January 13, 2006
How Exactly Will History Judge Parcells? (Pt 3)
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
Third in a four-part series on the legacy of Bill Parcells.
Rise of the Jets, fall of the Patriots
As soon as Parcells stepped down from the Patriots and left with his “If you want to cook the meal, you need to be able to shop for the groceries!” speech, things turned skyward immediately for the Jets. The Patriot downturn was more gradual, but the Jets immediately became a better franchise with Parcells’ arrival.
To the surprise of no one, as soon as Parcells left Foxborough, the Jets made a run at Parcells. Because the Patriots still had rights to Parcells for 1997, the Patriots had to be compensated if Parcells wanted to be Jet head coach that year. The Jets came up with an incredibly convoluted plan, and that was to hire Belichick as interim Jet head coach for 1997, and have Parcells on as an unpaid “advisor”. Parcells would then assume the Jet head coaching reins for 1998. It was totally slimy plan, designed to blatantly subvert league contract rules. It also made Belichick look like a total patsy, and this would not be the last time Belichick would come off in this way.
NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue put a stop to all this Jet finagling. He ruled that Parcells belonged to the Patriots, and that the Jets needed to compensate the Patriots for his services. But he also forbade the Jets from using Parcells in any capacity whatsoever unless the Patriots were compensated. Then he got Kraft and Jet president Steve Gutman together and brokered a deal where Parcells could become Jet head coach immediately. The Jets sent the Patriots four draft picks for the rights to Parcells: a third and fourth rounder in 1997, a second rounder in 1998 and a first rounder in 1999. Parcells then became Jet head coach, he brought Belichick on board as his defensive coordinator (Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel and Groh went also), and the two men set about to make the Jets like what the Giants once were.
Carroll made the Patriots a defensive force in 1997, who made the playoffs that year and surrendered only 10 points in two postseason games. Unfortunately, the offense was so beaten down with injuries that the Patriots season ended in Pittsburgh with a 7-6 playoff loss. The 1998 and 1999 seasons were complete regressions, featuring a 25-10 playoff loss to Jacksonville in 1998 and missing the playoffs in 1999. Carroll was fired after an 8-8 campaign in 1999, amidst charges that his team had become soft and undisciplined on his watch.
The Jets didn’t stop with Parcells with their slimy tactics. After the 1997 season, Parcells sought to pry his best Patriot offensive weapon, the weapon he refused to feature in Super Bowl XXXI, from the Patriots. The Jets signed Martin to a restricted free agent offer sheet which is illegal today and which had several salary cap poison pills which the Patriots could not match. The Patriots were forced to surrender Martin to the Jets, and to this day Martin hates the Patriots because of the way he was treated during this 1997 season, particularly in the way he was looked at while missing the last five games of the season with a mysterious hamstring injury.
The fact that Parcells went right after Martin at the first chance he could get gives more credence to the theory that Martin was underused in 1996, especially in the postseason. Why would Parcells use Martin rather sparingly in his final season as Patriot head coach, then turn around and make such a convoluted offer sheet for Martin as soon as he became available? One has to wonder what would have been the case if Parcells had tried to establish Martin in the first quarter of the Super Bowl and rushed him 25-30 times in the game.
In addition to the Parcells draft picks, the Patriots got a first and third round pick in 1998 for the loss of Martin because he was an RFA. This gave the Patriots six Jet draft picks over the next three years, which seemingly mortgaged the Jet future and ensured the Patriot future. Nobody seemed to care that the Jets had hornswaggled two of the best Patriots in team history from the Patriots, all the while using lowball, objectionable tactics in doing so.
However, in the end, the Jets killed the Patriots on these two deals. Grier proved that he was a much worse GM than Parcells, and the Jets would recoup those draft picks with a whopping four first round picks in 2000. For Parcells, the Patriots selected running back Sedrick Shaw, guard Damon Denson, wideout Tony Simmons and linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer. For Martin, the Patriots selected running backs Robert Edwards and Chris Floyd. All of these players turned out to be busts, though Edwards was the victim of a freak offseason injury during a beach football game in Hawaii. These draft picks might have sent the Patriots down a decade-long abyss if Kraft didn’t do something quickly to right the sinking ship.
Kraft concluded right away that he had made a big mistake in torquing off Parcells. Kraft learned the hard way that he has to let football people make football decisions. Kraft needed to merely run the franchise, and let the football people run what happens on the field. Once the 1999 season ended, Kraft began the process which would once again expose Parcells as ego uber alles, and elevate the Patriots to world champions.
HC of the NEP, not the NYJ
The Kraft/Parcells divorce was messy, make no mistake. But there was one more divorce yet to come which would prove to be even more messy.
Since 1996, it was Kraft this and Parcells that, literally every step of the way. But there was another key figure whose feelings nobody seemed to care about: William Stephen Belichick. By early 2000, he was known simply as “Little Bill”. The man who was supposed to be the one-year patsy in 1997 was nothing more than a second or third billing behind Big Bill. Little Bill’s career path was clear, and dictated to him by Parcells and Jet management. He would be defensive coordinator until Parcells felt like leaving. Then and only then would Belichick become Jet head coach.
But two important things soon happened at roughly the same time. The events combined to catch Parcells off guard. Kraft fired Carroll in January of 2000, and Robert Wood “Woody” Johnson IV, from the family which founded the Johnson & Johnson health care corporation, was about to buy the Jets from the estate of oil magnate Leon Hess, the former Jet owner who died in May of 1999. As soon as Kraft fired Carroll, it was made known that Kraft would pursue Belichick to become the next Patriot head coach. Since it was an upward move and not a lateral move, the Jets did not need to be compensated and Belichick could be interviewed at once. Parcells needed to act fast before the Patriots sent them a fax stating intent to interview Belichick. He said that he would decide “real quick” over the weekend about his future.
Sure enough, just before the Patriot fax came in, Parcells retired from coaching, automatically elevating Belichick to the head coaching spot in New York and negating his chance to interview in Foxborough. Kraft appealed to Tagliabue for help, but there was nothing that could be done. It was in Belichick’s contract that he had to become Jet head coach upon Parcells’ departure. Belichick was now the Jet head coach, and Kraft decided to train his attack on former Carolina head coach Dom Capers.
What nobody expected, including Kraft or Parcells, is what Belichick did the very next day he became Jet head coach. He resigned.
Belichick scribbled this sentence on a piece of paper and put it on Gutman’s desk: ”I resign as HC of the NYJ.” Belichick then called a press conference and explained his feelings. Belichick felt uncomfortable over the new Jet ownership, and obliquely revealed that he was sick and tired of being in the shadow of Parcells. The speech came off to many as rambling, and some people began to wonder if Belichick had all his marbles. Parcells was livid over this development, as was Gutman. Lawyers descended upon New York, ready to petition Tagliabue to settle this whole thing.
It took a while, but Tagliabue ruled that Belichick was bound to the Jets. The Patriots would need to compensate the Jets if they wanted Belichick. Kraft then proceeded to do perhaps his smartest act as Patriot owner. He reached out to Parcells, looking to clear the air between the two and broker a deal for Belichick. And in an amazing fit of candor (or stupidity, depending upon your point of view), Parcells welcomed Kraft’s advance and let him have Belichick for a 2000 first round pick.
The Jets used that pick to trade up four spots and select DE Shaun Ellis. The Patriots took Belichick and went on to win three Super Bowls in four years. You decide who got the better of that deal.
This all started with Parcells feeling forced to quit as Jet head coach so that the Patriots wouldn’t get Belichick for nothing. As things turned out, Parcells lost his Jet head job, the Patriots got Belichick anyway, and Belichick is now the indisputable best head coach in the NFL. It remains to be seen if Parcells would have been better off had he stayed in Joisey instead of winding up with the volatile Jones in Dallas, but Parcells had a great program going in New York (they went to the AFC Championship Game in 1998) until Kraft induced him to quit his Jet job.
And like Super Bowl XXXI, this was an ego driven move. Parcells did not want his sworn enemy getting his prized defensive coordinator for nothing. It wound up costing Parcells the very job he jilted Kraft for back in 1997. It makes for sweet poetic justice, or maybe poetic irony is a better description.
Who’s the real Big Bill now?
What Belichick has done in his six year Patriot tenure is nothing short of remarkable. His first term as NFL head coach (37-45 as Cleveland head coach from 1991 to 1995) seems like a total anomaly right now. He is at the forefront of all NFL head coaches, and is now a clear leader and master of his position. But he has done something else which cannot be ignored: He has exposed Parcells for perhaps not being the elite head coach everyone might have thought he was.
Both Parcells and Belichick have won at least two Super Bowls as head coaches. But Parcells never won a Super Bowl without Belichick at his side, and Belichick has won all his Super Bowls without Parcells. Parcells has a 46-50 record as head coach without Belichick at his side, 126-77-1 with him. Parcells biggest skill is player motivation, but Belichick has shown that he can both motivate players and come off as the smartest human being since Einstein.
If Belichick would like to cement this line of thinking even more, he can show the world that he can win without his top lieutenants, Weis and Crennel. Both bolted the Patriots after Super Bowl XXXIX for head coaching jobs themselves, with Weis securing a BCS contest for Notre Dame (a loss to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl). Belichick enters the 2005 postseason needing three wins to make Super Bowl XL instead of two, but a deep run in the playoffs would look terrific for Belichick.
Next installment: What became of Tampa Bay; How will Parcells really be remembered.
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