INDIANAPOLIS Bill Belichick might have written the book on dour, but Tom Coughlin had the market cornered on being square.
If one coach in the NFL looks like a dark socks and sandals at the beach type, its Coughlin.
Hes always been all business. Glasses. The thinning white hair swept to the side. Fast walker. That air of slight impatience as he rocks side-to-side in press conferences that are long on business, short on laughs.
The guy who long believed five minutes early is on time and four minutes early is actually late doesnt have a cool, away-from-football alter ego like Belichick does tooling around Nantucket on his boat with Jon Bon Jovi in tow.
So its interesting to see the controlling Coughlin not just tolerating his players verbal brashness but in some cases jumping in himself.
While the Patriots are still name, rank and serial number for the most part under Belichick, the Giants make more guarantees than Bobs Furniture.
And Coughlin has at times gotten a tad brash himself. Relatively speaking. After the Giants win over the 15-1 Packers at Lambeau Field last month, Coughlin said in the postgame, I think were a dangerous team. I like where we are.
This week, while Mario Manningham and Victor Cruz have taken turns disparaging Patriots wideoutDB Julian Edelman and Antrel Rolle has been doling out guarantees, Coughlin hasnt told anyone to dummy up.
Has Coughlin changed?
Probably, but I think its important as the process of learning, Coughlin said. You learn, develop, and change every year. You have to bring a fresh approach each year to your team, especially when youve been doing it a few years in the same place. If Ive changed, its been an attempt to motivate and put us in the best possible chance that we can be.
And Coughlin seems to believe that letting his team be itself and forge its own personality is the best way for it to motivate itself. Its a supremely confident team, especially for a group that went 9-7 and had a four-game losing streak that had them on the verge of missing the playoffs.
But that confidence also allows it to forget about the bumps and then go into Lambeau or San Francisco and win.
Coughlins approach is a galaxy removed from the other head football coach in New York, Rex Ryan, whos willingness to let whatever hits his brain exit his mouth was happily adopted by his players when he joined the team in 2009 and resulted in a 2011 implosion.
But Coughlin does let the players express themselves.
Players have personalities and they are who they are, Coughlin noted. You want a certain amount of that on your football team, but you dont want someone who puts themselves in a position to hurt your team.
Coughlin has positive proof that allowing his players to be brash helps them. In 2007, they talked themselves into the notion the Patriots 18-0 coming into that Super Bowl were a dynasty that needed to be buried.
They showed up in Arizona dressed in black a funeral for the dynasty was their reasoning. And they went out and backed up their brashness with one of the greatest upsets in NFL history.
Coughlins players say he really isnt as bad as his reputation.
My first season I questioned a lot of things that Coach Coughlin was doing, said Rolle. After taking a step back and reflecting on all of it, I understand exactly why he is the way he is. I used to always wonder, I felt like he was always trying to turn us into men. Does he not know that we are men before we ever step on the football field here as a Giant? I used to ask myself questions like that. Once I matured enough and I took a step back, he is not trying to turn us into men, he is trying to help us become better men.
The buy-in from his team is apparent in the way they revere him. After the Giants beat the Patriots in November, they carried him off the field on their shoulders.
When Coach Coughlin comes up, everybody wants to talk about how rough he is, how unforgiving he is, how the reigns are pulled back pretty tight on the football team, but playing for him is golden for me, said defensive end Justin Tuck. You know exactly what to expect from him, you know what he expects from you. Its easy to go out and do your job when you dont have to go out and worry about what we are doing here, what are we doing there. I love playing for the guy, and I hope I get to play the rest of my career for him.
While Belichick are both regarded as branches on the Bill Parcells coaching tree, its not that cut-and-dried.
Belichick is more a disciple of Paul Brown, the man Belichicks father Steve emulated.
Brown is credited with saying, When you win say nothing. When you lose say less.
Belichicks passed that on to his team and they adhere to it. The penalty for too much verbosity? An uncomfortable trip to the coachs office.
While Coughlin says hes become more patient and less rigid, Belichick doesnt alter his approach too much.
Hes very consistent as a coach, said Tom Brady. On our team, there really is no separate treatment for different players. The rookies are expected to perform and act the same as the veteran guys. Its great as a player on our team because . . . you really dont have to hold the other players accountable because the head coach does it. Hes very tough. He says to us from time to time he understands that its a demanding place to play and that its really not meant for everybody.
Belichick doesnt hide his agenda.
Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis acknowledged when he came to New England that hed heard Belichick was a hard coach to play for and the hooded monster and all the stuff like that. When I got here, I realized in our first meeting, he let it all out on the line right there. You are what you are when you get here. That was it. He let it all hang.
His players will never get to hang loose with their words say nothing when you win, say less when you lose. The Giants? The muzzles are off.
The methods to their madness have brought their teams here. Whose method works best? Can the answer be both?