KIRKLAND, Wash. — In 1992, Matt Hasselbeck was an honorable mention high school All-America quarterback in Westwood, Mass. He was about to realize his dreams of sun, fun, California girls — and wide-open, Pac-10 football.
Hasselbeck had verbally committed to a scholarship offer from then-UCLA coach Terry Donahue. But before he signed, he went to Chestnut Hill, Mass., and the Boston College campus. Mostly, the short trip was to appease his father, Don, an NFL tight end for nine seasons.
Don Hasselbeck's last season was with the New York Giants in 1985. The Giants' receivers coach that year was Tom Coughlin, who by 1992 was in his second season as the hard-driving, no-nonsense head man turning around Boston College.
So Matt went to see Coughlin, the antithesis of the laid-back, preppy-styled Donahue.
"I wasn't going there at all." Hasselbeck said of Boston College as his Seattle Seahawks prepared for Coughlin's Giants in a Sunday showdown of NFC division leaders.
What changed his mind?
"Honestly, I was a little bit afraid to say no to Tom Coughlin," Hasselbeck said, not smiling. "You really respected him as a person . . . you just felt like this guy was going somewhere."
Coughlin thought Hasselbeck was going somewhere — somewhere else.
"It wasn't an easy sell job, I'll tell you," Coughlin said. "I liked his competitive spirit and his love of the game. . . . I liked his intensity."
Hasselbeck, not nearly as intense as Coughlin perceived, entered Coughlin's BC boot camp in the summer of 1993. His surreal memory of the militaristic Coughlin fawning over him as a teenage recruit ended about 15 seconds into his first day with the Eagles.
"It was one of the hardest years I've ever had in football," Hasselbeck said.
And he wasn't even technically on the team. Coughlin redshirted him that year.
"Talk about a coach who pushes his players and gets the most out of his players," Hasselbeck said. "Discipline and hard work were something I needed a little more of at that time in my life."
Running, early workouts, mandatory everything — you name it, those Eagles had it.
"That group of guys in my freshman class, we'll never forget that year ... it was a survival mode," Hasselbeck said. "A lot of guys transferred out that year. He made that program a lot stronger for being the kind of coach that he was."
Boston College, in a post-Doug Flutie funk before Coughlin arrived, won eight consecutive games after an 0-2 start to '93. The team of future NFL players Pete Kendall, Glenn Foley, Stephen Boyd and Todd Pollack upset No. 1 Notre Dame at South Bend, Ind., was ranked 13th in the nation and won the Carquest Bowl.
Hasselbeck went on to play the next four seasons and start over his final two years at BC. He finished fifth on its career passing list with 4,548 yards. He also earned a bachelor's degree in marketing and finance.
But Coughlin wasn't around to see any of that. He left following '93 to become head coach of the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars.
Coughlin stayed there for eight seasons. He twice led the Jaguars to the AFC championship game and made the playoffs in 1996-99 — the only team to ever make the postseason four times in the first five years of existence.
Today, Coughlin has retooled the Giants (7-3) with typically solid, usually not spectacular, play. He also has Hasselbeck's younger brother, Tim, as a backup to quarterback Eli Manning. Tim Hasselbeck also played at Boston College, finishing in 2000.
Meanwhile, Matt Hasselbeck is a seven-year NFL veteran. He leads the top offense in the NFL and is the third-rated passer in the NFC (89.3). His Seahawks are riding a six-game winning streak to the verge of clinching the NFC West, possibly as early as Sunday. He has already been to a Pro Bowl, in 2003, after career highs of 3,841 yards passing and 26 touchdowns.
And his coach, quarterback mentor Mike Holmgren, almost weekly marvels at how intelligently and efficiently Hasselbeck manages games and dissects defenses.
So, yes, spurning the California sun for no-fun Coughlin has worked out OK.
But don't credit Coughlin. Ask him about his role in molding Hasselbeck into what he is now — leader of the team with the best record in the NFC — and you get a figurative boot in the rear end.
"I was gone to Jacksonville," Coughlin said, almost scoffing. "I didn't have a chance to be with him very long and I was out of there."