- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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As a selector for the Pro Football Hall of Fame since 1989, I have witnessed some great debates.
In 2001 and 2002, the topic was Bill Parcells. No one doubted that he should be a Hall of Famer. The question for Parcells was, when? Parcells retired from the Jets after the 1999 season and vowed that he wasn't returning. But few in the room believed him. Parcells was 59 when he was a finalist for the first time. His health was good. And, wow, could he coach.
Though Parcells was disappointed, he couldn't garner enough support to be enshrined in 2001 and 2002. Even if his sudden retirement as a head coach from the Cowboys on Monday leaves the football world wondering whether this time is finally for real, I have no doubt he will be a Hall of Famer in 2008. The debate from those two years is fresh in everyone's mind. Bill Walsh went into the Hall of Fame and ended up going back to college coaching. Joe Gibbs came out of retirement well after being enshrined in Canton and no one is angry at him.
A Hall of Fame coach is a Hall of Fame coach and that is the legacy of Parcells. Though his final stop in Dallas didn't produce the Super Bowl rings or the ultimate success as expected, Parcells will go down as one of the 10 greatest coaches in NFL history.
In 19 seasons, Parcells had a 172-130-1 regular-season record for four different franchises. Parcells was always a big fan and friend of Chuck Knox, who was a master of turning losing franchises into winners in the 1970s and 1980s. Parcells turned four franchises -- the Giants, Patriots, Jets and Cowboys -- into winners. He won two Super Bowls with the Giants and had one Super Bowl trip with the Patriots.
While he didn't throw chairs or have huge temper tantrums, Parcells was a lot like Bobby Knight. He was a good combination of being a coach's coach along with being an amateur psychologist who knew how to get into the heads of his players, positively or negatively.
Look at his legacy of assistant coaches. Bill Belichick won three Super Bowls with the Patriots after breaking away from Parcells and is a Hall of Fame coach himself. Al Groh and Charlie Weis left his staff to become successes in college. Dan Henning worked for him and was a head coach. Parcells knew where to find good coaches and made them better.
His interaction with players was perhaps the most fascinating aspect of his coaching career. But it's just a shame few reporters had a chance to see that. Parcells was all about control. He wouldn't allow assistants to talk to the media, and he kept reporters out of practice whenever possible. If he didn't think it would help his team win, Parcells didn't want any part of it.
Parcells believed players had to be mentally tough if they were going to win playoff games or Super Bowls. On the practice field, Parcells wanted to see how his top players would react through adversity. He knew what buttons to push to make them uncomfortable.
It might be a zinger here or a zinger there, but Parcells knew how to push the buttons. One thing he was smart about was that he knew that not all players responded to negative reinforcement. He was a master of figuring the right way to push a player to his limits to get him ready.
Like Knox and other great coaches, Parcells was sometimes too good for his own benefit. He was 9-7 and 12-4 in his first two years with the Jets. Early success gives teams lower draft choice positioning and sometimes leaves the team thinking they have more talent than they really do. He took over a Cowboys team that was 5-11 for three consecutive years and he went to the playoffs his first season there with Quincy Carter at quarterback.
Think about it, Carter hasn't been in the league for three years. Parcells coached up a bunch of losers and turned them into winners and did it with Quincy Carter playing quarterback. That's right, Quincy Carter.
His greatest contribution to the sport, though, might have been what he did with Lawrence Taylor. Taylor was a defensive end in college who was simply bigger, faster, tougher and meaner than anyone around him. Parcells figured if he switched him from defensive end to rush linebacker, he could have Taylor terrorize quarterbacks on every play.
Whenever you watched those Giant teams, your eyes focused on Taylor. He was the most dominating defensive player of his era and Parcells made him better with the schemes he created for him. The NFL will never forget that. Plus, Parcells was able to gain the trust of Taylor, who had his off-the-field demons. Any other coach might have had trouble with Taylor, but Parcells found a way to get through to him.
Whether Parcells' retirement from pro football is permanent or not, I look forward to the Hall of Fame voting of 2008. Parcells' date with destiny awaits him.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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