x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Tom Coughlin's rapid reversal of fortunes lead to Super Bowl

Questions were asked of the New York Giants coach when team's form spluttered midway through the season, but that has now been forgotten.

Tom Coughlin is going for a second Super Bowl ring with the New York Giants.
Tom Coughlin is going for a second Super Bowl ring with the New York Giants.

So began an article barely 10 weeks ago on Giants Kickoff, a popular fans website. It was a perspective to which many supporters of the team would have said, "We can only hope".

New York had lost two games following a first-half record of 6-2. It reminded some that the Giants under Coughlin had twice missed the play-offs after similarly auspicious starts.

Acceptance of the coach,a carry over from his 2008 Super Bowl victory, was wearing thin.

No new complaints spilt out of the locker room, but Coughlin never has been popular with players. A mid-year poll of 131 of them from around the league by The Sporting News concluded that they considered Coughlin the least desirable coach for whom to play.

Anthony Adams of the Chicago Bears perhaps summed up sentiment, describing Coughlin as "old-school" and his style as "my way or the highway", adding: "He won't bend at all."

Last summer, with a year remaining on his contract, Coughlin received a tepid endorsement when the team granted him a one-season extension. The Giants rarely have exhibited impatience with their coaches, but the deal hinted at anything but a long-term pledge.

Suddenly, with Super Bowl Sunday here and Coughlin coaching in it, the tone of the discussion has changed altogether. If he wins another ring, goes the argument, Coughlin might deserve entry into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

His candidacy would be based more on hard numbers than tender feelings.

Early next season, he could surpass the 143 regular-season wins of Marv Levy, a Hall-of-Famer who delivered the Buffalo Bills to four Super Bowls, winning none.

Bill Parcells, a finalist for the Hall in the current class, won about half as many games as Coughlin and Levy, but two Super Bowls.

Even with Coughlin in the conversation on elite coaches, the one Super Bowl match-up today that is commonly regarded as lopsided involves the two men in charge.

Bill Belichick is the apparent coach-for-life with the New England Patriots.

His image conveys an inscrutable mastermind, an evil genius, willing to go "rogue" with odd formations and players in new positions, eager to take chances on other team's troubled washouts, like Chad Ochocinco and Randy Moss.

Coughlin is a by-the-book tactician; he never has been considered imaginative with play-calling or personnel. He simply wins more often than not.

Much like Belichick, Coughlin cringes when his players provide potential bulletin-board material for opponents with their boasts or digs.

"Talk is cheap. Play the game," was the message on T-shirts handed to the Giants before the 2008 Super Bowl

The philosophy remained evident this past week, even if the shirts were not.

"Players have personalities, and they are who they are," Coughlin said. "You want a certain amount of that on your football team, but you don't want someone who puts themselves in a position to hurt your team."

Coughlin, 65, contends that he has not changed substantially during his career.

His strict dress code for road trips still applies. A stickler for promptness, he continues to set clocks at the Giants' complex five minutes fast and maintains an almost militaristic adherence to schedules.

"This team responds to Coach Coughlin," said the defensive end Justin Tuck, "because you know what to expect from him."

It is that simple.

Over time, the needle has moved for him, if only slightly.

"Probably the No 1 thing that I've done is [getting] better at being patient and picking my spots better than being automatically spontaneous," he said.

Still, television cameras often show Coughlin, his face red, chewing out a player on the sideline.

So much for kinder and gentler.

"I don't know if I'd use those adjectives," said the offensive lineman Chris Snee, who has a unique perspective, being married to Coughlin's daughter.

Snee suggested that Coughlin does attempt to become better acquainted with his players.

"He shows that," Snee said, "but he still has his beliefs that he sticks to. That's what makes him more successful."

Those beliefs include a balanced offence and a stingy defence that crafts victories the traditional way.

In Coughlin's ideal world, said the Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, "We would run it 30 times, throw it 30 and we would win 14-2."

A few players admitted to an adjustment period after joining the Giants, saying Coughlin reminded them of a drill sergeant. In time, most grow to respect him.

In the New York market, he is the anti-Rex Ryan, the Jets coach whose approach of "let boys be boys" creates more media attention.

For Coughlin, media coverage often centres on his uncertain future, which could even resurface with a defeat today.

Win, and maybe he will receive another one-year extension.