Super Bowl coaches: Reviled but respected

Head coach Tom Coughlin of the New York Giants congratulates head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots after their game on December 29, 2007 at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images

The Super Bowl clash cliches are already flowing.

Big Apple vs. Beantown. Smash-mouth D vs. high-powered O. Eli Manning's "elite" status vs. Tom Brady's legacy.

But the most riveting matchup of Super Bowl XLVI may be this: Tom Coughlin vs. Bill Belichick.

That's right. It's a sideline-pacing car wreck that can't be ignored. Two of the most reviled head coaches in the NFL are squaring off again for the Lombardi Trophy.

"Reviled" may be an overstatement but the evidence is hard to deny - even within the league. In a recent Sporting News survey, NFL players were asked: What coach would you least like to play for? The Giants' Coughlin and the Patriots' Belichick ranked first and third respectively. (The Dolphins' Tony Sparano, who ranked second, has since been axed by Miami and hired to run the offense for the New York Jets, where he will likely be hated even more).

The reasons that the 65-year-old Coughlin and 59-year-old Belichick inspire such disdain are obvious though perhaps superficial: Both coaches are known for being grumpy old-school task masters. They aren't interested in making friends but getting results. They use words like "accountable" and "discipline" and "no comment."

Coughlin is known for making contorted facial expressions on the sideline and chewing out his players, even no-name punters. His surliness is fodder for local sports radio. Belichick will always be remembered for never smiling beneath his hooded sweatshirt, spying on opponents and running up the score.

Of course, nearly every football fan in the northeastern United States reveres these guys. And they should - the pair boasts four Super Bowl rings between them and that tally will reach five on Feb. 5.

Which is, of course, all the more reason many fans outside of New York and New England despise Coughlin and Belichick. It's enough that they are despicable but do they have to be dominant too?

Make no mistake: even the biggest Coughlin and Belichick haters will be watching the Big Game in two weeks. The last time these two teams met for the championship, the game was the most watched Super Bowl of all time. Because, as much as people want to see Brady and Manning do their thing on the field, they can't help but be riveted by the brooding scowls on the sideline.

Whatever the outcome of Super Bowl XLVI, one would expect the post-game handshake between Coughlin and Belichick to be about as warm and fuzzy as Foxboro in February. (Belichick is notorious for not being a fan of the post-game shake). But a quick look at the coaches' previous mid-field encounters shows a surprising human connection. Apparently hostility breeds respect.

  • Stephen Smith

    Stephen Smith is a senior editor for


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