Belichick no longer in Parcells' shadow
On the way out of Bill Parcells' life, with two Super Bowl championships and three franchises reborn, Bill Belichick validated himself as the brightest understudy of Parcells, resigning -- in his famous, two-line resignation letter -- as the "HC" of the "NYJ."
It was always Big Bill and Little Bill, from the Giants to the Patriots to the Jets, and finally Belichick had a chance to work his own power play, slip out the side door of Weeb Ewbank Hall four years ago for complete control with New England.
It was sheer genius, pure Parcellian and a betrayal of Parcells that he should've just considered shrewd business on behalf of Belichick. It was a page out of the old coach's playbook, one that Parcells should've seen coming when he resigned the Jets coaching job in 1999, presumably to pass the headset to his trusted defensive coordinator.
So, Belichick would wind up doing something without Parcells, that Parcells has never done without Belichick: Win the Super Bowl. Now, the Ego Championship of The Bills thunders into Sunday night in Foxboro, Mass., where two of the most improbable 7-2 teams in the NFL are a testament to the two coaches getting more out of less than anybody in the profession.
They are the best two coaches in the National Football League this season, right there with the Chiefs' Dick Vermeil, proving beyond a reasonable doubt that pro football belongs to the coaches. It belongs to the coach's instilling fear and fundamentals, Big Bill and Little Bill substituting scheme and savvy where their teams are short on talent. Whatever is says about the NFL, this is sure true: Big Bill and Little Bill are the stars of the Sunday night Dallas Cowboys-New England Patriot game, a visceral vendetta for two coaches with a deep history and a deeper disdain.
Parcells insists that he harbors no hard feelings over the parting in January of 2000, but it's hard to believe that he doesn't consider the Patriots coach Benedict Belichick for running out on him. On some level, he humiliated Parcells, leaving it clear that he wanted nothing to do with him looking over his shoulder with the Jets, lurking in the shadows of Giants Stadium. After resigning as coach, Parcells wanted to stay on the job as Jets emperor. Belichick had a contract promising to make him Parcells' successor, but he bailed on it, understanding that Patriots owner Robert Kraft was willing to pay a ransom of draft picks and cash to make Belichick his choice.
For Kraft, this was perfect. He could get the coach that he so enamored on Parcells' old staff with the Patriots, and Kraft could piss Parcells off in the worst way.
When Belichick offered his gratitude to Parcells this week, he considered the "latitude" and "independence" Parcells always gave him coordinating the defenses. In other words, Belichick tried to establish for the history books, those defenses were all about him. His vision, his victories.
If you want to believe that Belichick carried Parcells with those great defenses, you're mistaking the fact that they truly had a partnership. If Belichick was the X's and O's guru, Parcells understood what moved men, what inspired. The Cowboys are winning with defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer in Dallas, the one coach out of the Dave Campo-regime that Jerry Jones talked Parcells into keeping for his own.
"What happened 15 years ago, what happened 25 years ago when we first started working together in 1979 ... I don't really know how relevant that is," Belichick said.
For two coaching students of history, it always relevant. It is always a chapter. Here and now, it is a fascinating study in this fractured relationship. They had a wonderful run together, a partnership that produced at magnificent levels. Belichick walked into the Giants locker room in January 1991 to detail the most important game plan of his life, a vision to vanquish Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas. Back then, Belichick wanted his players to believe his plan was impenetrable, inspiring a threat his players never had to find out if he was willing to fulfill.
"If Thurman Thomas goes over 100 yards and we lose, I'll quit the business," Belichick vowed.
Those words before Super Bowl XXV stayed with Patriots assistant Pepper Johnson. They're a memory that he produced back in 1999 as a Jet before the AFC Championship game under Big Bill and Little Bill. Belichick had heard Kelly and Thomas proclaim themselves the Michael Jordan of the Bills offense, so he had a theory, Johnson had said. Ultimately, the Giants had to stop the man with the power to call the plays.
"If Kelly has the opportunity to be the MVP of the game, and needs a big play," Johnson remembered Belichick telling them, "he's going to put it up."
As it turned out, the Giants won the Super Bowl, Parcells won his share of NFL folklore and Belichick won the Cleveland Browns job. Together, the Cowboys and Patriots coaches would reunite in New England and New York again, until Belichick muscled his way out on his own, perpetrating the kind of stiff-arm that Parcells perfected in his own pursuits of power. This is the season of the coaching star, where minds on the sidelines are truly overtaking matter on the football field.
This is about Big Bill and Little Bill on Sunday night, about a simmering blood war that promises to unfold before the nation. Nobody has done more with less this season than Parcells and Belichick, honoring an unforgettable yesterday together with a peerless performance today when they're ultimately so far, far apart now.
Adrian Wojnarowski is a columnist for The Record (N.J.) And a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPNWoj8@aol.com.
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