Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Why Bill Parcells Does Not Belong In The Patriots Hall Of Fame

The New England Patriots Hall Of Fame holds fan votes for candidates for enshrinement, and in 2014 the candidates are Raymond Claiborne, former cornerback from the 1970s and 1980s, Ty Law, corner from 1995-2004, and Bill Parcells, former coach from 1993-6 who famously left the team in acrimonious fashion for the New York Jets.  

The candidacy of Parcells has become polarizing as shown by Mike Reiss and Reiss authors this piece advocating the enshrinement of Parcells into the Patriots Hall Of Fame.

Here is why Parcells should not be enshrined in the Patriots Hall Of Fame -


Reiss talks about how life was like before Parcells arrived in New England.   I also remember those days, how the team had collapsed from posting eleven winning seasons and 1983's 8-8 season in the period from 1976 through the 1988 season, how the ownership was changing, first from the wreckage of the Sullivans (noteworthy here is that the Sullivans were in part eased out by the league, which had had enough of them because of how they kept meddling and ruining a team capable of winning) to the disaster of Victor Kiam to the interregnum of James Orthwein.  

People remember the Patriots as being a 14-38 team the four years before Parcells arrived.  What people don't remember is the real reason why Parcells took the job.   Parcells had stiffed the Atlanta Falcons in 1987 and the Tampa Bay Bucs in 1991 because he was looking for a situation he knew was good.   And the Patriots entering 1993 was a substantially better team than the 2-14 season of 1992.   That team had a legitimate core of players, such as linebackers Andre Tippett, Vincent Brown, Todd Collins, and Dwayne Sabb - there were also solid defensive players like defensive back Maurice Hurst and nose tackle Tim Goad, to go with a solid group on offense in linemen Bruce Armstrong and Pat Harlow, receivers Irving Fryar (shipped to Miami after Parcells' arrival) and Michael Timpson, tight ends Ben Coates and Marv Cook, fullback Kevin Turner, and running back Leonard Russell.  

Moreover, the 1992 team's failure was not due to deficiencies in coaching.   Dick MacPherson was criticized for his supremely positive attitude toward his players, but he got something out of them, and his sickness in 1992 proved chaotic for the team.  

The biggest problem the Patriots had entering 1993 was they didn't have a quality quarterback (they were stuck with career washout Hugh Millen and career backup Scott Zolak) - and the 1993 draft featured consensus #1 picks in Drew Bledsoe and Rick Mirer.   Though the story has circulated that the Patriots thought about Mirer, it seems implausible that they had anyone other than Bledsoe tagged for their team, as Bledsoe played in a pro-style offense where Mirer was hampered by Notre Dame's option offense.  

So the Patriots entering 1993 had a solid core in place plus the #1 draft pick and a can't-miss quarterback on the horizon.   Thus was Parcells going to a situation he knew was good.


Then came what Parcells actually did as a coach once he took over the Patriots.

He signed a six-year deal with the team but every year would tell everyone he might not come back.   When James Orthwein sold the team to Foxboro Stadium owner Robert Kraft - who'd spent the previous five-plus years buying the land around the stadium and then the stadium itself, all with an eye toward eventually buying the team as he now in effect already had control of everything the team needed to function - Parcells kept playing the game, refusing to commit to a long-term plan - something Kraft needed for his team.  

Parcells had strong input into personnel, but he had help in head scout Bobby Grier as well as Charley Armey and Patrick Forte - Parcells in effect stabbed Forte in the back in 1995 to get more personnel power.   The team began building a younger roster but it wasn't translating to success, as the team won just eight of its first 25 games.   During this time Parcells coached the old school style - run the ball and play defense.   By 1993 that was outdated strategy, yet Parcells persisted with it until the Minnesota Vikings game of 1994; down 20-0 to Warren Moon's Vikings, Parcells was persuaded by backup quarterback Scott Zolak to let Bledsoe air the ball out without restraint.   Parcells thus unshackled his quarterback and Bledsoe stormed the Patriots to a 26-20 overtime win.   With Bledsoe in effect running the offense now, the Patriots won seven straight and made the playoffs for the first time since 1986.  

They were stopped by the Cleveland Browns of former Parcells assistant Bill Belichick, and in 1995 Parcells took back control of the offense, bringing in running back Dave Meggett and drafting Curtis Martin (a steal from the third round); Parcells' ambivalence toward the passing game was aggravated when Bledsoe suffered a shoulder injury early in the 1995 season, telling a press conference before October 1's game at Atlanta that "we have to be less reliant on the quarterback."   The Patriots thus limped to another 6-10 record, this despite rushing for 1,866 yards (3.9 yards per carry) and thus seeing Martin emerge as a bona-fide star.


Thus Parcells entering 1996 had a 21-27 record, and Robert Kraft, unnoticed by everyone, had a better understanding of where the league was going in the new salary cap era, an understanding enhanced when Parcells brought in Belichick, fired when the Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens, as an assistant in Foxboro.   Belichick had gone to Wesleyan and thus had ties to the region beyond coaching; he and Kraft became friends and Kraft saw that he and Belichick spoke the same economic language.   His trust in Parcells thus continued eroding, and it blew up in the 1996 draft when he overruled Parcells and ordered the drafting of troubled receiver Terry Glenn.

Parcells vowed to leave the team after that year and in effect he left the Patriots on auto-pilot.  Bledsoe was given semi-free reign over the offense again and he reached 3,900 passing yards while the run game behind Martin failed to reach 1,500 yards (and hit only 3.4 YPC).   The Patriots nonetheless went 11-5 and shot down the favored Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs, then upended the upstart Jaguars to reach Superbowl XXXI.  


Here Parcells abandoned any pretense of coaching the team by investing his time into arranging his new job, with the New York Jets.   Belichick later acknowledged (in Tales From The Patriots Sidelines by Michael Felger) that Parcells became a distraction going into that Superbowl.   When Parcells thus left and took his staff with him, he went to a Jets team that had spent $70 million in free agent and rookie talent - a situation he knew was good.   Ever the opportunist, Parcells got a 9-7 season in 1997, then pulled off an important stunt with a "poison pill" contract with Curtis Martin for 1998; he also acquired former Ravens quarterback Vinny Testaverde and 1998 became almost the only season in NY Jets history where the Jets became a real team - only to see it end in a turnover-plagued playoff collapse to the Broncos.

After Testaverde went down for the year against the Patriots, the Jets finished 8-8 and Parcells announced he was retiring - except his retirement was to the Jets front office with Belichick his designated puppet head coach.  Belichick was fed up with it and famously quit, going to the Patriots to become head coach and eventual superpower.

Parcells left the Jets after they collapsed from 9-4 to 9-7; he agreed to coach the Tampa Bay Bucs in 2002, then stiffed the Bucs again.   Instead, after a year off, he took over as coach of the Dallas Cowboys, a team that spent a lot of money on high-end talent and thus had for Parcells the latest good situation for him. The Cowboys went 10-6 in 2003 before Parcells began bringing in his players - such as Testaverde, Keyshawn Johnson, Terry Glenn, and former Tennessee Titan Eddie George - and they finished 6-10 in 2004.   Bledsoe came to Parcells' rescue for 2005 before the Tony Romo experiment - this after Romo had been passed up three years - began.

Parcells left the Cowboys, took 2007 off, then took over the front office of the Miami Dolphins.   Again with a good situation already in place - notably when the Jets dumped Chad Pennington for ex-Packer Brett Favre and thus allowed Pennington to fall into Parcells' lap - Parcells "rebuilt" the Dolphins to 11-5 division champs - and they haven't had a winning season since. Plus his drafts in 2008 and 2009 failed to produce a long-term starter.  


Parcells' career is a career defined by opportunism and by choosing good situations as opposed to actually rebuilding teams.   Where Bill Belichick revolutionized team building in the salary cap era - becoming the first to win Superbowls by NOT spending over the cap - Parcells merely jumped to good situations he could ride to success, and it was never sustainable.   It is also worth noting his immediate replacement in Foxboro, Pete Carroll, because Carroll did not have personnel say in his time with the Patriots - a result of the inability to trust Parcells by Kraft - but subsequently had that power upon signing with the Seattle Seahawks and thus building a Superbowl champ.  

If Parcells was what his acolytes pretend he was, he'd had taken the Atlanta or Tampa jobs and built Superbowl contenders; he wouldn't just wait for opportunity to knock on his door.  

The four best coaches in Patriots history are Bill Belichick, Chuck Fairbanks, Raymond Berry, and Mike Holovak - all builders, all making something better, none of them mere opportunists.   And they all have better winning percentages with the Patriots than 32-32 Parcells.

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