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An overpowering absence

Page 4 of 6 -- When Coughlin was fired by the Jaguars at the end of the season, he got two phone calls from his friend at a time when most of the journalists calling were not doing so to be helpful. They didn't speak immediately and McDonough made no demands, just saying everything would be fine and to call when he felt ready to.

When they finally did talk, it was two friends discussing the past and the future, not someone asking questions while the other reluctantly tried to answer diplomatically. That, too, was part of McDonough's magic over the years. People trusted him.

"During the season we'd talk once or twice a week," recalled Buffalo Bills president and general manager Tom Donahoe. "I took advantage of him as much as he took advantage of me when it came to gathering information. He was always in the know. When they said Will McDonough called, you answered quickly.

"I always felt I could tell him things that were delicate and he wouldn't expose me. I'll miss those calls."

People like Donahoe and Coughlin and Parcells talked to him because they knew he understood what so many in the news business and in the football business seem to have forgotten: that ours is at its best when it's a two-way street. It's not just give and it's not just take. Definitely not just take.

"There was something in Will's nature that made you want to tell him things," recalled Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi. "That's why people would open up to him. Now, if you made a mistake or you were wrong about something you did, he'd blast you, but he'd be fair about it. Then he'd be sure to come around, which you can't say about everybody in this business."

When Accorsi first met McDonough, he was a 28-year-old PR guy with the Baltimore Colts. Don Klosterman, the team's general manager, instructed Accorsi to go to a local hotel and pick up someone named Will McDonough and another writer from Boston and take them to Loyola College to play tennis and wait until they were done. When he got to the hotel, an embarrassed McDonough was waiting.

"He kept saying I didn't have to do this," Accorsi recalled with a laugh. "We were just talking about that a few days ago. He kept apologizing all the way to the tennis courts. When I told him I'd wait for them, he spent 15 minutes trying to get rid of me. He was embarrassed to be treated like that, but I was happy to be there."

Most people who were around McDonough came to the same conclusion. They were happy to be there. Maybe not in the moments when he was lambasting them or correcting them or coaching them, but when that was over, they'd usually learned something, and one of the things they learned was that they still had a friend.   Continued...

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