'Sledgehammer' from dad was key to career
by Joe Wilhelm Jr.
That’s what Tom Coughlin, former Jaguars and current New York Giants head coach, had to say when asked if he pushed his son into the legal profession. Pretty heavy words from someone known as one of the more no-nonsense coaches in the NFL. Then again, there isn’t much room for nonsense on the football field or the courtroom.
It wasn’t easy for Brian Coughlin, 31, growing up as the son of a football coach who moved the family about every three years to take a new job.
“Moving around got tougher as I got older,” said Coughlin. “It got harder to make friends, but it teaches you how to adapt to new people and new places.”
The moving around may have been tough on the third of four kids, but there were perks to being former Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin’s son.
“The neat part was being exposed to his profession,” said Coughlin. “Getting to be on the sidelines, meeting the athletes and having access that most people wouldn’t have.”
Meeting Lawrence Taylor as a kid and holding the NFC championship trophy at the end of last season are two experiences Coughlin will never forget.
“I took a picture with the NFC trophy with my phone,” said Coughlin. “I e-mailed it to Hank (Coxe) and it made its way around the office.”
Watching his father hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy is also something he will not soon forget.
“It was bliss,” said Coughlin. “It was a culmination of watching my father’s life work come together in a stretch of two weeks. In a year where they weren’t expected to do it, that made it so much more special. It was life changing.”
Jacksonville or bust
The elder Coughlin wasn’t the only person in the family with life altering moments. Brian chose to concentrate on baseball when the family moved to Jacksonville in 1995 when his father was hired to coach the Jaguars. He had played basketball, football and baseball growing up, but wanted to focus his efforts on baseball while attending The Bolles School as a junior.
“I felt I had a better chance to be a baseball player than a football player,” said Coughlin. “I regretted that decision a little.”
Discovering a new passion
He graduated from Bolles and earned a place on the University of Michigan baseball team, but he didn’t see any game time during his freshman year and his grades weren’t at a level he expected for himself.
“I wasn’t happy with my grades,” said Coughlin, “so I decided to call it a career and focus on my studies. It wasn’t like my parents weren’t quick to voice their displeasure with low grades, but it was my decision to quit baseball.”
Coughlin started to hear his parents again half way through his collegiate career, but this time it was his father dropping hints that he should think about going to law school.
“I wasn’t that kid growing up thinking he was going to be a lawyer,” said Coughlin. “We looked back at the classes I did well in, political science, history and English, and my father figured it out before I did and starting dropping hints about going to law school. It suited me more the older I got.”
The real story
His father had a different view on how the career was suggested to his youngest son. In addition to making it very clear Brian should be a lawyer, Tom explained why.
“Brian is very intelligent, and he has always been able to articulate his thoughts, even from the time he was a small child,” said Tom Coughlin. “He has a presence and he has great poise, and he has tremendous self-discipline. After he graduated from law school, he locked himself in his room and studied for a month, took the Florida bar exam and passed.”
While he may be very proud of Brian becoming a successful lawyer, Tom was quick to point out that the success wouldn’t have been possible without his mother, Judy.
“I am proud of all four of my children and that is a tribute to my wife because when you coach football for a living, your time with your family is limited,” said Tom. “We have always enjoyed great quality time as a family, but the business of football doesn’t allow for as many opportunities for that as you would like and want.”
Back in Jacksonville
Following the suggestion to pursue a career in law, Coughlin worked at the Bedell Firm as a legal assistant after graduating from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in political science.
“We kept track of him through law school and the State Attorney’s Office,” said former Florida Bar President Hank Coxe, partner in the Bedell Firm. “He’s got a great work ethic, self discipline and good judgment.”
Coughlin graduated from the University of Florida Levin College of Law in 2003 and went to work shortly after in the State Attorney’s Office under Harry Shorstein. He gained experience prosecuting cases ranging from DUI to homicide as an assistant state attorney.
“He’s a very conscientious, devoted trial attorney with good people skills,” said Shorstein. “That’s the most important single attribute to have as a trial lawyer because if you can’t convince a jury than you are not going to be successful.”
Back to where he started
Coughlin was given the opportunity to go back to where his law career began, with the Bedell Firm. He moved to private practice after three years with the State Attorney’s Office.
“I’m just a sponge around here,” said Coughlin. “Being five years out of law school, I’m just trying to absorb as much as I can from Hank Coxe and David Barksdale. They are wonderful attorneys and wonderful people.”
Coughlin hasn’t just been in the shadows watching Coxe and Barksdale in the courtroom since joining the firm.
Coxe and Coughlin recently defended Jaguar defensive back Brian Williams against DUI charges. It was a high-profile case and Coughlin’s first jury trial as a defense attorney.
“The media coverage does turn up the intensity,” said Coughlin. “I don’t know if it makes the job harder. I’m quite confident that if it wasn’t a high-profile case we would have worked just as hard. The attention does create the butterflies, though.”
Content with his career course
It may be a bit stressful at times, but Coughlin is comfortable with the areas of law he has practiced in. Despite being around the game of football so much growing up, he never really gave much thought to becoming a sports agent after earning his law degree.
“I didn’t want to chase around teenagers for a living,” said Coughlin. “It seemed like that was what the profession was all about.”
Another career choice could involve his political science degree, but he admitted he has too much to prove at the office and too much to do at home to consider a political career.
“I’ve got too much to accomplish in my present career before I even think along those lines,” said Coughlin. “My world outside of work revolves around my 9-month-old baby girl, Caroline.”