Parcells: Sometimes in victory,
he actually acts human

Oct 31, 2006 2:57 AM

You may have read a Sunday story by Michael Lewis in Play magazine titled "What keeps Bill Parcells awake at night: Eight days in the life." It was one of those diary type things where the writer spends "quality time" with his subject, getting to really know him.

Lewis should get a Pulitzer prize.

Not for the writing, which was adequate, but for spending eight days with Bill Parcells.

That is above and beyond anyone’s call to duty, and could be used in place of capital punishment. I would sooner spend eight days on Devil’s Island.

The story, of course, included all of the remarkable coaching things Parcells has done — the turnarounds with the Giants, the Patriots, the Jets, the Super Bowl victories, the top coaches who learned or polished their skills working with and under him: Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin, Romeo Crenell, Al Groh, Mike Nolan, Sean Payton, Charlie Weis, Eric Mangini.

The story said less about Parcells’ word, how good or how bad it is, how statements taken in good faith mean nothing to him.

He shook hands back in 1992 with Hugh Culverhouse, the owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, saying he would coach that troubled team. Then he changed his mind and reneged. Culverhouse said he felt like he had been jilted at the altar.

Parcells went to the New England Patriots, quit when he resented owner Robert Kraft’s veto power, then broke an agreement that did not allow him to coach elsewhere by signing with the New York Jets as a "consultant." Kraft threatened to sue, and wound up settling for a first round draft pick from the Jets in return for releasing Parcells from his contractual obligations.

Then, for the second time, Parcells retired again, vowing his coaching days were over.

That lasted four years, until Jerry Jones of the Cowboys tossed money at him, and he was back again, coaching the Cowboys. This time the magic was gone, and after his victory Sunday night his Cowboy career shows 29 wins and 26 losses.

The threat of being a .500 coach undoubtedly has worn on Parcells and made him even more disagreeable than he is on his best days. I encountered him on a stairway at Foxboro once during his Patriot days, and congratulated him on a victory the day before. He gave me one of his famed stares and brushed by without a word. I recall thinking how lucky I was that he had won. He might have pushed me down the stairs if I had spoken to him after a loss.

To give you a better idea of what kind of man Bill Parcells is, I asked a close friend, a book publisher who turned out many sports books and once did one on Parcells, how the project went.

He paused before answering, then said, "He was not very friendly, actually the nastiest guy I ever met. He got a large chunk of money for allowing us to do the book, then refused to help promote it. He acted like he had done us a big favor in letting us publish it."

Watching Parcells on Sunday night, as it appeared for three quarters that his Cowboys record was going to 28 wins and 27 losses, he was his usual sour-self on the sidelines. Even as the Carolina Panthers collapsed, dropping passes, fumbling punt returns, and bouncing off tackles, and Dallas recovered a fumble on the Carolina 15-yard line and quickly scored, there was no trace of a smile or satisfaction.

Finally, as the Cowboys stormed back with 25 unanswered points, and it became obvious he had avoided defeat — an unacceptable option for Parcells — his look of disgust disappeared and he became animated, giving safety Keith Davis a big embrace and kiss, patting Terrell Owens’ cap visor and later embracing him as well, and acting human at last.

Without knowing it, Parcells summed up his entire life in telling writer Michael Lewis about golfer Ian Baker Finch, who won the British Open and then, two years later, couldn’t hit a golf ball with a golf club.

"Fear of failure," Parcells said, "can infect the mind and turn sport into a kind of walking death."

When it does, what you get is Bill Parcells.