Giants head coach Tom Coughlin answers questions during a conference in Indianapolis yesterday.

INDIANAPOLIS — Bill Belichick talked about his foe in Super Bowl XLVI, Tom Coughlin, in the most reverent terms.

"Parcells-ian" terms.

"I respect a lot of things about Tom — his evaluation of talent, the way he attacks teams, his consistency, his discipline, his team's toughness, their resiliency. Bill (Parcells) has a lot of those characteristics as a coach.

"He's demanding of (the players) in a good way. There's a lot of Bill Parcells in that, too."

In my eyes, Coughlin might have plenty of Parcells in him. But if the Giants' boss can find a way to coax his troops to victory in Super Bowl XLVI, I will always look at this guy as football's version of 1950s middleweight, Jake LaMotta.

Look at the haymakers Coughlin has absorbed in his career. As little as two months ago, the New York media was making plans for his firing.

And now, he stands a win away from immortality, or at least a sure trip to the Hall of Fame in Canton.

Belichick understated it. The man is resilient — a resilient pitbull.

"Every year, he's supposed to be out," said Giants offensive lineman and Coughlin's son-in-law Chris Snee. "He doesn't pay much attention to that. He stays focused on what's important, winning games and getting us here. He never wavers on that. We follow his lead. He's the leader of our football team. We look to him to guide us through."

Coughlin's entire head coaching career has been a lesson in survival.

Like Belichick, Coughlin's first NFL coaching stint drew mixed results, with eight seasons, going 68-60 overall and 4-4 in the playoffs.

After a year away, he took over the Giants and almost immediately stirred the pot by pressing rookie Eli Manning into the starting role over veteran Kurt Warner.

Over the years, Coughlin has absorbed some brutal losses and had to answer for them.

Why punt to Philly's DeSean Jackson with the season on the line last year?

And that was coming off an 8-8 in 2009 and first-round playoff disappointment — again to the Eagles in 2008. The core of this football team really never changed. Yet, the 2007 champs were stuck in mid-pack.

When the Giants were pushed to the brink this year, needing wins in weeks 15 and 16 — plus a little help elsewhere — the executioners were again sharpening the axe.

"A lot of people might have had him out of town, but I don't think he ever had himself out of town," said Giants corner Antrell Rolle. "We are one, behind his leadership, and we play for him. We want him to control his destiny to be out of here when he wants. I think we've gotten to that point. He's never given up, never had an ounce of give-up in his blood."

Like Belichick, Coughlin is a bit of a changed man. Ask any Giant, and they'll see he's gone a bit soft. He still drops the hammer, though, admitting the one change is his patience.

"Now, I pick my spots," he says.

Added linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka, "You know if you do something the wrong way, you will be held accountable. He's just so steady and so methodical. He's just found better balance."

Few can explain how Coughlin's teams find the ropes and flounder until forced to fight off them.

Remember, his football team was 6-2 after waltzing into Gillette Stadium and knocking off your Patriots.

They had to get worse before they got better. And Snee noted that the desperation came simultaneously when plans for Coughlin's jettisoning reached a fever pitch.

"We wanted to keep playing, and losing that privilege was what we faced from the Jets game on," said Snee. "You definitely realize how special this is. The opportunities are limited. Not being in the playoffs the last two years has given everyone a new appreciation for how special this is."

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