Coughlin-Belichick: same yet very different

By Barry Wilner

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Jan. 28 2012 10:12 p.m. MST

New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin talks to the media after NFL football practice, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012, in East Rutherford, N.J. The Giants will face the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl on Feb. 5 in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Associated Press

They come from the same coaching tree, disciples of Bill Parcells. That and a no-nonsense approach are what Tom Coughlin and Bill Belichick have in common.

Otherwise, the men who have done some of their best coaching to get their teams to next Sunday's the Super Bowl are very much opposites. Coughlin, the offensive guru, is demonstrative on the sideline, his face getting redder with every snap. Belichick, the defensive mastermind, is stoic, unemotional, seemingly detached — even as he manipulates everything from under his hoodie.

The players take after their coaches, too. The Patriots follow Belichick's never-say-anything-revealing lead; the Giants tackle tough questions with verve.

Eli Manning, who has flourished under Coughlin's tutelage and now must be ranked among the game's elite quarterbacks, says the Giants not only appreciate Coughlin's style, but become better players because of it.

"Just the way he prepares, the way he gets his team ready, his messages." Manning says. "The way his attitude is portrayed onto the players and the players kind of take on that attitude in their preparation and approach to play."

Coughlin once was almost unapproachable, so set in his ways that players feared him more than respected him. That changed before the 2007 season, when a group of Giants veterans asked him to "loosen up," as Michael Strahan, then a star defensive tackle, described it. They believed Coughlin's intense, even relentless approach caused friction throughout the team.

To his credit, Coughlin saw the merits to opening up, did so, and the Giants went on to win the Super Bowl, shocking the 18-0 Patriots for the championship.

Coughlin showed his sense of humor during the buildup to that game when asked if, because the Giants were stronger defensively, would they consider kicking off to New England's record-setting offense if they won the coin toss?

"What," he said with mock astonishment at the prospect, "and give them one more time with the ball?"

By all accounts, the 65-year-old Coughlin has gotten even looser the last few years, although former punter Matt Dodge wouldn't support that view. When the rookie's kick down the middle of the field on the final play against Philadelphia was returned for a winning touchdown by DeSean Jackson, Coughlin looked ready strangle Dodge.

The Giants have one of the more relaxed locker rooms in the NFL, but when it's "business time," as defensive end Justin Tuck says, nothing has changed.

Players still need to be early to meetings, and clocks remain set 5 minutes ahead at the training facility. When the Giants fell to 7-7 in December with an ugly loss to Washington, Coughlin didn't allow panic to set in. He simply presented the scenario that if New York won its last two games, it would win the NFC East. And from there, as the Giants proved in 2007, anything truly can happen.

Fear certainly has turned to respect among his players.

"I am happy for coach Coughlin to be back in this game because he is coaching me and that means I am back in this game," Tuck says. "I think he deserves it and he has done a great job of continuing to believe not only in himself and what he brings to the table, but also because of this team. At 7-7, everybody and their mom was counting us out, but he just stayed persistent and stayed true to who he is as a coach and a person.

"It trickles down when you see a person has faith in you when nobody else does. It is kind of easy for us to continue to have his back and do our best. We have been rewarded for that."

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