INDIANAPOLIS - If he weren't the enemy coach in Sunday's game, Patriots' fans might find it easy to root for Tom Coughlin.
The coach of the New York Giants is from the same Bill Parcells-rooted coaching tree as Bill Belichick, and they worked together seamlessly for many years. Coughlin also coached at Boston College and had the Eagles in a position to knock off the top-ranked teams in the nation (which they did in 1993, upsetting No. 1 Notre Dame).
Most importantly, he shares the same philosophy as Belichick when it comes to creating a winning organization.
"Surround yourself with great people, people who have an outstanding work ethic, people who are business-like, who are focused and concentrated," Coughlin said Friday. "Get everybody on the same page and have the same inspiration, same kind of drive, same kind of desire. Do the very, very best you can. Work to the best of your ability. Be efficient. Don't waste time."
Coughlin was speaking at his last pre-Super Bowl XLVI press conference at the JW Marriott Hotel, where he stood at the big game's podium for the second time in four years and explained to reporters the philosophy that has made the Giants a team that cannot be counted out in the postseason.
"You have to be organized and you need to be in a position where you are mentally prepared for all circumstances that might happen in the course of a season," he said. "Football is a cumulative game. You must continue to work on the situational things and the things that might happen to you in various situations, but you have to be prepared. You try to put your players in that situation.
"You boil it down to blue-collar work ethic," he said. "You go to work every day and work as hard as you possibly can and surround yourself with great people. Keep your eye on the prize, which is very, very important to us and was a big factor in our ability to eventually win the division this year, knowing full well we were in contention all the way through. It was good to end it there."
Clearly, those words could have been authored by Belichick, and probably have been frequently uttered by him. The two coaches frequently said during this week that they cherished their time together with the Parcells-coached Giants, Coughlin as receivers coach and Belichick in charge of the secondary.
There a few similarities between the two coaches' path to this Super Bowl.
The Patriots struggled defensively for most of the season due to mounting injuries, and were 5-3 when they lost to the Giants in November. They haven't lost since, overcoming their shortcomings mostly on the strength of the strong right arm of Tom Brady before some of their better defensive players made it back into the lineup.
The Giants, meanwhile, made it to the playoffs at 9-7 and actually gave up more points than they scored. At midseason, impatient Giants fans wanted Coughlin's head on a platter. But they also have a fearless quarterback in Eli Manning and a strong defense, and they put on an impressive finishing kick while other teams with better records fell by the wayside.
"As you know, the Washington game, back in the regular season, we did not play well," Coughlin said. "Washington came in and played very well. Following that game, I simply walked into our team and said, 'Look, we have two games to go. We have to win two games. If we do that we get into the playoffs and we can be the champions of the NFC East.'
"From there, it has been one elimination game after another," he said. "The players have been responding very, very well. They come together as a group. There's been no question that our confidence building is boosted by the players on defense. We all of a sudden were able to get our entire defensive team together. We've made some progress along those lines that's given us the boost. We've played in harmony with all three units in those five games."
Coughlin was known as a taskmaster with almost military mannerisms with the BC Eagles and the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he faced the Patriots in an AFC Championship Game prior to Super Bowl XXXI. He's still no cream puff, but he and his teams may have gravitated a little closer to the center - with the players realizing that they have a coach whose demands can reap rewards.
"I think the one thing that has happened, and I've said it a thousand times and I'll say it again, is that once the season is over, you have to take a hard look at yourself and do a valid self-analysis," he said. "That's very important if you're going to improve. Decide what it is you can change. Look at your team and decide what it is you can change and what is needed in terms of inspiration and motivation or how you get those messages across to those people. Do your research on the outside, whatever it is you believe in.
"Probably the one thing over the years that may have happened over the years is I may have gotten a little more patient," he added.