JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Jacksonville Jaguars first head coach racked up the most playoff wins in Jaguars history. Tom Coughlin, a 3 x Super Bowl champion has experienced extreme highs and some painful lows. He sat down with Good Morning Jacksonville Anchor Keitha Nelson for a candid interview about it all including becoming a caregiver to his sick wife, her death, what it takes to be a champion and the Jay Fund, helping families tackle childhood cancer.
"Nobody picked us up to win the Super Bowl are you kidding me," Coughlin said. "18 and 0 Tom Brady, Bill Belichick. Well, that's why they play the game."
Odds stacked against them, the New York Giants led by Coach Tom Coughlin manage an upset beating the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 42 with a score of 17-14.
"Individuals play the game teams win championships," Coughlin said. "But if there are those who are not interested in winning they need to be cut out. That's what nobody liked about me. 'Oh coach, we need this guy.' We do? Why?"
Coach Coughlin is tough. He knows it, everyone does.
"And I've been fired," Coughlin said. "When you get fired it disarms you, you know. You're hurt, your ego is hurt, your self-worth gets questioned. And that's a difficult thing. But your family is there to rally around you."
He's a father of four with 12 grandchildren and at the heart of it all is his wife, Judy.
"She loved the ocean, she walked, you know, she, she loved her friends, and she loved the talk," Coughlin said with a smile. "And, you know, all those things were taken away from her."
Diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy, an incurable brain disorder in 2020, Judy would lose her ability to walk, talk and her memories were stolen.
"The only way she could express herself was with her eyes and with her smile, and I could get that," Coughlin said. "I know she understood what I was saying. I know she did."
Coughlin's career taught him to prepare for uphill battles but this particular fight he says you can't prepare for.
"I could see what was coming when it started," Coughlin said. "And I.. you're never ready, let me just tell you that a doctor or whoever the nurse can tell you that a person is going to die. You're not ready when she does die, I can just tell you that."
In an open and honest essay published in the New York Times in 2021, he writes in detail what it was like watching his wife of 54 years slip away and becoming her full-time caretaker, the mental and physical exhaustion of it all.
"I promised her when this was first diagnosed, I said to her look I don't want you to be scared," Coughlin said. "I don't want you to be afraid. You're in your own home. You're in your own bed. You're surrounded by people that love you. Okay, and you're not going to leave here. And we were able to stay true to that. She never had to leave her own home because of this illness. To have to go for any length of time in the hospital."
For more than 25 years through the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund, he and Judy spent countless hours in hospitals by the side of families as their children battled cancer, providing millions of dollars in aid. In 2022 The Jay Fun helped 730 families with $3,073,854 in assistance. They saw an 8% increase in financial support over 2021.
"When you visit a family in the hospital, and the family is pouring out their thanks to you for being there and the child sometimes doesn't even know who you are," Coughlin said. "But you listen to the stories, and you try to provide a little bit of a smile, some happiness."
Pointing to a large picture on the wall in the Jay Fun offices in Ponte Vedra, Coughlin fondly shares the inspiration for the foundation.
"This is Jay McGillis," Coughlin said. "Jay was my strong safety at Boston College."
McGillis developed leukemia and died on July 3, 1992. The Jay Fund was created in his honor to help give children battling cancer and their families a fighting chance to surpass expectations. That's something he knows a bit about.
Coach Coughlin also spoke about his new book, A Giant Win, the Jacksonville Jaguars, coach Pederson and Trevor Lawrence. You can view the full interview below and on First Coast News+ Roku and Fire TV.