Kinder, gentler Coughlin is a champion

GLENDALE, Ariz. — It might be time to dump all those unflattering images of Tom Coughlin yelling at people.

Replace them with pictures of him holding up the Super Bowl trophy.

So long portrayed as an unkind, unbending caricature of himself, Coughlin got recognized as something different Sunday — a champion after leading his New York Giants to a stunning 17-14 upset of the no-longer-undefeated New England Patriots.

“Other than family,” he said, “the greatest feeling in the world is when, all of the sudden, you realize you’re a world champion.”

Coughlin has spent 12 of those years as an NFL head coach, and that he outcoached Bill Belichick in his biggest game of all is no huge surprise — he’s always had the Xs and Os down pat.

That he was able to keep his job this long, change his approach to players and get an entire team moving in the right direction took a little more doing.

Coughlin came into this season on the hot seat.

He didn’t change his message, so much as he reinvented the delivery.

The Giants opened the season 0-2 and the plan looked like a loser. Then, Coughlin sent a new message: That there was no group of guys he’d rather have there with him.

Soon after, the winning began. Six straight games to become a contender, then a steadily rising arrow for the rest of the year, though not without a few dispiriting setbacks. The defining moment — and maybe Coughlin’s most critical decision — resulted in a loss.

It was the coach who made his team believe.

“Every team is beatable. You never know,” Coughlin said. “The right moment, the right time, every team is beatable.”

On the day that counted the most, the Giants proved it.

And Coughlin — the changed Coughlin — showed you don’t have to be perfect to be a champion.

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