Tom Coughlin is a busy man right now. The Jacksonville Jaguars have some serious personnel decisions to make. Eli Manning, the quarterback who helped him win two Super Bowl titles in New York, has lost his starting job and is at the center of future-destination and Canton-related debate.
The Jags' vice president of football operations took time to speak to The Big Lead about his foundation (the Tom Coughlin Jay Foundation), his commitment to BETHERE for families tackling childhood cancer, plus the question that's on every sports pundit's daily rundown today.
KK: How did you decide that this is where you wanted to focus your energy? Was it something that touched you personally?
TC: We started the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Foundation after a player I coached at Boston College was diagnosed and, sadly, lost his battle with Leukemia. The player was Jay McGillis and the way his battle with the disease united the Brockton community was awe-inspiring. His family, friends, and teammates dropped everything to help. I feel blessed to have witnessed it. Jay and the McGillis family were the catalyst that inspired me and my family to help others going through the same thing. My daughter, Keli Coughlin, serves as the Executive Director and really leads the day to day charge. Her commitment is amazing. Since the foundation’s inception, we’ve helped over 5,000 families and provided over $11 million to families tackling childhood cancer, and we do it in the name and spirit of Jay McGillis.
KK: What are the foundation's biggest goals and how do you feel it's done at meeting those?
TC: The foundation’s main goal is to BE THERE for families tackling childhood cancer. We don’t focus on research. There are so many incredible organizations doing that. We focus on the here and now. Cancer is expensive and lots of two-income families find themselves losing that second income as one parent has to quit his or her job to take the child to treatments or for hospital visits. That’s where we help. We keep the lights on, the roof over their heads, food on the table and so much more when they are putting all of their resources toward helping their child get well. I am proud of the fact that we’ve never told a family no. It’s the way Jay would want it, but Jay was a hardworking kid and would be the first to say there’s always more to be done.
KK: Can you tell me about some of the most impactful moments?
TC: We have been touched by so many families and patients over what will be 25 years in January 2020, it’s difficult to pick. A couple that come to mind:
There is a young man named Rudy whose family we helped during his cancer battle who wound up interning for the foundation for a year after he graduated from college. Rudy is currently attending medical school and hopes to focus on pediatric cancer. There is something beautiful when you see things come full circle. Rudy is a real inspiration and a true testament to Jay’s legacy.
A couple of months ago, I visited a hospital and there was a young girl named Isabelle. She was receiving treatment and looked so tired, but she wanted to play a song for me on her harp. Isabelle is quite an accomplished harpist and the effort she made that day when I was there to visit her and encourage her, was so special. I was truly touched. This work is really selfish work, because I feel we get way more than what we give.
KK: Has this been a way to keep strong ties to the NYC area since life has taken you back to Florida in recent years?
TC: The New York and New Jersey communities, the New York Giants, and the incredible fans provided me with so many opportunities and support during my time there, I truly believe this is just one of the small ways I can show my appreciation, and of course, continue Jay’s legacy. I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating. I truly believe that when we are sitting in front of the good Lord, He isn’t going to care how many Super Bowls we’ve won, but He will ask if we’ve helped our fellow man.
KK: What else do you want people to know about the foundation?
TC: No one fights childhood cancer alone. It takes a team and the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Foundation is grateful for the many donors, supporters, volunteers, and staff members who have joined our team and made it their life mission to be a blessing in the lives of someone who will never be able to repay them.
KK: Fair or not, your public persona has been painted as a no-nonsense, serious guy. I have always been curious how that perception of you as a football coach affected you as a person. To that point, do you find that some people have pre-conceived notions of who you are and what you're all about, especially when it comes to your involvement with the foundation?
TC: I honestly haven’t thought too much about this. I’m sure there are plenty of people who have pre-conceived perceptions of who I am. That’s normal. We all do that. But, over the years, I think I have changed and really tried to become a listener - for my players and staff and my family. I credit my wife Judy and Michael Strahan for this. There is a Coldplay song that Strahan mentioned in his foreword in a book I wrote where he cites the lyrics, “Am I part of the cure, or am I part of the disease?” I often ask that question of myself.
KK: We've seen a rash of quarterback injuries, including in Jacksonville, around the NFL. Do you think that's a bigger part of the game now and what challenges does that present for a front office guy?
TC: When your quarterback gets hurt, it is naturally going to impact the team and the game, but that’s why we have back-ups. We prepare them for any scenario so they can step-up and do their job and have the support to do so successfully. Obviously, it is never good for a team or the front office when a team leader is hurt, which is the role the quarterback often plays, but it’s always a possibility.
KK: Any thoughts on Gardner Minshew's fashion sense?
TC: Gardner has a very positive attitude, is very well prepared and is very competitive. I did not notice his attire.
KK: Is Eli Manning a Hall of Famer?
TC: Without a doubt. Eli is an exceptional player, the quality of his character and his work ethic set the bar when I was head coach for the Giants. He is worthy of whatever accolades come his way.
KK: One final one: Sports media has changed tremendously during your football life. What are some of the biggest things that you saw transform and how how have you learned to negotiate them?
TC: I would have to say social media is the biggest game changer that I’ve seen to sports media, for better or for worse. It has provided a platform like no other for fans to interact with both players, coaches, sportscasters, analysts, and other fans from around the world in real time. It’s amazing. But like with any technology, it comes with a lot of pitfalls and a lot of responsibility. I think one of the drawbacks is many stories that are worth being told tend to get lost in the noise.