INDIANAPOLIS — He is known for his strict discipline and for periodic threats to his job security, whenever the New York Giants’ record descends to the .500 mark. He is unquestionably regarded as the “other” coach at Super Bowl XLVI, with the New England Patriots’ Bill Belichick considered one of the all-time greats.
But as Tom Coughlin arrived in town Monday with the Giants to prepare for their meeting with the Patriots on Sunday, he too has secured a prominent place in the NFL’s hierarchy of successful coaches. He is seeking a a second Super Bowl triumph over Belichick and the Patriots, and has managed to guide a sometimes-unimpressive Giants team that was 7-7 with two games left in the regular season to within a victory of a most unlikely championship.
“Without a doubt, he’s under-appreciated,” said former Jacksonville Jaguars tackle Tony Boselli, who played for Coughlin with that franchise. “He’s not underappreciated by the guys who have played for him and the organizations that he’s worked for. They know what kind of coach he is. But in terms of people on the outside, the media and so forth, he doesn’t get his due as the great coach that he is. His record speaks for itself.”
Coughlin has coached for 16 NFL seasons with the Jaguars and Giants, and his teams have won seven division titles. These Giants won their final two games this season to capture the NFC East crown, then stayed hot in the playoffs and beat the fifth-seeded Atlanta Falcons, top-seeded Green Bay Packers and second-seeded San Francisco 49ers to get to Indianapolis.
Giants players heard Coughlin lecture them all season about finishing — finishing plays and finishing games properly. Now they’ll try to finish their season in style.
“There’s 1,800 guys in the league, and at the beginning of the season this is everybody’s goal,” said Giants linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka. “This is everybody’s ultimate goal, not just to be in this game, but to get the win.”
Chris Snee, the Giants’ offensive lineman who also is Coughlin’s son-in-law, estimated that he heard Coughlin use the word “finish” roughly 10 times per day throughout the season. That is likely to remain the Giants’ theme for Super Bowl week.
“We’re here,” Snee said. “What’s the point of coming here if you’re not going to finish the mission?”
The flawed Giants ranked last in the league in rushing offense and 29th in pass defense during the regular season, and often had to rely heavily on the passing of quarterback Eli Manning to obscure those deficiencies. But the Giants found a way to win, crafting five regular season victories with fourth-quarter comebacks. The running game and defense improved during the NFC playoffs, and New York arrives at the Super Bowl playing at a level that makes a win over the Patriots seem far from impossible.
The Giants even lost twice during the regular season to the woeful Washington Redskins, prompting media speculation before they rallied to beat the New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys that Coughlin’s job could be in jeopardy. That has been a familiar refrain during his eight seasons with the Giants.
“When that talk was going around, even this year, I remember thinking: Who are they going to get who’s better?” Boselli said. “You tell me a coach out there with a better resume than him.”
Coughlin is the most demanding of coaches, the guy who requires players to report to team meetings five minutes early to be considered on time.
“He’s very rigid,” Boselli said. “He’s very strict. He throws around compliments like they’re manhole covers. All that is true. But he’s genuine. He’s honest. He has a ton of integrity. There’s no hidden agenda there. There’s no guile. You might not always like where you stand, but at least you always know. . . . I don’t know of one player who’s ever played for him who doesn’t respect him.”
Coughlin said Monday at his arrival day news conference that he asks players to treat him in a similarly straightforward manner.
“I think, first and foremost, what you want to try to establish is that if a player has something that he wants to say about the way in which business is being done, then sit down and talk to me,” Coughlin said. “That’s the basic bottom line. Players have personalities. They are who they are. You want a certain amount of that on your football team. But you don’t want someone who puts himself in the position where he hurts your team. There’s a standard there, how flexible you are.”
Coughlin said he has become more flexible over the years.
Asked about the biggest difference in his coaching style when compared with his early days in Jacksonville, he said: “Probably patience . . . Maybe wait and pick my spot. But basically I think it’s more patience.”
Yet Coughlin’s style — and his results — haven’t changed all that much.
“All great coaches evolve and learn over time, try to get better,” Boselli said. “I’m sure he’s done that. But the foundation of who he is and what he believes, I think, is pretty similar. . . . You knew he had your back when you really needed it.”