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Steadying influence

Giants know what to expect from Coughlin

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / February 3, 2012
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INDIANAPOLIS - One lasting lesson Tom Coughlin learned from Bill Parcells was the importance of continuity.

Parcells had his guys - on the field and in the booths. Phil Simms was his quarterback, Lawrence Taylor was his muscle.

Coughlin, Al Groh, and Bill Belichick were his pupils.

Whether they lost (the Giants went 3-12-1 in Parcells’s first season) or whether they won (the Giants hoisted the Lombardi Trophy twice under Parcells), they kept their key pieces together, knowing that was a large part of what led to the success and made the failures easier to overcome.

“There were very few peaks and valleys,’’ Coughlin said. “There was a feeling of pressure; the finger was always on the coaching staff and how they prepared their team and how the players responded to that. Ultimately, anyone who was around Parcells for any length of time learned how to win. That’s the biggest thing I took away from it.’’

Coughlin has been coach of the Giants the last eight seasons. When he came to New York in 2004, he started putting the building blocks together.

He jumped through hoops to help come up with a deal with the Chargers to land Eli Manning in 2004, and Manning has been the franchise’s cornerstone ever since. He also drafted his son-in-law, Chris Snee, who has been one of the anchors on the offensive line the past eight years. He built the defense around Michael Strahan, who played all 15 years of his career in the same uniform. He and general manager Jerry Reese have been working partners since 2007, rewarded at the end of that season when they played David to New England’s Goliath in a Super Bowl XLII upset.

The blueprint is simple: Get the right pieces, keep them together.

But coaching in a city where he’s perpetually on the hot seat, Coughlin has managed to maintain some stability in the most unstable of surroundings.

Some say his personality has changed, he’s less of a hard-liner, more relaxed, more prone to crack a smile, less likely to crack the whip.

He was 57 when he took the Giants job, and he had been out of football for three years after being fired by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

He’s 65 now, with a Super Bowl ring and two grandchildren.

If his demeanor has changed, he said his approach hasn’t.

“I don’t think I’m that different,’’ he said. “The principles, the values, what we believe are important, those things are all the same. The virtues are all practiced the same way. I think maybe I’m a little more patient.’’

When his surroundings lack sanity, he has no choice but to stay sane. This season was a prime example.

When the Giants lost four straight games, dropped to 6-6, and found themselves looking up at the Cowboys for the lead in the NFC East, some were screaming for Coughlin to be fired. He’s one of just six active head coaches with a Super Bowl victory, and they wanted him out.

It was nothing he hadn’t heard before. After the Giants won Super Bowl XLII, the honeymoon couldn’t have been shorter.

The Giants got off to the best start in the league the next season, going 11-1, but when Plaxico Burress shot himself in the leg in a nightclub it blew a hole in the Giants’ season. They lost three of their last four regular-season games and were immediately bounced from the playoffs by the Eagles. The Giants went 8-8 the next season, and again Coughlin was the easiest person to point to.

When the Giants were dangling from the cliff earlier this season, they were able to stay calm and salvage their season because of Coughlin’s steady demeanor.

“I think this team responds to Coach Coughlin because you know what to expect from him,’’ said defensive lineman Justin Tuck. “I know we have had some ups and downs, but he has always stayed consistent. I think it’s the players that haven’t. But the last couple of weeks you can just tell that we have rallied behind him. It’s something about kind of being backed into a corner or being backed against a wall. It seems like we were there at 7-7, and we’ve come out fighting.

“When Coach Coughlin comes up, everybody wants to talk about how rough he is, how unforgiving he is, how the reins are pulled back pretty tight on the football team, but playing for him is golden for me. You know exactly what to expect from him, you know what he expects from you. It’s easy to go out and do your job when you don’t have to go out and worry about what we are doing here, what we are doing there. I love playing for the guy, and I hope I get to play the rest of my career for him.’’

Coughlin is still meticulous. Early arrival for meetings is still on time, and on time is still late. It’s in the DNA of anyone from the Parcells era. But the results - two Super Bowl appearances in four seasons - can’t be denied, even though people always try.

“He is still very disciplined,’’ Manning said. “He wants his players disciplined. Everything is still five minutes early. He wants guys to be on time and to take great pride in their work, be totally committed to the preparation.

“When he sees a team that does that, when he sees a team that has players that expect that from each other, he can relax a little bit. He has shown more of his passion for football and the players, guys respect that and play hard for him.’’

Coughlin has no intention of retiring. Coaching in the NFL has become a younger man’s game and Coughlin is the oldest coach in the league by five years (Pete Carroll is 60). But he’s as comfortable as he’s been in his career, he says, which is why he can savor his second trip to the Super Bowl more than the first.

“I’m telling you that you do have a great sense of enjoying the moment, or seizing the moment if you will, and not allowing that every minute flies by without a greater appreciation for it,’’ Coughlin said. “If it’s the plane trip out here, if it’s the players taking all the pictures on the plane, if it’s the continuation of that kind of thing, it may not even be the most enjoyable at that point in time, but that’s OK. Let’s do it and go along with it.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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