Extending their stays

The Packers gave coach Mike McCarthy a new five-year contract worth $4 million per season. Meanwhile, his counterpart, Tom Coughlin, saved his job with the Giants by leading them to Sunday's NFC title game.

Here are two things you couldn't have predicted about four months ago: The Green Bay Packers and New York Giants would be playing for the NFC championship, and their coaches would be looking at added job security.

According to the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Packers coach Mike McCarthy has agreed to a new five-year contract worth $4 million annually, which puts him above the NFL average of about $3.4 million.

It's a reward for a job well done for what was a somewhat controversial hire in 2006. McCarthy, not popular defensive coordinator Jim Bates, replaced Mike Sherman as coach despite a spotty track record as an offensive coordinator with New Orleans and San Francisco.

What a resume and a glance at the stats can't show, though, is how a coach interacts with players. Nor can those things show his feel for the game. McCarthy, who was given just an initial three-year contract, has pushed almost all the right buttons this season, from how he structured the training camp schedule, to the amount of time given off during breaks in the regular-season schedule, to finding ways to win when the Packers couldn't run, to how he's worked with Brett Favre to make the offense more of a collaborative effort.

"You feel like he cares about you as a person instead of just what you're out there doing for him," defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins said. "Since he came in here, the atmosphere's just been great. Everybody's been closer, the team is closer. He's led us in what we feel is a good way."

Where he's led them is to an 18-3 record after starting his rookie campaign as coach with a 4-8 record. One more victory will put the Packers — the NFL's youngest team — into the most unexpected of Super Bowls.

McCarthy's counterpart on Sunday, Tom Coughlin, seemed like a man with one foot in the coaching grave and the other foot on a banana peel after the Giants fell to 0-2 after getting blown out by the Packers in Week 2. The Giants looked like a team that quit during the fourth quarter, and it didn't seem to be too long before the players rebelled against Commander Coughlin's demanding style.

Instead of turning up the heat on his players, Coughlin showed a softer style. His players responded by winning six straight games and 12 of their last 16 — including nine straight on the road — to advance to Sunday's frigid showdown.

"He's done a lot for us this year," said standout running back Brandon Jacobs, who ably replaced me-first Tiki Barber. "A lot of guys have really warmed up to him. We're playing good football, and that's what we need."

Coughlin downplays his role, just as McCarthy does.

"This is not about me, it is about our team, it is about the New York Giants, it is about our players and our coaches, and the challenge that you get each week in the National Football League, and the attempt to lead your team successfully each time out," Coughlin said. "That is what this is all about, it is not about me."

What it's all about is Coughlin unexpectedly guiding his team to the threshold of the Super Bowl, and it appears a contract extension — not a pink slip — will be coming soon for the 61-year-old coach.

"I would rather play for Coach Coughlin than anybody else," Jacobs said.

You get the feeling the Packers would say the same thing about McCarthy.

"So much of being a head coach is being believable and convincing 53 guys that they can do something that maybe they didn't think they could do," Favre said. "That's the mark of a good coach, and I think he has that."


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