Tuna Softens Up With Patriots Hiring of Vital

Bob George
May 17, 2000 at 3:30 pm ET

This kindness from Bill Parcells is quite troubling.

It’s like the nagging child who placates his parents with platitudes and pleasantries with the intent on masking a hidden agenda. All parents should beware of the cunning child who comes at them with “Gosh, Mommy, you sure look extra pretty today!” To which the suspecting mother shoots back with “Okay, son, what is it you want?”

You have to figure that Parcells wants something from New England. Not necessarily today, but at some time down the road. And exactly what it is he wants is not clear at this time.

Maybe it’s for a weekly column in patriots.com after he retires. Maybe it’s a free pass for a luxury suite in the new stadium which is earmarked for his daughter, Dallas Pioli. Or perhaps a VIP parking space when he decides to hang out with his daughter, watching his son-in-law, Scott’s team in action.

Or maybe the Patriots-Jets jihad really is over. Nah. Can’t be.

In a slightly puzzling but much appreciated capitulation, of sorts, Parcells today granted the Patriots permission for Bill Belichick to bring Lionel Vital up to Foxborough. Vital will join Belichick’s staff as national pro scout, the title of which warranted such permission in that it at least sounded like a “promotion” for Vital. Vital has worked with both Belichick and Pioli in past years, and he is a man that Belichick dearly wanted on his management team.

So, this makes three palsy-walsy acts coming from the most ruthless being this side of J.R. Ewing. Parcells, who almost never does anything that doesn’t benefit himself personally, is coming out with a disturbing pattern of kindness and compassion towards his supposed sworn enemy.

C’mon. There has to be a catch. What is it you want from us, Bill?

Parcells started all this in late January with his Rodney King-esque call to Bob Kraft. For starters, Parcells calling Kraft is the football equivalent of Saddam Hussein giving George Bush a buzz. Parcells, in an unbelievable fit of contrition, apologizes to Kraft and literally asks him to hand over the first round pick for Belichick. Kraft, taken aback by such uncharacteristic kindness, takes the deal. Belichick heads up I-95, meets Kraft in a motel parking lot and the Pats get their new coach.

Then, family ties came into play with the next round of Glasnost, Parcells style. One of Belichick’s early hiring targets was Pioli, husband of the former Dallas Parcells. One might figure, absent of any other ulterior motives, that this combination of Dallas-Scott and Belichick-Pioli is what is really driving Parcells to be more reasonable in his dealings with New England. While he may still hold the Jets’ interests first and foremost above everything else, Parcells appears to be willing to give Pioli every chance to succeed in his new home, never mind where it is.

Today’s granting permission to Belichick to hire Vital after previously denying it is another show of an unexpected willingness to work with his former employer. Granted, it did follow the accepted practices of promotional transfer versus the forbidden lateral transfer, but it didn’t take a great deal of maneuvering on the Patriots’ part to get Parcells to suddenly agree to Vital’s release.

Maybe there really is no hidden agenda on Parcells’ part. At least not concerning the Patriots.

Rumours follow Parcells as if he were the Pied Piper. They stick to him as if his ugly green Jet jacket was covered with tar and molasses. As ever, there is no dearth of speculation as to Parcells’ future, especially beyond the 2000 season.

It was a big deal in the media reecently when Parcells stepped up to the mike and said he was staying put with the Jets for the 2000 season. Never mind a minor detail such as a “contract”. Parcells called a press conference to merely state something he had to do anyway, but you’re a fool if you don’t read between the lines and understand the real significance of his announcement.

For a while, there existed a very real chance that Parcells would bolt on the Jets and head to the broadcast booth. He was target “A” from the good folks at Monday Night Football. Fox Sports salivated at the chance of seeing him in their pregame show studio lineup. It’s doubtful if CBS had any interest, given that the only CBS person worth watching at all at 12 noon is Bonnie Bernstein (how many of you would take Jerry Glanville over Parcells?).

Then there was the chance that Parcells might trade one locker room for the other. Trade green for blue. Rejoin the G-Men. Would Parcells have started by cleaning up Lawrence Taylor and whipping him into comeback shape?

G-Men. Gosh, was it that long ago that Chris Berman referred to us as the “P-Men”? Ah, memories.

The other thing everyone in Jet Nation feared was for Parcells to simply head down to Sea Girt, N.J. and start playing catchup with Judy. Growin’ old together and all that. Hop on that hammock, knock back a brew or two and read about some other poor sap coach who has to deal with the Gotham media.

Ah, retirement. He’ll be just like George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy or General Tom Waverly in White Christmas. Parcells will listen to Bing Crosby tell the General (Dean Jagger), “There’s a lot to be said about a life of leisure!”, and break into a grin so wide his dentures nearly fall out.

It’s perhaps retirement, combined with the family ties, that is causing Parcells to set his anger towards Kraft aside, if not totally removing it from his life. Parcells may simply want to restore the Patriots to a “most favored team” status for the purpose of deal-making, as most NFL franchises enjoy regularly. But given all the enmity between the two teams in recent years, either Parcells is beginning to plan for a future without football, he’s planning for Pioli’s future, or he really is setting Patriot Nation up for something to follow later on.

Now is the jihad over? Week 2 will tell you. Whatever feelings Parcells still has for the Patriots and Kraft will pale anyway compared to how the fans on both sides still feel about each other.

In a way, how silly it would look. Week 7 at Foxborough, Patriot fans are screaming for the spilling of Jet blood all over their home field. The Patriots lead something like 35-7. Meanwhile, Parcells and his daughter Dallas are sitting somewhere up in the Foxborough Stadium press box as personal guests of Kraft, talking family talk and laughing at the crazy fans down below. The last thing on their minds is football.

It would be a perfect Chapter 23 in the ongoing saga of Parcells and the Patriots, a soap opera that goes way beyond “silly”.



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