INDIANAPOLIS Every year, it seems, as the New York Giants' season teeters toward a disappointing finish, coach Tom Coughlin finds himself listed in some ignominious company.
Coughlin, despite winning 10 or more games in four of the past seven seasons, including a Super Bowl championship four years ago, is an annual member of the club known as Coaches on the Hot Seat.
It was no different this season when the Giants, after a 6-2 start, lost five of six games and appeared likely to miss the postseason for the third year in a row.
But Coughlin convinced his team it was not out of contention. The Giants went on to win, in effect, five elimination games the last two in the regular season and three straight postseason games en route to a return to the Super Bowl, in which they will face New England on Sunday.
If the Giants defeat the Patriots in the Super Bowl for the second time in four seasons, Coughlin's place in history will be viewed much differently than it was just a few weeks ago. With two Super Bowl championships, he could go from the Hot Seat to the Hall of Fame.
Coughlin, 65, has one more year left on his contract, and likely will be given an extension that will takes him to retirement.
Coughlin isn't surprised at how quickly opinions changed on whether he should have been canned or headed for Canton.
"If you are coaching in this job," Coughlin said, "you are either one or the other. I just keep the blinders on and go straight ahead. I don't have anything to do with what is being said on the outside."
Coughlin was anything but popular with his Giants players when he took over in 2004 after eight seasons as the first coach of the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars.
Coughlin was demanding with the Giants, even fining players if they didn't arrive for meetings at least five minutes early, known as Coughlin Time. Players complained, but Coughlin got their attention. By his third season, the Giants won it all, spoiling New England's bid for a perfect season with a 17-14 win in Super Bowl XLVII.
The Giants have gone seven years without a losing record under Coughlin, the franchise's longest stretch since they had 10 in a row from 1954 to 1963. Coughlin has led New York to five postseason appearances, which ties him with former coach and Hall of Fame finalist Bill Parcells for the most in franchise history. Coughlin's 153 wins, including an 11-7 mark in the postseason, rank 18th all-time.
Even when the Giants were struggling this season, owner John Mara never lost confidence in Coughlin's management style.
"Too many people make too big a deal out of, 'He brings discipline and everything,' " Mara said. "We just felt like he was a winner and he would work so hard and be so devoted to putting a winning team on the field, and that's what we were looking for: A guy who was that dedicated and that hardworking and didn't care about his image and doing TV commercials or whatever."
Some say Coughlin has mellowed, and he does seem warmer and fuzzier.
"Warmer? Fuzzier? I don't know if I'd use those adjectives," said guard Chris Snee, who also is Coughlin's son-in-law, "but he's lightened up a lot, and we made reference to that four years ago when we were here.
"He kind of changed in that regard, getting to know players more, getting players to know the softer side of him, the side that family members see. He shows that, but then again, he still has his beliefs that he sticks to. That's what makes him more successful."
Coughlin admits he's changed this season.
"I think it's important you learn, develop and change every year," Coughlin said. "You have to bring a fresh approach each year to your team, especially when you've been doing it a few years in the same place.
"I think I've become more patient picking my spots better in terms of the spontaneity that perhaps I would utilize in terms of trying to correct something right away. In this business, the people who sit in this chair basically do what they have to do and do what they believe in to get their team in the best position to win."