Coughlin forging a legacy

Tom Coughlin will someday address the scope of his NFL achievements.

Now is not that time.

Faster than New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul gets a jump on his pass rush, Coughlin interrupted a reporter Monday who tried to ask what winning Super Bowl XLVI would mean to his head coaching legacy.

“It’s not about me,” Coughlin said shortly after his Giants arrived in Indianapolis for pregame preparation. “That’s the furthest thing from my mind … how this enhances my legacy or whatever term you used.

“What I’m concerned with is the concentration of our players, putting ourselves in the best frame of mind that we can possibly be, preparing our team to the best of our ability and then playing exceptionally well.”

If he accomplishes those goals, Coughlin’s place in league history will take care of itself.

A Sunday victory over New England would mark Coughlin’s second career Super Bowl win and equal the total of mentor Bill Parcells. The latter is expected to gain Pro Football Hall of Fame entry Saturday when the 2012 vote is conducted. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is a lock for future induction.

The possibility of Coughlin someday joining them is much less certain. As evidenced by Oakland’s Tom Flores and San Francisco’s George Seifert, winning two Lombardi Trophies doesn’t guarantee a bust in Canton. Coughlin’s career winning percentage of .554 – including an 8-7 postseason mark – is solid but doesn’t jump off the page. And as a 65-year-old grandfather, Coughlin may only have a limited amount of time to continue building a case for enshrinement.

But anyone who is already selling Coughlin short has learned nothing about the man from the past five seasons. He is living proof that there is always time for a head coach to reinvent himself.

The actual Xs and Os were never a problem for someone with as bright an offensive mind. Coughlin said the biggest difference between his tenures with Jacksonville and New York is exhibiting more patience with his players. Coughlin has gotten the best from the Giants by learning to better display benevolence and compassion without compromising a stern Parcells-like coaching credo that stresses responsibility and attention to detail.

“I respect a lot of things about Tom,” said Belichick, who worked on the same staff as Coughlin under Parcells with the Giants from 1988 to 1990. “He demanded a lot out of his players. He was fair but firm, kind of like he is now.

“Tom’s a good guy. He’s got a good sense of humor. He’s a good guy to be around. But on the field, you’ve got a job to do.”

Four years ago, Coughlin’s expectations – like insisting players arrive five minutes earlier than a scheduled meeting time and fining them if they don’t – painted him as crusty and out-of-touch. In an anonymous Sports Illustrated players’ poll asking which coach they would least like to play for, Coughlin won with 16 percent of the vote.

Perception is not reality. Antrel Rolle learned that when he left the Arizona Cardinals for the Giants in 2010.

Asked on Monday to describe something about Coughlin that can only be learned by playing for him, the outspoken free safety broke into a hearty laugh. Rolle then answered, “How much of a disciplinarian he is and how caring he is.”

Those two qualities don’t always go hand-in-hand.

“He definitely possesses both,” Rolle continued when asked to elaborate. “I think I know where the line is drawn and everyone else on this team understands that also.

“I think anyone who has ever had an encounter with him can pick that up right away. I know I definitely did. He’s a man of his word. That’s something you have to definitely appreciate.”

Giants fans should appreciate the fact that this year’s team is a reflection of their head coach. When New York was 7-7 and on the brink of missing the postseason, some media members once again placed Coughlin on the proverbial hot seat. The Giants hadn’t won a playoff game in three years, increasing the cries that change was needed.

New York responded with a late-season run that shares stunning similarities to the one made by the 2007 Giants en route to winning Super Bowl XLII against New England. Rather than crumbling amid the inherent pressure that comes with playing in the world’s largest media market – i.e. the 2011 New York Jets – the Giants fed off the steadfast determination of their head coach.

“This team responds to coach Coughlin because you know what to expect from him,” Giants defensive end and team leader Justin Tuck said. “I know we’ve had some ups and downs but he’s always stayed consistent … The last couple of weeks, you can just tell that we’ve rallied behind him.

“There’s something about being backed into a corner or against the wall. It seemed like we were there at 7-7 and we’ve come out fighting.”

Even if the Giants fall short against New England, speculation about Coughlin’s job security should finally end. Coughlin has earned the right to walk away on his own terms.

Retirement, though, doesn’t appear imminent. When proclaiming that he wants “to play the rest of my career for him,” the 28-year-old Tuck is well aware that Coughlin may have more NFL shelf life than he does.

“Everybody wants to talk about how rough he is, how unforgiving he is, how the reins are pulled back pretty tight on the team,” said Tuck, who has played all seven of his NFL seasons under Coughlin. “But playing for him has been golden for me. You know exactly what to expect from him and what he expects from you.

“It’s easy to go out and do your job when you don’t have to worry about, ‘What are we doing here? What are we doing there?’ I love playing for the guy.”

And the legacy grows.