Sometimes the proof of Tom Coughlin's formidable powers of adaptability is obvious. Such as his decision to abandon the offensive system he had subscribed to since becoming Boston College coach in 1991 -- or "forever," as he described his nearly-quarter-century affiliation with that system.
But sometimes the signs are much more subtle. Such as his willingness to pipe in music during a portion of the Giants' Friday practice, a suggestion recently brought to him by the team's leadership council.
"The players thought it would be a good thing," Coughlin said of introducing the musical interlude during a stretching period. "They think they're a close group and I want them to be closer, so I said, 'I don't have a problem with it. We can do that. If it helps us produce, if we wrap up our hard work week with that type of thing and they enjoy it, I'm OK with that.' "
The Giants were 0-2 when Coughlin let the music blare after a brisk Friday walk-through; two days later, they earned their first win, pounding the visiting Texans, 30-17.
Four days later, they beat Washington, 45-14, at FedEx Field. Eli Manning threw four touchdown passes, ran for a TD and showed that Coughlin's calculated risk of scrapping his offense in favor of new coordinator Ben McAdoo's West Coast system was starting to pay off.
Coughlin -- still showing the same energy at 68 (he's the NFL's oldest coach) that he displayed during his days as the Giants' receivers coach under Bill Parcells from 1988-90 -- has shown a willingness to remain flexible and adapt to his surroundings. That remains crucial to his approach.
There is no guarantee that the Giants' early-season surge will continue, staving off questions about whether Coughlin can get his team back to the playoffs for the first time in three years and keep his job in 2015 and beyond. But his decision to take a series of calculated risks shows how willing he is to find the answers. Even if those moves are unconventional and counterintuitive.
"I think you learn every day of your life," he said. "You'd better do that, because if you believe you're OK where you are, you're not going to be around very long."
Coughlin knew things had to change after last season, when the Giants started off 0-6 before winning seven of their next 10 to finish 7-9. It was the first losing season for Coughlin in his 10 years as the Giants' head coach, and he knew he had to make significant changes.
It started with the offense, which team president John Mara called "broken" after last season. The deliberation process began with Coughlin examining those around him . . . and the head coach, too. There were questions to be asked of everyone -- including the man in the mirror.
"The adaptability comes in when you surround yourself with people you have confidence in, so you throw questions out there," he said. "You listen to the answers and you try to come up with the best solution. That's simply what I think we've been able to do. Going back any number of years, I was trying to be sincere. It's not about me or my ego. It's about what's best for the New York Giants, under any circumstances."
Not that Coughlin has changed completely. "He is still a tough guy. There's no doubt about that," said defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka, a first-round pick in 2006. "He doesn't waver in his core values and beliefs. You're on time [for meetings], and that means being early. You follow the rules, the dress code and the basics. That has never changed. The change comes in how he allows people to be themselves."
Despite being lauded by his players for being less of a taskmaster and more of a father figure, Coughlin has never quite overcome the public perception that he's an old-school disciplinarian. But he indeed has changed with the times, even if many fans still view him as the guy on the sideline with the perpetual scowl who yells a lot.
Kiwanuka points to Coughlin's decision to allow music for the end-of-week practice as an example of the coach's ability to take the edge off. But the Friday play list isn't the only reflection of his willingness to allow his players to get closer to one another.
Coughlin, a physical fitness devotee who works out each morning, has taken to running sprints near the end of warm-ups alongside his players. If a 68-year-old coach running alongside his players doesn't build camaraderie, what will?
And in another nod to Coughlin's willingness to adapt to today's athletes and training techniques, he has instituted a "recovery stretch" on the advice of his training staff. It can take away time from practice -- which goes against his nature -- but he has seen impressive results from the program, which is designed to cut down on soft tissue injuries. On Wednesday, every one of the Giants' active players participated in practice for the first time since the start of training camp.
Coughlin's decision about what to do with the offense was his most important offseason move. He could have continued with Kevin Gilbride's system by hiring former Gilbride assistant Mike Sullivan, the Bucs' former offensive coordinator. In fact, Sullivan appeared to be the favorite to get the job, which meant Manning would have been able to run the same system.
But Coughlin was impressed with McAdoo, a former quarterbacks coach with the Packers, and felt change would benefit everyone involved -- including himself, even though it meant Coughlin would have to learn a new system from scratch.
"The decision was made based on what I felt was perfect timing," he said. "I liked the idea of having to learn something new, being excited about the learning process, the inspiration involved. I felt Ben McAdoo would be the best man for this job."
It took some time and plenty of criticism before the players started to get the hang of the West Coast attack. But after an 0-2 start and skepticism about whether the system could work, the Giants are starting to believe after two impressive victories.
"[Coughlin] knew it was time for a change," said Manning, who has thrown six touchdown passes and one interception in his last two games. "It's been a learning process, but it re-energizes you and keeps you thinking and grinding, and I think it's probably doing the same for [Coughlin].''
Manning knows there is a long way to go before he can declare the new offense a permanent solution to the problems that dogged him and the Giants last year. But he is encouraged by what he has seen and heartened by how his head coach has navigated through the transition from last year's collapse to a more hopeful feeling this season.
Coughlin, too, realizes this is just the beginning of the transformation process. But he also knows the only true solution lies in adapting to his new reality and keeping one unwavering principle as his guide.
"I always go back to the same thing," he said. "This whole thing is about what's right for the New York Giants. That's the only thing that's important."