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Monday, December 3
Updated: December 4, 5:14 PM ET
Leaving Jags wouldn't be easy for Coughlin

Associated Press

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Tom Coughlin could be nearing the toughest decision of his career.

It could be a choice between leaving for his dream job, or staying to nurture the franchise he built -- a choice between walking away from a task unfinished or turning his back on a rare opportunity.

The Jacksonville Jaguars' coach is considered a contender for the Notre Dame job that opened when Bob Davie was fired Sunday.

The Jaguars fell to 3-8 after Monday night's 28-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers. For the second straight season, they are accomplishing much less than Coughlin expected.

Coughlin, who did not return phone calls seeking comment for this story, turned his back on reporters and walked out of the room Saturday when asked if he would consider Notre Dame.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Coughlin said: "I do NOT comment on rumors. I do NOT comment on rumors."

Owner Wayne Weaver said nobody from Notre Dame has contacted him. When asked if he would let Coughlin out of the last two years of his contract, he replied, "You'd have to ask Tom if he wants out of his contract."

"I think this is the third year this rumor has reared it's ugly head, and our comments are always the same: Tom Coughlin is our football coach in Jacksonville," Weaver said.

Soon, however, rumors could give way to reality, and Coughlin might have to take an unflinching look at where he is with the Jaguars.

They have deep salary cap troubles, and Coughlin freely admits that the losing is taking its toll. His players don't really like him -- that's never been a big secret -- and his personnel decisions as a general manager are coming under increased scrutiny.

From afar, this would seem like the perfect chance for the Irish-Catholic coach to get out and to start fresh at Notre Dame, the school he has often dreamed of coaching.

But this choice won't be easy.

Coughlin is a more complex man than the unbending, militaristic caricature he's portrayed as by outside observers who don't spend much time in the small media market of Jacksonville.

When he was lured here from Boston College -- another difficult career choice -- he insisted on, and was granted, full control of the franchise. He hired everyone from the secretaries, to the public relations staff, to the assistant coaches, to the players.

With Weaver's virtually limitless purse strings, Coughlin built this team from scratch. And when the Jaguars came within one win of making the Super Bowl in 1996, then again in 1999, Coughlin got the credit: This was his baby, he reveled in it, and he was one of the hottest coaches around.

The thought of leaving now that things have turned sour, of leaving the team he built with a huge rebuilding task ahead, might brand him -- unfairly or not -- a quitter.

Quitting is not in Coughlin's nature.

Coaching is.

Lost somewhere amid his ridiculous lists of rules, his foul-mouthed sideline demeanor, and his unbending disciplinary style, is a desire to turn football players into better people.

"Even at this level, I always want to think there's a chance to make a difference in these young men's lives," he said in an interview last year.

That comes off as an almost naively quaint notion in these days of professional sports, where big money and free agency don't mix well with loyalty and relationships.

If that really is Coughlin's view of coaching, he might fit in better on the college level, at a place like Notre Dame.

Yeah, it's hard to imagine a 55-year-old taskmaster who won't let his players wear tennis shoes in a hotel lobby relating to a 17-year-old kid making the toughest decision of his life.

And yeah, it's hard to imagine Coughlin, The Control Freak, going to Notre Dame, where academic standards are harsh and a cabal of athletic directors, boosters and administrators play a bigger role than most any coach can stand.

But Coughlin did it at Boston College. He went 21-13-1 there and made a name for himself on Nov. 20, 1993, when he defeated none other than top-ranked Notre Dame 41-39.

That victory made Coughlin more recognizable and proved he could do it as a head coach.

It caught Weaver's eye and gave Coughlin his gateway to the NFL. When he left Boston College for Jacksonville, he said telling his BC players was "the toughest thing I've ever had to do in my life."

Now, he could be on the cusp of another crossroads, equally as difficult. Does he try to finish the job in Jacksonville, or go for his dream job under the Golden Dome?

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