INDIANAPOLIS — Ashley Fox's column off of Super Bowl XLVI is on New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin and his worthiness for the Hall of Fame in light of his second Super Bowl title. It's a topic Coughlin doesn't want to discuss because he's just not into such things and besides, he's been busy having the time of his life coaching a team with which he's fallen in love.
That was a word Coughlin used in his pregame speech Saturday night, telling his players that championship teams were made up of players that loved each other, and that he loved each and every one of them. Several players spoke about it in the wake of their Super Bowl victory, and it's clear that their connection with their 65-year-old coach is as deep as it's ever been.
"I thought he was going to come in with 'Finish,' which he's been preaching all year, but instead he came in with 'Love,'" defensive end Justin Tuck said. "He almost got a standing ovation when he walked out. I normally don't listen to those speeches, but as he got going, I picked my head up and started listening. I'm pretty sure we could have gone out and played right then. It was hard to go to sleep after a speech like that."
Not for Coughlin. He slept for nine hours Saturday night. Nervous? He was having the time of his life, on the run of his career with a team that was doing everything a coach dreams a team might do.
"What a wonderful experience it was to see the team come together like it did," Coughlin said.
We tend to oversimplify what it means to do a "good coaching job" in sports today. Too often, we look at the surprise teams the teams that outperformed expectations and assume their coaches must have pulled something out of them that we didn't know was there. Surely, the 2011-12 Giants are such a team, but I think the brilliance of the work Coughlin did this year goes beyond that.
This is an example of a man connecting with his team and his team getting it. Coughlin first had to figure out what he had in his locker room, then decide what was the best way to bring the best out of it. By the time the Giants had lost to the Redskins for the second time and were 7-7 with two games left in the regular season, he knew what his players needed to hear — upbeat, positive support. So there was no yelling that week, only a sense of opportunity. He told them, accurately, that they'd be division champs if they won their final two games, and he went on about what a great thing it was to have such an opportunity in the NFL.
The message hit home the right way, and the team still hasn't lost a game since. Coughlin showed his players the love. They responded in kind. And by the time they were assembled for their final pre-Super Bowl meeting Saturday night, everyone in the room already knew how everyone else felt. It almost didn't need to be said. Almost.
"For coach to come out and show you his emotional side, that gets your attention," said Giants cornerback Aaron Ross, who was benched for poor play way back in Week 2 against the Rams and ended up having a fine bounce-back season. "He's always a tough, stern guy, so to see that and hear that, it meant a lot."
These Giants mean a lot to Coughlin, and vice versa. I'd venture to say nothing he's ever done in his coaching career has been quite as fulfilling as this surprise run with this team and its great big heart.