INDIANAPOLIS -- It's not like Tom Coughlin is delivering cookies and warm milk to the players at curfew this week. Or patting them on the back and offering words of encouragement when they make a mistake at practice.
The New York Giants coach is the same, only different.
"Warmer? Fuzzier?" Giants guard Chris Snee, who also is Coughlin's son-in-law, asked incredulously. "I don't know if I'd use those adjectives, but he's lightened up a lot, and we made reference to that four years ago when we were here. How 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, who was mentored by Bill Parcells, long ago earned the nickname "Colonel Coughlin" for being a taskmaster. On time meant five minutes early. Facial hair was frowned upon.
Coughlin always has been tough on his players, taxing them mentally and physically.
"That was the way Tom was as an assistant coach," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who coached with Coughlin when both were with the Giants under Parcells. "He was very disciplined and very detail-oriented. He demanded a lot from his players. He was fair, but firm, like he is now."
When his teams didn't win, Coughlin's ways were questioned. He was fired in Jacksonville following the 2002 season, when the Jaguars produced a second consecutive 6-10 record. He was ordered by the Giants to soften his approach following an 8-8 season in 2006.
Coughlin said this week he is more patient.
"The attitude didn't change," Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said. "He stayed consistent. I think we kind of got fed up with losing. We got fed up with people saying that our coach's job was on the line every channel we turned to. At the end of the day, I commend him for being faithful and as strong-minded as he has been, because he hasn't changed his demeanor.
"He has probably loosened the reins a little by giving us a little more freedom, as far as some say-so in the locker room. But at the end of the day, this is a Coughlin-based football team, and we are going to follow him until the end. That's what's changed."
One thing hasn't changed: A Sporting News poll of 111 NFL players earlier this season voted Coughlin the coach they would least like to play for. But it's hard to argue his results.
The Giants are trying to win their second Super Bowl in five seasons.
Coughlin could become the 13th head coach to win multiple Super Bowls, and, at 65, he would be the oldest head coach to lift the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
"I coached in the NFL 28 years, coached for some great guys -- Chuck Noll, Marty Schottenheimer, Dennis Green -- and spent 13 years myself as a head coach," NBC analyst Tony Dungy said. "I made it to one Super Bowl [as a coach]. Any time you go to multiple Super Bowls, you're a great coach. Coach Coughlin started with an expansion team in Jacksonville. He took them to the AFC Championship Game [twice], and now he's gone multiple times with the Giants. He is a tremendous coach, and he is underrated."
Win or lose against the Patriots, Coughlin's job security will not be questioned Monday morning in the New York tabloids. That itself is a change.