Parcells made struggling franchises into winners
"When we were playing real well as a team [Bill Parcells] was miserable because he needs friction. He lives on that friction. He needs adversity, and he's got to have a spat going with a player. If there's no adversity, he'll create it," says his former quarterback, Phil Simms, on ESPN SportsCentury's series.
A master motivator, Parcells is one of only five coaches to have taken two different teams to the Super Bowl. After leaving the Giants, he reached his third NFL championship game, with the New England Patriots, before bringing the New York Jets within one victory of the Super Bowl two years later. In his last coaching job, he took the Dallas Cowboys to the playoffs twice in four seasons.
He retired -- for a third time, and probably for good from coaching -- following the 2006 season with a career record of 183-138-1, including an 11-8 postseason mark.
Parcells could be difficult, but those players who responded to his barbs earned his loyalty for a lifetime; numerous players followed him to different coaching stops.
In the mold of Vince Lombardi a generation before, Parcells motivated players by fear. "If you're sensitive, you will have a hard time with me," Parcells said. "The only players I hurt with my words are the ones who have an inflated opinion of their ability. I can't worry about that."
Ironically, Parcells was born in Englewood, N.J., where Lombardi's coaching career started (on the high school level). Parcells was given the name Duane at birth on Aug. 22, 1941.
His father, Charles, worked for the FBI until Duane was born and then took a job with U.S. Rubber. His mother, Ida, was a homemaker who raised him and his three younger brothers and sisters.
Early in his teenage years, after the family had moved to nearby Oradell, Duane Parcells had a lookalike at school named Bill. After a number of people mistook Parcells for the other boy, Parcells took Bill as a nickname, then as his first name.
When he entered River Dell High School in 1955, Parcells was one of the biggest kids in his class at 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds. He became a standout in football, basketball and baseball. The three sports were tied together for Parcells by one theme: his disdain for losing. His temper was sometimes a problem, but never his work ethic. He was the quintessential first player at practice, last one to leave.
Football became his best sport; he played quarterback, tight end and linebacker. Clemson and Auburn offered him a scholarship, but Parcells entered academics into the equation and chose Colgate, where he would play football and baseball. But after his freshman year he transferred to Wichita State.
Shortly after arriving there, Parcells met Judy Goss, a secretary in the school's sports information office. The two were married, and their first of three daughters, Suzy, was born before Bill graduated in 1964.
Parcells had a solid collegiate career, earning All-Missouri Valley Conference honors at linebacker as a senior and was good enough to become Detroit's seventh-round draft choice in 1964. But he wasn't good enough to make the team and two weeks into the exhibition season, the Lions cut him, ending his playing days.
In 1978, Parcells got his first shot as a head coach, with Air Force. But the Falcons struggled to a 3-8 record. Not content to continue as a college coach -- Parcells disliked recruiting -- he leaped at the opportunity to become the Giants' linebackers coach the following season.
However, Parcells' family was against the idea of moving again and so he resigned after the Giants' first mini-camp. Returning to Colorado without a coaching job, he sold real estate, but soon realized he belonged back on the sidelines. With his family's blessing, Parcells accepted an offer to become the Patriots' linebackers coach in 1980. At New England, he was given the nickname "Tuna," a reference to the cartoon figure who appeared in commercials named Charlie the Tuna.
The following season, he rejoined Ray Perkins' staff with the Giants, this time as defensive coordinator. When the team drafted Lawrence Taylor, Parcells changed the defensive scheme from a 4-3 to a 3-4 to take advantage of Taylor's pass rushing from outside linebacker. On the strength of Parcells' defensive unit, the Giants went 9-7 and reached the playoffs for the first time in 18 years.
When Perkins quit after the 1982 season to become head coach at his alma mater (Alabama), Parcells was named his replacement. After the Giants went 3-12-1 in his first season as an NFL head coach, he barely avoided the firing line. Returning in 1984, he installed Phil Simms as his starting quarterback -- and got the Giants back to the playoffs with a 9-7 season that ended with a 21-10 loss to San Francisco in the divisional playoffs.
The Giants went 10-6 the following year and earned their second straight wild-card berth. However, they against lost in the divisional playoffs, this time 21-0 to Chicago.
Then came one of the great seasons in Giants' history. Parcells changed little about the team from the previous year, relying on a fearsome defense and ball-control attack on offense. After losing the 1986 opener to Dallas, the Giants won 17-of-18 games, including Super Bowl XXI, in which they defeated Denver 39-20. Parcells was now at the top of the coaching profession.
Denied permission by the Giants and the NFL to speak with Atlanta about its head-coaching vacancy, Parcells returned to New York. The success was short-lived as the Giants missed the playoffs the next two seasons.
But they rebounded in 1989, going 12-4 to win their second NFC East title in four years. A 19-13 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Rams in the divisional playoffs ended their season.
In 1990, the Giants went 13-3 to win another division title. This time, they finished their job, defeating Buffalo 20-19 in Super Bowl XXV.
Parcells announced his coaching retirement after the season; he later divulged he had health problems. While working as an NBC studio analyst in 1991, he underwent an angioplasty, his first of four corrective procedures on his heart. Parcells returned to NBC in 1992, working as a game analyst.
After slumping to 6-10, the Patriots bounced back to win the AFC East at 11-5 in 1996. They advanced to Super Bowl XXXI with playoff victories over Pittsburgh and Jacksonville before losing the Super Bowl to Green Bay, 35-21.
His relationship with Patriots owner Bob Kraft having soured, Parcells quit five days after the game. The Jets had a head-coaching vacancy and wanted Parcells, but Kraft, who still had him under contract, demanded compensation. Parcells became the Jets' head coach/general manager in 1997 after the team surrendered four draft choices.
Signing a six-year, $14.2-million contract, Parcells took over a 1-15 laughingstock and brought it to the brink of the playoffs with a 9-7 record in his first season. In 1998, the Jets won their first AFC East title in 29 years by finishing 12-4. They advanced to the AFC championship game, where they lost 23-10 to Denver.
After the Jets went 8-8 in 1999, Parcells stepped down as coach but stayed an additional season as GM before leaving the team. In January 2002, he turned down an $18-million, three-year contract to become Tampa Bay's coach and director of football operations. "I hope this convinces everybody that I'm not coming back," he said. "Because I'm not."
A year later, he was back. He stepped away from a comfortable gig as an NFL analyst for ESPN to accept Dallas owner Jerry Jones' offer of $17.1 million for four seasons to resurrect the Cowboys as their coach.
And that's exactly what Parcells did. In 2003, he took a team that had been 5-11 the previous three seasons to the postseason with a 10-6 record. He became the first NFL coach to reach the playoffs with four different franchises as well as being the first to reach double-digits in victories with four teams.
However, 2004 was not so successful as the Cowboys fell to 6-10. And although they improved to 9-7 the next season, they again failed to make the playoffs. In 2006, the Cowboys finished 9-7 and reached the postseason as a wild card, but lost in the first round. Sixteen days later, Parcells announced his retirement from coaching. In March, he agreed to return to ESPN as a studio analyst for its Monday night pregame show.