Tom Coughlin enjoying the ride

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- He is still smiling. It has not gotten old, not the attention, the trips or the afterglow.

More than four months after winning his second Super Bowl with the New York Giants, Tom Coughlin is still happy, still pleased, still not satisfied.

These past few months have been quite the ride, with the team getting its Super Bowl rings and traveling to the White House to meet President Barack Obama. Coughlin was presented with the Army's Outstanding Civilian Service Award, the third-highest award bestowed on a private citizen. On Saturday, he opened the 144th running of the Belmont Stakes by announcing "Riders up."

"I had to spend the whole day learning my lines," he said Thursday.

A joke? Tom Coughlin made a joke. Another joke, like the two he told at the White House. Just what has happened to the 65-year-old coach? He used to come off as joyless, as no fun, as too inflexible and ridiculously strict. Now he is firing off jokes as if he were Jimmy Kimmel.

"That's it: Riders up. That was my line," he said. "You're supposed to get that. You're supposed to get it."

That is easy to get, but what of Coughlin?

The man won't admit it, but he has mellowed with age and success. With his second championship in eight seasons as the Giants' head coach, Coughlin has solidified his standing with the organization he admires and in the hypercompetitive coaching ranks. Coughlin is one of the best coaches in the game right now. Look at his record, his postseason success and -- always one way to keep score -- his new contract.

Coughlin might not be among the top three highest-paid coaches in the NFL, but he appears to be in the top six after signing a reported three-year, $20-million extension through the 2014 season, giving him an average annual salary of approximately $6.67 million. According to Forbes Magazine, Bill Belichick is the NFL's highest-paid coach with an average annual salary of $7.5 million, with Washington's Mike Shanahan, St. Louis' Jeff Fisher, Seattle's Pete Carroll and New Orleans' Sean Payton in the $7 million a year range.

Given that Coughlin is the only active coach other than Belichick to win multiple championships with his current team, you could make the argument that his salary should reflect that fact. In eight seasons with the Giants, Coughlin has an 82-57 record, including the postseason, with five playoff berths, two world titles and an undefeated Super Bowl record.

His two Super Bowl teams weren't dominant in the regular season -- the 2007 team was 10-6 and last season's team became the first 9-7 squad to win it all -- but they came together when it mattered most.

It mattered most in 2011 when the Giants, having endured a brutal stretch of games, were 7-7 and playing on Christmas Eve against the crosstown rival New York Jets. Had the Giants lost that game, it is possible Coughlin would not have been concluding New York's offseason workout program Thursday and breaking out a new buzz word for 2012: harmony. Had the Giants lost that game, owners John Mara and Steve Tisch very well could have fired Coughlin after a third straight disappointing season.

Instead, after all the trash Rex Ryan had spewed that week, the Giants won and never looked back. They beat Dallas to win the NFC East and sneak into the playoffs, defeated Atlanta, won at Green Bay and San Francisco and upended New England in Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis.

Everything since has been gravy.

"I really like seeing it for everybody else now. I really do," Coughlin said. "It's not about me. It's about family, everyone who really invests so much emotionally. We invest everything we have, we always have: the players, the coaches -- physical, emotional, the mental, all the strain. That part of it, we understand that. But the families are very emotionally involved in this stuff, and when you see that and you know that they can enjoy and participate in it, it's great.

"All 10 grandkids were at the Super Bowl. That was fabulous. We have pictures. [Offensive lineman and Coughlin's son-in-law] Chris Snee will start down the hall in the hotel, and all 10 of them were there. The little girls all had dresses with 'Snee 76' and all the boys had jerseys with '76 Snee' on them, and here they come running down the hall, and they're hitting him in the legs and stuff. That means a lot to me. I'm not sure it always did, but it does now."

His four children used to love it when their old man departed for training camp, Coughlin said, because it meant he was out of the house. Now, Coughlin's children are grown, and in the next week or so, they and their families will join him for a family vacation.

Coughlin very well could go down as the greatest coach in Giants history, an honor currently held by Bill Parcells, who set the tone for the franchise with two Super Bowl wins. But unlike Coughlin, Parcells left after his eighth season. Coughlin has opted to stay, and with one more Super Bowl, Coughlin will hold the title of greatest coach in franchise history. His contract says he has three years to get it done, but the reality is Coughlin probably bought himself a job for life with that last Super Bowl.

The contract extension, Coughlin said, is "just a continuation" of what he has built.

"You just work as hard as you can," he said, "and you hope that the opportunity is there to continue to be the head coach of the New York Giants, which is a position that I've always been very honored and very proud to be a part of, to have that kind of responsibility and them trusting in me. I'm happy for the coaches. I'm happy for everyone involved because it allows us to continue."

Continue. Finish. Bring harmony into 2012. The ride isn't over for this team. Faces change, but the core is still there. And the man at the top is still smiling because he likes his chances.