January 10, 2006
How Exactly Will History Judge Parcells?
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
First of a four-part series on the legacy of Bill Parcells.
The good people of Canton, Ohio will roll out the red carpet for Duane Charles Parcells someday.
It started as one of the messiest divorces in NFL history, and it continues on as an expose on a coach’s ego, vanity, and complete disregard for his personal legacy. At the epicenter of all this is a mismanaged Super Bowl, and the handing over to a divisional rival a coach who is currently on a run of success matched only by Vince Lombardi. Bill Parcells might be busy at work cementing his stature as a head coach for the ages with his rebuilding effort in Dallas, but his record of ego uber alles has planted a negative seed in the minds of more than one Hall of Fame voter. No Cowboy fan should feel safe and secure that their franchise is on its way back to the halcyon days of Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson.
Things seem to have worked out well for the Patriots, who along with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers managed to overcome being jilted by Parcells to win at least one championship. The same cannot be said for the New York City teams, neither of whom have won any Super Bowls since January of 1991. It remains to be seen how long the marriage between Parcells and Cowboy owner Jerry Jones, two of the league’s biggest egos, can continue to coexist in one organization.
If such a divorce occurs, it likely will be rooted in one man’s ego not getting the treatment it feels it deserves. Since Jones signs Parcells’ paychecks, Parcells will naturally be the one to go. The only question is will it be due to a resignation or a firing. But if Jones does something which Parcells’ ego cannot live with, the record shows that Parcells will bolt no matter what the consequence.
Now there’s a key word for you. Consequence. If it meant anything to Parcells, the Patriots probably win Super Bowl XXXI. Or, it would mean that Belichick would still be the Jet defensive coordinator. Parcells won two Super Bowls with the Giants, then played footsie with one team on two different occasions and left two other franchise projects incomplete. If consequence meant a thing to Parcells, at least one of those projects would have been seen to full fruition.
A daunting resurrection project
Scott Norwood, you’re no Adam Vinatieri.
Whereas Vinatieri can nail Super Bowl winning field goals from beyond forty yards, Norwood could not. He pushed a 47-yard try wide right as time ran out in Super Bowl XXV in Tampa on January 27, 1991. The Giants eked out a 20-19 win over the Buffalo Bills, and Parcells rode off the field on the shoulders of his players a champion for the second time in his eight-year Giant coaching career. At the time, Parcells was at the zenith of his career, judged by many as the greatest head coach in the NFL. With San Francisco’s Bill Walsh having retired two years prior, Super Bowl XXV made Parcells the undisputed top coaching dog.
Following Super Bowl XXV, it was reported that Parcells had health problems. He began to experience episodes of chest pains. Not long after these reports came out, Parcells announced that he was retiring from coaching due to health reasons. Parcells would head to NBC and work in the studio while the Giants would enter the horrible Ray Handley era.
Or so we thought. Reports later came out that Tampa Bay owner Hugh Culverhouse was courting Parcells while he was in town at the Super Bowl, and made him a kingly offer to come and direct the Buccaneers (who at the time had not had a winning season in a non-strike year since 1981). Parcells strung Culverhouse along for a bit, made it seem that he would take the job, then decided that NBC was his real cup of tea. Culverhouse was forced to have to stick with interim head coach Richard Williamson for one more year, who took the coaching reins after Ray Perkins was let go 13 games into the 1990 season.
It was at this time that the Patriots were heading into one of the darkest eras in their history. Raymond Berry, then the only Super Bowl head coach in Patriot history, gave way to defensive coordinator Rod Rust for the 1990 season. Rust presided over perhaps the worst season in franchise history, where the Patriots went 1-15 and disgraced themselves with an embarrassing locker room incident involving former Herald reporter Lisa Olson. New Patriot owner Victor Kiam, who was a household face thanks to Remington razors, made things worse by denouncing Olson and offering support to the players who exposed themselves to Olson and harassed her in the locker room.
Rust was let go after his one season as head coach, but his replacement was not much of an upgrade. Former UMass head coach Dick MacPherson came in and led the Patriots in a boola-boola fest, but managed only an unremarkable 8-24 record in 1991 and 1992. MacPherson had to leave the Patriots after 1992 due to health reasons.
Meanwhile Kiam, still stung by the Olson situation, made the magnanimous decision to let his business partner, James Busch Orthwein, buy him out. Orthwein had two major agendas as Patriot owner: hire a top head coach and move the team to his home base in St. Louis, who had lost the Cardinals to Phoenix five years earlier.
To the total astonishment of the pro football world, Orthwein was able to lure Parcells from the broadcast booth and back into the head coaching ranks. Parcells came to Foxborough in 1993, and was signed to a five-year deal as both head coach and general manager. He was charged with a near impossible task: to mold the woebegone Patriots into a championship franchise. Parcells, who in 1980 under head coach Ron Erhardt was the Patriot linebacker coach, was upbeat and positive in his outlook regarding the Patriots. Parcells made quarterback Drew Bledsoe of Washington State his first draft selection as Patriot general manager, and set about his work.
Orthwein dearly wanted to move the Patriots to St. Louis. But roughly one year after Parcells came to town, Foxborough Stadium owner Robert K. Kraft stepped up to the plate and bought the team, ensuring that the franchise would not be going anywhere. It was much better business for Kraft to be stadium owner only, but Kraft, a 23-year season ticket holder, decided to undertake conservatorship of his family’s favorite football team. Since Kraft bought the team, every Patriot home game has been sold out, a testimonial to the long-term gratitude of a region which is now obviously happy the Patriots never moved to Missouri.
It must be restated at this point that it was Orthwein who hired Parcells, and not Kraft. When Parcells’ Patriot legacy is examined, this aspect is not always brought up. It remains to be seen if Parcells would have left NBC at Kraft’s behest instead of Orthwein’s. Kraft’s business leadership philosophy is centered on the premise that you are free to do your business as you see fit, but you are also accountable for your actions. This philosophy may not have set well with Parcells in an interview, and it helped set the stage for all that would follow.
Going into the 1996 offseason, Parcells had a 21-27 record as Patriot head coach. He sandwiched a playoff campaign between two losing seasons. Without his top defensive lieutenant Belichick at his side, his Patriot teams showed only a slight to moderate upgrade over the Rust/MacPherson squads. In the only playoff game in this three-year stretch, Parcells was beaten by Cleveland, 20-13 on New Year’s Day of 1995, and the winning head coach in that game was Belichick.
But Parcells’ overall Patriot record at that point was subject to scrutiny. It was coming out in reports that Parcells was not as good a general manager as he was a head coach, and if Parcells were allowed to continue as head coach only, the team would be better on the field. Parcells was adamant in his desire to retain full authority over all personnel matters, and when that authority was cut into, it changed the entire landscape of the Patriot franchise almost immediately.
Kraft named Bobby Grier director of player personnel. When the 1996 draft came about, Parcells desperately wanted to draft defensive end Tony Brackens out of Texas in the first round. But Parcells was overruled by Kraft and Grier, and instead drafted wide receiver Terry Glenn out of Ohio State. Brackens wound up being drafted by Jacksonville, and would remain with the team through 2003, playing his entire NFL career with the Jaguars.
Parcells was incensed. Publicly, he referred to Glenn as a female for not playing through nagging injuries during training camp. Privately, he went to Kraft and began to grease the skids for his departure from New England. Kraft agreed to shorten Parcells’ contract by a year, even though the Patriots would retain exclusive rights to Parcells’ services in 1997. This contract shortening did come out as the 1996 season unfolded, and perhaps nothing much would have come of it if the Patriots hadn’t embarked on a season which would land them in the Big Show at season’s end.
Parcells authored his finest season as Patriot head coach in 1996, leading the Patriots to the AFC Championship. It was around November that both stories began to collide, that of the Patriots making the playoffs and Parcells walking away at season’s end. As the Patriots drew closer to the playoffs, it sent Parcells’ stock soaring. It wasn’t long before people began to notice that the Jets, who fired head coach Rich Kotite after a 1-15 season, were taking their sweet time in hiring a replacement. Rumors began to run rampant, and the prospects of Parcells bolting the Patriots and heading to a division rival became a distinct possibility.
It should be stated that the Patriots were AFC champs in 1996 due more to good fortune than to good football. Nobody figured that the Jaguars would knock off top seed Denver in the divisional round. The Broncos had punished the Patriots at Foxborough, 34-8 earlier in the season, and the rematch would have been at Mile High Stadium. But with Denver underestimating Jacksonville and losing at home, 30-27, the Patriots unexpectedly found themselves two home games away from a Super Bowl berth. After destroying Pittsburgh in a Foxborough fog and squeaking by Jacksonville at home after a power failure, the Patriots found themselves in Super Bowl XXXI, pitted against a Green Bay Packer squad which had been installed as a 14-point favorite. The game would be played in New Orleans, in the same venue where the Patriots were mauled by Chicago in their only other Super Bowl appearance exactly eleven years to the day earlier.
The rumors surrounding Parcells began to swirl even stronger, but Parcells basically told everyone to shut up and just concentrate on the football team and its prospects on winning the big game. The team packed its bags, held a rally in downtown Boston, and then headed to New Orleans to prepare for the media onslaught and the chance to bring the first Vince Lombardi trophy to New England.
Six days before the Super Bowl, the late Will McDonough of the Globe broke the story that Parcells would definitely step down as Patriot head coach at season’s end. The Jets still hadn’t hired a replacement for Kotite. Everyone knew what was going to happen. The Jets would try and hire Parcells, the Patriots would sue the Jets for compensation, and the league would probably be charged with keeping this mess out of court and broker a resolution.
Parcells did his best to diffuse such talk. But it is widely held that Parcells told his good friend McDonough to break the story when he did. This is only one reason of many which might suggest that Parcells was actually not coaching the Patriots in the Super Bowl with the intent to win the game. The way the game unfolded revealed several strategical missteps which Parcells should never have allowed to happen, but the timing on the release of the McDonough story is what makes this whole Super Bowl a super mess.
Next installment: A look at Super Bowl XXXI
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