Residents of Coughlin's hometown know a different Giants coach

Billie Owens

How can so many people be so wrong about Tom Coughlin?

Well-paid network sports analysts, sports reporters, TV anchors — they’re all talking about Coughlin, coach of the Super Bowl-bound New York Giants, and what a bristly disciplinarian and all-round not-so-pleasant guy he is.

This isn’t the Tom Coughlin people knew in his hometown of Waterloo, N.Y. No way. Just ask Phil Calabrese, who owns an 80-year-old dry-cleaning business in the village.

“I don’t know any Tom Coughlin,” he tells a puzzled visitor. “I know a Tom COCK-lin."

Yes, that’s where everyone — everyone outside Waterloo, that is — is so wrong about this guy. They don’t know how to say his name.

“I can see why people say COUGH-lin, it looks like it’d be pronounced COUGH-lin, but it isn’t. It’s COCK-lin. That’s the way it’s always been pronounced here.”

His wife, Bee, agreed and said her husband gets annoyed when people get it wrong.

One of Coughlin’s sisters, however, Carol Kingston of Canandaigua, N.Y., said COUGH-lin is the correct Irish pronunciation. Why it isn’t in Waterloo, she doesn’t know.

Interesting enough. But what about the personality of this 61-year-old coach, the no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners, bawler-outer of unsuccessful field-goal kickers?

No, that’s not really the Tommy people in Waterloo know. They talk of a generous man who as a boy was well-behaved, athletic and a good student. Hard worker is the one bridge between what’s remembered and the media’s depiction of a coach with a stunning work ethic.

“He comes from a great family, and we’re pulling for him,” said Mary Ann Sutliffe, who owns a gift shop in the village. “It’s like we’re all going to the Super Bowl.”

Storefronts and lawns and bumpers throughout town — on the edge of Buffalo Bills land — are festooned with Giants pennants, and every other cap in town seems to be a Giants cap.

Coughlin left Waterloo to play football at Syracuse University in the mid-1960s when the Orange were a powerhouse — in fact, he played in the same backfield as Floyd Little and Larry Csonka. Then, it was up the career ladder as a coach. One stop on the way: Rochester Institute of Technology, back when it had a football team.

But Tommy Coughlin, who lives in New Jersey, remains the hometown hero.

They even worry about him.

The Jan. 20 game against the Packers was brutally cold. His sister was in Green Bay for the game.

“It was one below at kickoff, and with the wind chill, it was like 29 degrees below,” Kingston said.

Back in Waterloo, some TV watchers feared they detected “freezer burn” on Coughlin’s face.

That won’t be a concern in Arizona. What will be are the so-far invincible New England Patriots. Of course, Kingston and most everyone in Waterloo is rooting for the Giants to win the Super Bowl.

Hal Wilcox won’t be. He’s a diehard Dallas Cowboys fan, but can’t say why. It has just always been that way, he said.

But Wilcox and sports fans of all stripes give Couglin his due — ornery, hard-nosed, verbally brutal, but a winning coach and a motivator.

“He takes care of business,” Kingston said. “They don’t mention his other side, especially the New York media. He is also warm and caring.”

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