By Larry Fine
EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (Reuters) - Tom Coughlin turned an expansion team into a contender then found Super Bowl glory with the New York Giants after ditching his authoritarian approach for a more inclusive style.
Coughlin remarkably had the Jacksonville Jaguars one win away from a Super Bowl berth in their second National Football League season but it wasn't until he joined the Giants that he reached the top of the coaching profession.
He faced a near mutiny from Giants players disgruntled by his strict approach after he took charge of the team in 2004 and three of them filed grievances against him for fining them for being less than five minutes early to scheduled meetings.
Even his Hall of Fame defensive end Michael Strahan bristled at a fine for being just three minutes early to a meeting.
But Coughlin softened his approach, in some respects, and went on to achieve Super Bowl glory.
The 69-year-old Coughlin, who resigned on Monday after 12 years in charge of the Giants, gave a rousing farewell address to a packed news conference on Tuesday that appropriately began five minutes before schedule.
"I've changed and I've grown and I've developed and I've learned," Coughlin said about his tenure with the Giants. "You better do that or you're dead. So I've done that. I'm better for it."
Facing pressure from ownership in 2006 to right the ship after an 8-8 season, Coughlin established a players' council to serve as a sounding board and improved communication helped bond team and coach in a charge to a Super Bowl title in 2007.
The Giants' championship victory ruined the New England Patriots' bid to record the NFL's first 19-0 season. Four years later the Giants again beat the Bill Belichick and Tom Brady-led Patriots with a late Super Bowl touchdown drive.
"In professional football, the goal is to win. We all know that," Coughlin said. "But my contention is, when I first brought this up was with our '07 team, is there's a higher ground. There's a greater purpose. That purpose is team.
"Winning, losing, playing hard, playing well, doing it for each other, winning the right way. Winning the right way is a very, very important thing to me and all of our coaches. That's what motivates and inspires us."
Coughlin, whose 170 regular season wins puts him in a share of 11th place on the NFL's all-time list, said teaching life lessons was most important to him.
"Championships are won by teams who love one another, who love and respect one another, who play for and support one another," he said.
"While it is the job of the head coach to get the technical football right ... it is our duty to equip these men with the virtues that will last a lifetime, the values like honesty, trust, responsibility, respect, service and integrity..."
Coughlin, who led the Jaguars to the AFC title game in only his second season as an NFL head coach, leads by example.
"What's next for this guy Coughlin? I don't know exactly what is next for me," said Coughlin, who left the door open to a return to coaching.
"But I do know ... we will devote a lot of our energy to the Jay Fund Foundation," he said, referring specifically to the ‘Be There’ campaign for the New York, New Jersey area, to help families with cancer-stricken children.
(Editing by Frank Pingue)