PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Tom Coughlin loves seeing the familiar faces and the smiles.
But nothing compares to those stories he’s heard time and again over the years, that a child has beaten cancer.
“My favorite part is seeing a child who is cured of cancer. That’s my favorite part. And all this, all this is part of that process,” Coughlin said Monday morning before his annual Jay Fund celebrity golf tournament at TPC Sawgrass.
“So, we all do understand that, in order to help, you have to have funds. In order to have funds, you have to encourage people to buy into your mission, and fortunately, people here have done a magnificent job of that.”
On Monday afternoon, the Jay Fund announced that it raised $849,000 through donations and its auction that will go to helping families navigate the battle of childhood cancer.
“Each one of them is very, very unique. And when you listen to those stories, there’s a few themes,” Coughlin said. “Of course, one of them is the devastation of learning that you have a child who has cancer and then trying to figure out how to survive under those circumstances and that’s where we come in. Our idea is to take the pressure off of them.”
Coughlin’s Jay Fund began in 1996, one year after the expansion Jaguars made their debut. He named it after a former player at Boston College, Jay McGillis, who was diagnosed with leukemia during his time with the Eagles when Coughlin coached there. The financial and emotional strain on McGillis’ family during his eight-month battle was steep.
Coughlin wanted to do something about the collateral damage inflicted by the disease and started the Jay Fund. It has been a mainstay in the North Florida community — and the New York/New Jersey area — ever since, drawing support from athletes, coaches and the region near and far.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was taking part in the event for the first time and was looking forward to his chance at the Stadium Course. Harbaugh said he saw the course during a tour of the area when he was a player and wanted to take part in the Coughlin’s Jay Fund event in the past. This was the first year that Harbaugh said his schedule allowed it.
“I got to know him, met him at the owners meeting in 2014 and my son was like two and a half years old. And he went running up to Tom Coughlin,” Harbaugh said. “He’s like ‘Papa, Papa,’ jumped up into his arms. And my son Jack thought it was his grandfather, Jack. But it was Tom Coughlin. They look alike. And Tom gave him a big hug. Just a great guy.”
Something Coughlin admitted he’s far from great at — golf.
While he was a fixture on No. 17 during the golf outing Monday and hit shots with groups, Coughlin said his game as a whole needs more than work.
“I’ve never really admitted that I play because if you watch me, you would swear that I don’t play,” he said. “I have clubs, that’s how I say it. I wish I was better. There’s a lot of swimmers out there. That tree that’s to the right, that tree’s in trouble, too, you know? There’s the green up there but that tree that’s over there [to the right of 17] that little island, I had a few over there, too.”