Book Review: “Earn the Right to Win,” by Tom Coughlin with David Fisher
Shortly before Tom Coughlin was to take the podium for his introductory press conference with the New York media in 2004, I remember reaching out to a colleague who, at the time was with the Jacksonville media and who had covered Coughlin as head coach to the Jaguars to ask him what the New York media expect from the Giants’ new head coach.
“Good luck dealing with that crusty old son of a b—-.”
I won’t lie – it was tough at first. The liberties the media enjoyed under former head coach Jim Fassel– year-round access to the assistant coaches, admittance to the full daily in-season practices, and courteous responses to even the most ridiculous of questions–were all about to be yanked away from us, and, by extension, our readers.
Yet as I watched this feisty gentleman come in like a lion, intent on restoring pride that he felt had somehow gotten lost, any trepidation I had about him working out in the toughest media market in the country soon dissipated.
In his book, Coughlin provides the logic behind his one-time headline grabbing rules and practices that he has employed throughout his coaching career–the little things that have resulted in two Super Bowl championships with the Giants.
He shares stories from his early days growing up and as a coach; many motivational quotes from leaders such as General Patton, John Wooden, and Abraham Lincoln; and he does so in such a way that is not condescending, as was his style earlier in his career as Giants head coach, but which is more like that of an old sage trying to share his life experiences with anyone willing to listen.
As I was going through the 210-page book, I thought, “Oh I remember hearing this story.” But the stories that he shares, some of which may be new to the casual observer, drive home more than what makes him tick.
Yes, winning football games is important, and that was clear when he spoke about how he disciplined players who broke his rules, regardless if they were starters or backups. But there’s a bigger picture that some people don’t fully understand and that is sticking to one’s principles to achieve success and making sure that you don’t cut corners if you want to be the best.
He talks about being a stickler for detail and we learn the reason he obsesses with every little thing. For instance, when MetLife Stadium was finally completed, he and his assistants charted every little detail about the winds, the angle of the sun throughout the day, and other items that would ultimately factor into key coaching decisions such as when to defer on a kickoff, which end zone to defend, and when to try for a long pass or field goal.
He speaks about preparation – a lot – using a wonderful example about how he spent the time preparing last year for his ceremonial first pitch at a Yankees game because he was determined not to bounce the ball in front of home plate.
He talks about his growth over the years as a head coach, the most memorable of stories being the time when he asked quarterback Eli Manning to write a list of things that Coughlin could do better only to be surprised when the quarterback produced pages of ideas as opposed to the three or four items that Coughlin was expecting to get.
He also gives a look at his approach to coaching—at times showing a humorous side that reminds you that despite being so driven by details that he realizes the importance of showing a human side–and how he and his staff try to find the competitive edge when developing their game plans.
The most memorable of his stories? How the coaches found little things unnoticed by even the biggest students of the game in their study of the New England Patriots when they were developing their game defensive game plan for Super Bowl XLII.
The book, told from Coughlin’s perspective, is an excellent “how-to” manual for the current or future Giant player, assistant coach or employee who wants to understand just how the “Giant way” of success is achieved.
Whether you agree with Coughlin’s ways or think he’s still a “crusty old son of a b—-.” is a matter of opinion that this book probably won’t change.
What will probably change, though, after you read it, is your level of appreciation for how Coughlin has created a solid structure in an organization that discriminates only against those looking to take short cuts when it comes to being great.