Q: Is part of your message this week to just say these opportunities don't come along all the time?
Coughlin: "That was part of it, but that message was really driven home last Saturday night about the situation that we were in. I cited the example of Tony Gonzalez, the tight end from Atlanta that's been in the league for 15 years and never won a playoff game. He has umpteen thousands and thousands of yards and all kinds of records, but yet never won a playoff game. How precious these times are. The energy level and the spirit – one of my favorite lines is, 'The sword will always be conquered by the spirit.' That's what I keep pounding away to these guys. It's the spirit, it's the will, it's the power of the will. It's the power of all 46 (players in uniform), the coaches, everyone that has to do with the team – the singular power of the will, which puts you in position where you feel the strength. You can feel it, you can use it; it's very real. And the power of the spirit. The idea that you don't have many opportunities like this, you just don't. It just doesn't mathematically work out."
Q: At the same time, you try to keep it as normal as possible. Is it a balance between trying to have a normal work week and this is not a normal week? This is a very special week.
Coughlin: "I don't worry about that. What I want to do is feel the energy, especially as you go from Wednesday to Thursday. When we go Wednesday, they're all waiting to understand what the approach will be, what the information I'm going to give them is, how they start to formulate their thoughts. Then the coaches bang away with the X's and O's. So we start that, and it builds kind of slow. Then you hear a few things said. But (Thursday), because of the necessity of the quality of the practice being that the third down day is so critical when you're talking about whatever team you want to talk about. This team, this week, San Francisco, their ability to run the football, their time of possession circumstance, the way that they win games with the 38 takeaways and the best field position in football - whether it be for them or where the opponents start - all of that stuff. So you get to a day like this where you know you've got to keep the ball. Now we kept the ball the first time around. We had 70 snaps to their 52, but we didn't score. They are a very good defensive team. So this is a really important day, and this is a hard, hard work day. And yet they grow. You can feel how the energy can carry and help them on a day like this to get themselves ready to go."
Q: You've coached in conference championship games three times. Is there something you can take from your experience to help your players?
Coughlin: "All the experiences. With everything said and done, you've got to go play the game. You've got to go execute better than the other guy. You've got to go do the things that allow you to win football games. Don't turn it over. Let the other guy turn it over. We go plus-three last week against a team (Green Bay) that only had 14 giveaways the entire season. This team has 10. 10!"
Q: Is there a different feel on the sidelines in a big game like this or is it you're out there, it's a football game?
Coughlin: "I think once you get out there and get going and get yourself knocked down, you get into the game. That's why it's important to start well so that everybody is into it."
Q: This is like a division game because it's a rematch. What are the dynamics when you play a team the second time in a season? Do you break down the first game to see what you did well and look to replace what wasn't as successful?
Coughlin: "First of all, you like to look at yourself and watch the matchups. You like to look at the critical situations. You want to know what the play call was, what the defense was, or what was their offensive idea, what they're playing offensively, what did our defense do, what would our special teams do. And in this game, to be honest with you, one of the major learning experiences from game one was the special teams situations. We had a couple of penalties on punt return. We had a 29-yard punt. We had some things that were very real in terms of being able to correct them, to do a better job of that. So you start there, but then you have to understand the big picture – what they see, what did you do well, what are they going to defend, what are they going to plan to attack? Then it's on the other side, whatever you didn't do well, what is the expectation there? Are they loading up to continue along those lines or do they not expect you to even bring that package with you? Then, you have to know what the frame of mind* *of the people are like. For example, the Green Bay coordinator, defensively (Dom Capers) and the coordinator in San Francisco (Vic Fangio) are like that (touches two fingers together). So whatever was good in that game that Green Bay did, you're going to see it."
Q: It sounds like a big chess game.
Coughlin: "It is. It's major league every time, always. You have to take all these things into consideration, and you've got to come back to what you do well. And then what your quarterback can do well."
Q: When you have a team that's turned the ball over only 10 times and usually has the field position advantage, do you stress to your team the importance of minimizing mistakes?
Coughlin: "You can't do that. You have to be the team that takes advantage of it. You have to be the team that forces the errors, the team that gets the takeaways, the team that creates field position, the team that can somehow prevent the return yardage. You can't give them what New Orleans gave them. New Orleans had to drive 70 yards with the ball to score (in the divisional game last Saturday). The 49ers drove less than 40. Less than 40."
Q: They have the best run defense in the NFL. You ran the ball very well two weeks ago, not as well last week…
Coughlin: "We ran 29 times against them when we were out there. We ran the ball a lot. We didn't do too badly (93 yards). It wasn't a big number, but we pounded away and we had our chances. We did make some plays with it, and we'll continue to try to do that. You've got to. You're looking at a situation where it looks like it's 48-to-55 (temperature), 40 percent rain, it's been raining out there for a couple of days. It won't stop us, but we do need balance."
Q: You've been asked a lot about these conversations you had with Justin Tuck. To expand on that, in addition to addressing the team every day, you have to have your finger on 53 pulses all the time. Is it a constant check-in with these guys all the time? Who needs a pat on the back? Who needs a kick in the butt? Who needs some encouragement? How important is that part of your job?
Coughlin: "It's very important. It's as important as anything that we do because it is the personal touch. It is not always a major sit-down. Guys don't like to come up here (to his office), to be honest with you. They don't. They don't want to – 'Uh-oh, the head coach's office.' But you can catch a guy in the hallway, you can open the door of a meeting room and he's in there by himself. It's just trying to figure out maybe somebody's down, maybe somebody's got some problems. And I don't always get it right. You never do."
Q: Tuck talked about this, but did you feel that in trying to play through his injuries he was putting too much on himself? And you said "Look, you can still help this team."
Coughlin: "It was more than that. I wanted him to have fun. I wanted him to be him. I wanted to see his personality because he's got a great personality. He's a fun guy, but he didn't act like that. I just wanted him to understand how many blessings he has in this life, what he has going for himself. You're only young one time. He has so much to give, and somehow and some way, you have to find a way to deal with these other issues, but they shouldn't take away from who you really are."
Q: We talk so much about Victor Cruz and Jason Pierre-Paul and their emergence. Are we kind of seeing the same thing from Hakeem Nicks in these playoffs?
Coughlin: "Well, he's always been that way. He's made those kinds of things happen. It's unbelievable. We've always known this guy will catch the ball. He's going to catch it. The play he made last week and he's fast enough to run away from anybody chasing him and that's the key. Hakeem is a real good football player, and he's one of those guys who love to play. He doesn't like to play, he loves it. He likes big games, too, looks forward to them."
Q: Alex Smith is not mentioned with some of the elite quarterbacks you've played, but he seems to be doing everything well right now.
Coughlin: "He certainly will be (mentioned) after last weekend. He did what he had to do to help his team win. He made big plays down the stretch in all capacities. He really was a huge factor. Those passes that he made late in the game, two balls to (Vernon) Davis, he made three very good throws to Davis. He just played lights out. His run for a score, you see his athleticism. He acted like a runner, fast."
Q: Defensively, is Justin Smith the guy you always have to be aware of?
Coughlin: "He is a very good player in every capacity – rush the passer, play the run, smart. If they run, their line starts charging, he's probably as good as we've seen in terms of occupying two, so that one becomes free. He's unselfish in that way."
Q: Their punter, Andy Lee, is first in the NFL in both gross and net yardage and their kicker, David Akers, set a record with 44 field goals. What kind of advantage does that give them?
Coughlin: "Well, the one field position guy (Lee) is amazing. To have a net of 44.0 or whatever his net is. Can you imagine that? His net against us in the first game is 50 yards - that was his net. And Akers, he hits the ball like a howitzer. And he threw a touchdown pass this year. He's played well. And he's the best I've ever seen at the surprise onside kick."