Behind the Super Bowl's Steely Coaches

Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots is described as a coaching genius. Tom Coughlin of the New York Giants is credited with rallying his team after a dismal start. But both men are taciturn and stone-faced with the media. Do they ever lighten up?

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Coaching a football team is the kind of job that can give a man a heart attack. The NFL is rife with workaholic men who wouldn't be anybody's nominee for Mr. or Miss Congeniality. Coaches like Bill Belichick, of the New England Patriots, and Tom Coughlin of the New York Giants - who's teams will square off tomorrow in the Super Bowl. But both coaches have lately been showing a different, softer side. From Phoenix, NPR's Tom Goldman.

TOM GOLDMAN: He's a brave man, that Kyle Brady. Not because the New England Patriots' tight end risks life and limb when he cuts across the field to catch a pass, but because he agreed this week, at a reporter's urging, to mimic Tom Coughlin, Brady's coach when they were both with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Mr. KYLE BRADY (New England Patriots): Men, when you go out there this Sunday, eliminate all distractions. Focus. It's a matter of the will. We will ascend over all our opponents. It comes out so easily, man. It's still… You know, when you spend that much time with somebody and they scream at you that much, you know, it tends to stay in there.

GOLDMAN: Screaming Tom Coughlin had quite the reputation. He considered players five minutes late when they showed up for meetings on time. He imposed strict rules on his players, ranted on the sidelines, barely tolerated reporters at times. Former Giants running back Tiki Barber said Coughlin drove him out of the game, robbed him of the joy of playing football. But then last year at the age of 60 and with his job in jeopardy, Coughlin changed. He talked about it yesterday.

Mr. TOM COUGHLIN (Coach, New York Giants): I think you spend your entire life -or you better - trying to improve yourself, trying to get better, trying to learn and then let that be something that you follow up on. And that simply is what we tried to do.

GOLDMAN: He took the Giants bowling. He tried to lighten up with the media. Yesterday, even though he said he didn't like the redundancy and time wasting of all the Super Bowl press conferences, he played along with San Diego Union-Tribune writer Jerry McGee.

Mr. JERRY McGee: Could you voice the word fun? Just say fun.

Mr. COUGHLIN: Fun.

Mr. McGEE: There you go.

Mr. COUGHLIN: How's that, Jerry? Nice question, Jerry.

GOLDMAN: Perhaps his most important move, Coughlin created a leadership council made up of several players that help the coach communicate with the rest of the team. Veteran defensive end Michael Strahan says it's been a great success.

Mr. MICHAEL STRAHAN (New York Giants): Makes players feel like we have some ownership in the team, which is important if you're going to get the most out of guys. You have to take your hat off to Coach Coughlin for the way he's changed. Because without that change, I don't think we're here.

GOLDMAN: The Patriots are here at the Super Bowl probably because their head coach hasn't changed. Mr. Monotone, as reporters unlovingly call Bill Belichick, still often drones on in public, still never reveals his or the team's inner workings. But after a season that started with Belichick being fined because the team illegally videotaped an opponent's signals and ended with him being named coach of the year, the ice around Belichick has thawed. It's come out that he's friends with rock star Jon Bon Jovi. ESPN.com reported that Belichick sang - scratch that, belted out - the 1950s hit "Love Potion Number 9" at a private party. And he's also been caught in public laughing -like yesterday in Phoenix.

Unidentified Man: After all this week with the media stations, was there any topic regarding the game that you would have like to talk about but you didn't touch at all?

Mr. BILL BELICHICK (Coach, New England Patriots): I think everything has been covered pretty thoroughly by you guys. I give you a lot of credit for that.

GOLDMAN: But when a reporter asked about Senator Arlen Specter digging deeper into the videotaping controversy dubbed Spygate, the old, familiar wall came crashing down.

Mr. BELICHICK: That's a league matter. I don't know anything about it.

GOLDMAN: If Spygate comes alive again, it has the potential to seriously harm Belichick's reputation. It's a reputation he's built, not on press conference performances, but on three Super Bowl championships his team has won since 2002, and a fourth they're expected to win tomorrow. Tom Goldman, NPR News, Phoenix.

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