while in New York.

That quick success proved illusory, like a spirited opening number before a show goes flat. Coughlin proceeded to make several personnel decisions that would prove disastrous, starting with a $54 million contract extension for Bortles. Coughlin also passed over Deshaun Watson in the NFL Draft, and after jettisoning Bortles gave an even richer deal to quarterback Nick Foles. More critically, Coughlin proved unable to adapt to changing times. Always known as a strict disciplinarian, he was quick to impose fines and other punitive measures on players, at a time when players in all sports are becoming more assertive. Fully one-quarter of all NFL player grievances filed in the last two years came from members of the Jaguars’ roster. Just one day before Khan fired him, a mediator sided with the players union and overturned millions of dollars of fines imposed by Coughlin.

In the end Coughlin’s second act was ended as much because of his style as the Jaguars record of wins and losses. It was a revival that left audiences feeling deflated, glad that they had moved on rather than fondly remembering the good old days. In the wake of his firing Coughlin’s agent released a statement asserting that “there is plenty of football left in Tom Coughlin.” But the guess here is that there won’t be much room for Tom Coughlin in the NFL.

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