February 23, 2008 Coughlin’s Success Changes Opinions By JOHN BRANCH INDIANAPOLIS — Tom Coughlin is suddenly brilliant and wildly

popular. On Friday, he walked through the wide concourse of the convention center that serves as the nexus of the N.F.L. scouting combine. Fans reached for autographs and peers sought a handshake. Coughlin seemed to be in no hurry to go wherever it is that he goes from here. “It’s wonderful to hear people say, ‘Super Bowl champions’ and ‘Champions of the World,’ ” Coughlin said. “It’s kind of nice to get here and be back in the football environment and see so many friends from years gone by, people that have been in the league for a long time.” His dream has become reality, and it hit home as Coughlin watched a replay of Super Bowl XLII, when his team came from behind in the final minute to beat the heavily favored and previously undefeated Patriots, 17-14. (“I was very concerned at the end,” Coughlin said of the replay.) The victory has redefined the 61-year-old Coughlin, the way it does any coach who wins a championship after so many years of trying. Coughlin, saying that it is “a very select group,” is one of only six current head coaches who can brag of leading a team to a Super Bowl victory. “The perception of you does change,” Tony Dungy, the Colts coach who won his first Super Bowl in 2007, said Friday. “People are going to think that because you win, that now you have the answer. Now some of the things that you say do work.” It has already happened to Coughlin. Against the backdrop of the scouting combine and the coming draft, reporters peppered him about the best way to nurture a young quarterback, given Coughlin’s success with Eli Manning. The queries served as a jarring indication of how quickly things change. Before the Giants began one of the greatest playoff runs in league history — three road victories and a Super Bowl win over an undefeated team — the questions about Manning were far tougher, and usually centered on Coughlin’s inability to mold him into a consistent quarterback, never mind a championship one. But now Coughlin is atop his profession, and even his peers said that the perception had changed. “Championships define players, they define coaches,” Vikings Coach Brad Childress said. “I don’t think there is any question it changes the way you’re looked at.” Coughlin enjoyed the warm reception, especially since championship teams have so little time to bask in the moment. Almost immediately after the Super Bowl ends, the team is different and the dynamic shifts: Players head to homes around the country, roster tweaks begin, and the personnel department jumps head first into preparations for next season. “It’s a reality,” Coughlin said. “As soon as you get on that plane and head out of there, you are very aware of the people who are free agents or restricted free agents or whatever the circumstance might be. At the time, you’re euphoric, reflective, all of the above. But it doesn’t take long. By the time the parade’s over, you’re looking at the reality of the situation.” The reality is that Coughlin will remain, for a few years at least, the man at the center of it all, cast in a different light by virtue of an extraordinary few

weeks in January and February. A year ago, he had received a lukewarm endorsement from the Giants to return for his fourth season as coach. Team owners worried about Coughlin’s public reputation as an overbearing disciplinarian, and Coughlin worried about stamping out the hotspots in the locker room that occasionally flamed into public view. So Coughlin learned to listen more attentively to his cameras. He handed out T-shirts at training camp that the game.” The Giants rode their underdog spunk and a streak to an unexpected championship, and Coughlin is new multiyear contract. players and smile for the read, “Talk is cheap, play record 10-game road winning on the verge of getting a

Coughlin is not sure what motivational theme he might use this season to stave off bouts of contentment. (“Trophies are cheap, play the game” might be one suggestion.) But he already has one huge advantage that he did not have a year ago — proof that he can lead a team to a championship. “It’s a nice feeling to have your peers and guys who have been working at this a long time recognize the quality of the play, and the fact that we were the Super Bowl champions,” Coughlin said. He was surrounded by reporters. Wide-eyed fans and familiar faces waited outside the circle for an autograph or a handshake as Coughlin talked about the Super Bowl. He smiled more than usual. A reporter changed the subject. Coach, he asked, how important is it to develop a young quarterback in the N.F.L.? Of course Coughlin would know. He knows everything now. EXTRA POINTS The Giants are looking to vastly upgrade the cornerback position. According to The Star-Ledger of Newark, they are willing to give the Falcons a first-round draft choice (No. 31 over all) for DeAngelo Hall. The trading and free-agent period begins Feb. 29. Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

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