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Super Bowl coaches: friendly rivals and sticklers for detail

Under Belichick, the Patriots are undefeated this season. With Coughlin, the Giants won a record 10 games on the road.

By Faye BowersCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / February 1, 2008

Patriots' Belichick: Known for painstaking preparation and a dedication to work.

Shaun Best/Reuters

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Glendale, Ariz.

They both served as assistants under guru Bill Parcells at the New York Giants. Each left his first head coaching job because he couldn't get along with anyone. Their résumés are so similar, in fact, that the main difference on Sunday may come down to this: Bill Belichick has already been to the Super Bowl three times, but this is Tom Coughlin's first appearance as head coach.

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Theirs is a friendly rivalry – they've been chums for decades and each praises the other's record.

But warm and fuzzy aren't necessarily words that spring to the lips of all who've shared the sidelines with the Patriots' Belichick or the Giants' Coughlin. Both are known for an autocratic style, an exacting attention to detail.

"They come from the same family tree of coaching," says Howie Long, a Fox football analyst and former Oakland Raider. "I don't think either one of them are necessarily guys you'd want to take long walks with on the beach, but they're great coaches."

Under Coughlin's direction, the New York Giants set an NFL record this season by winning 10 games on the road. The team arrives at Super Bowl XLII after downing three top teams in the playoffs.

Under Belichick, meanwhile, the New England Patriots have been undefeated this season. If they win Sunday, they will become the first NFL team ever to finish 19-0. And with a Super Bowl victory, Belichick could be anointed the greatest NFL coach of all time.

Both Belichick and Coughlin are lifelong students of the game and have worked their way up through the ranks. They tackle adversity with gusto and almost make rawhide-tough Tommy Franks, the general who ran the US invasion of Iraq, look like milquetoast.

"They are what I would call old school because they coached together under Parcells," says Steve Mariucci, on-air host for the NFL Network and former head coach for the San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions.

Belichick's start with his dad

Belichick learned the game at the knee of his father, an assistant coach at Navy for 33 years. Young Bill began attending scouting meetings with his dad when he was in grade school and was diagramming plays before he hit junior high.

"I went over and watched Navy to hang out with my dad around Joe Bellino, Roger Staubach, Tom Lynch, Pat Donnalley, and guys like that," said Belichick at the University of Phoenix Stadium during media day this week. "They were the best players because they worked the hardest. They were the first ones out to practice. They were the last ones to leave."

It instilled a work ethic that remains with Belichick today. He is usually the first in the office or on the field and the last to leave. That dedication to work, along with Belichick's understanding of the game, his preparation, and lightning-quick adjustments to deal with opponents' plays, is legendary.