"Parcells: A Football Life"

After introducing Bill Parcells to literary agent David Black in July 2012, it was time for me to write the proposal. Naturally, the one that I had sent to Bill several years earlier needed to be substantially expanded with detail and polish before being ready for prime time. The new proposal, with help from David Black and his partner, David Larabell, was markedly improved, capturing the book's concept. In early September 2012, I sent it to Bill, who was pleased with the official sales pitch. He requested only a few tweaks. David Black's assistant, Sarah Smith, added some nice final touches. And after a true team effort, the nine-page proposal was ready for prime time. By October, we found a major publisher excited enough about the collaboration to essentially make a preemptive bid. The book would take shape as Mauro DiPreta, Crown Archetype's editor-in-chief, fine-tuned our vision -- and the title -- while Bill embraced the benefits of a true narrative, including the underlying goal of chronicling 50 years of football history through his eyes.


Bill Parcells felt for Sean Payton, whose heart raced almost as rapidly as his mind the morning of March 21, 2012.

The Saints coach drove in shock to Louis Armstrong New Orleans Airport, moments after learning the National Football League's verdict.  Payton, revered in Louisiana for capturing the franchise’s lone Super Bowl victory only four years after Hurricane Katrina, would miss the 2012 season.

The NFL was punishing the Saints organization for Bounty Gate: Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams had institutionalized the payments of bonuses -- or bounties -- for potentially injurious tackles during games. Payton expected a suspension of no more than six games.  Instead, Payton reeled from the harshest penalty against a head coach in the league's 92-year history.

Amidst such a nadir, Payton immediately sought one person for guidance: the man who revived his career a decade earlier, then provided a "Master's education," as Payton describes the football tutelage spanning three seasons in Dallas; the person he consulted almost weekly throughout his Saints tenure.

Five minutes after the bombshell, Payton phoned Bill Parcells.

Speaking from his winter home in Jupiter, Florida, Parcells calmed his ex-Cowboys assistant. In a brief conversation, Parcells revisited an old lesson: collect as much information as possible before making any critical moves.

Heeding Parcells's advice, Payton canceled his imminent trip to Dallas and drove from the airport to Saints headquarters. Over the next several hours, he fully assessed the ramifications involving the club's staff.  General manager Mickey Loomis would miss eight games; linebackers coach Joe Vitt six games. The penalties could be appealed to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell -- judge and jury. By doing so, Payton could take advantage of the appeals process to gain more time to form contingency plans.

Payton remembered a maxim of Parcells’s: you are what your record says you are.  Payton knew his record for 2012 was in limbo; he needed to ensure that his team’s record was significantly better.

Owner Tom Benson empowered his sullied coach to find a temporary replacement. And early the next morning, Payton dialed Parcells again with an impassioned plea, emphasizing his ex-boss's dynamic leadership and unique skill set as a former GM, coach, and linebackers guru.

Isn’t this what Parcells lived for since becoming a head coach in the early 1980s?  Take over, evaluate, show guidance and leave his imprint on an organization. He did it with the Giants, leading a proud but moribund franchise to two Super Bowls victories.  He instilled a winning culture in New England, a team known for its decrepit stadium and sexual harassment and drug scandals.  He transformed the Jets from NFL punch line to contenders. He resurrected the Cowboys after the Jimmy Johnson era. For a generation, he turned around teams better than anyone.

Spurred to help a friend, Parcells contemplated New Orleans's situation despite entering the septuagenarian stage of life. The Saints were a playoff team. They had one of the best quarterbacks of his generation in Drew Brees, and he was surrounded by weapons. What they sorely needed in the wake of Payton’s suspension was the leadership that Parcells has offered since becoming an NFL head coach in 1983. Parcells could have buttressed his legacy by guiding a record fifth franchise to the postseason -- and possibly punctuated his extensive career with a third Super Bowl title.

Parcells considered the job seriously enough to recruit two members of his coaching tree: Al Groh and Eric Mangini. Joining the Saints would have meant only a six-month gig. One of the reasons Payton sought out his mentor was Parcells's penchant for relatively short-term stints. 

Parcells knew that what others saw as an ideal situation was a no-win: if he lost, critics would say the game has passed him by; if he won, it would be with Payton’s loaded team. Parcells’s satisfaction comes from building a team. The Saints already had architects in Payton and GM Mickey Loomis, supported by long-time owner Tom Benson.

Also, Parcells hadn’t coached since the ’06 season.  He wasn't certain he had the energy necessary to do things his way.

"It's like an old hunting dog," explains Parcells, whose Hall-of-Fame eligibility would have been delayed five years. "They get that smell again one time.  'Oh yeah. I know what that is. I can hunt one more time.' But they're sitting on the porch. They haven't been out there hunting in five or six years. They forget what hunting's like, but they know the smell.

“'Oh, I can do this.' Oh yeah? When you get down there, it's not the same. And that's really true. Your name is gonna be on it. You want to try to do a good job. And yet you really have no control over anything."

Besides, Saratoga Springs -- his summer home -- agrees with him. He likes going to the track and owns horses with names like Gameday News. The tough-nosed former coach calls the town in upstate New York “the happiest place on earth.” Ultimately, the New Orleans's situation didn't provide the exhilaration Parcells derived from reclamations.

And yet, Payton’s phone call encapsulates Parcells's influence in the NFL. Even in retirement, Parcells still maintains a hold on the game. Not only did Sean Payton call up Parcells in the last 12 months, so did Penn State, in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal.  But Parcells declined.  He remains an intriguing, complex figure whose characteristics and foibles led to an influential, itinerant career.

You are what your record says you are. Parcells’s record is 172-130-1. 

Indeed, the history of the NFL over the past 30 years can't be written without Parcells as a central character. He doesn’t have an offense to his name, like Bill Walsh’s West Coast Offense -- a term Parcells coined during the 1980s while halting San Francisco's attempt at three straight Super Bowls titles. Though Parcells molded Lawrence Taylor into a uber linebacker, redefining the position, the former coach isn't credited for, say, Buddy Ryan’s 46 Defense or Tony Dungy’s Cover 2.  His legacy is defined by his leadership skills and the loyalty they have engendered.

BILL PARCELLS: The Secrets, Setbacks, and Successes of a Football Life will be a collaboration between Parcells and former Washington Post reporter and Sports Illustrated writer Nunyo Demasio.  The collaborative biography will be roughly 150,000 words.  It will pull back the curtain and tell the behind-the-scenes stories of one of the architects of the modern game.  Parcells has waited until now, six years after he last stalked the sidelines, to write the book on his career.  On the verge of the Hall of Fame, time has mellowed him…a bit; it’s also given him perspective on his football life.  It’s time to put the perspective in a book.

BILL PARCELLS will be written by Demasio in the third person with significant passages of Parcells’s inimitable voice woven into the narrative.  Parcells and Demasio have chosen this structure to give a greater perspective and depth to Parcells’s experiences.  They have been talking and working on the book for the better part of four years. The goal is to reveal the man behind the coach and examine the inner workings of the NFL.  BILL PARCELLS will rely on Demasio’s reporting; over the past few years Demasio has interviewed dozens of people associated with Parcells, including coaches, friends, executives, players, relatives, even secretaries.  Demasio expects he’ll interview more than 130 people before completing his reporting.  The book will include stories involving among others, Mark Bavaro, Arthur Blank, Bill Belichick, Drew Bledsoe, Drew Brees, Harry Carson, Romeo Crennel, Al Davis, Wayne Huizenga, Tony LaRussa, Ty Law, Terrell Owens, Bill Polian, Tony Romo, Pete Rozelle, Nick Saban, Phil Simms, Paul Tagliabue, DeMarcus Ware, Charlie Weis, Ricky Williams, Jason Witten, and Darren Woodson.  

Demasio has been a beat reporter and feature writer for twenty years.  He began reporting full time at the New York Daily News and has written for The New York Times, Seattle Times, New York Newsday and ESPN: The Magazine.  He covered the Redskins for the Washington Post from 2002-2005 – a beat considered second only to the White House in terms of importance, before moving to SI in 2006, penning cover stories on Troy Polamalu and Shaun Alexander.

Over the course of his five-decade career, Parcells, 71, employed football expertise, indefatigability, and uncanny motivational skills to change the course of several franchises.  Parcells drew upon lessons that began with his father -- an FBI-agent-turned-attorney -- and continued throughout his peripatetic career.  Raising his family in New Jersey, Charles Parcells instilled a savvy, toughness, and love of sports in his sons Bill, Don, and Doug.  Charles taught Bill the benefits of confrontation, which shaped Bill’s approach to coaching.  Charles also taught the Parcells boys maxims, which Bill used his entire career.  Today Bill Parcells is one of the most quoted figures in sports.

Parcells mastered what modern professional football demands: talent evaluation, organization, and motivational skill. Get the best available players, intensely prepare them, and then maximize their abilities.  As an assistant coach for the Patriots in 1980 Parcells learned player evaluation from New England GM, Bucko Kilroy, who helped turn NFL scouting into a “science”.    Even though he adhered to an intricate personnel philosophy, Parcells was among the best motivators in sports history, believing that the NFL was more about understanding people than Xs and Os.

Parcells’s career is a prism through which we can examine the changes in the nation’s most popular game over the past four decades.   BILL PARCELLS will chronologically detail Parcells’s experiences, from growing up and his early coaching career to the Super Bowl climaxes and beyond.  At his first job with the Hastings Broncos, in 1964, Parcells lived in the basement of a dentist’s office.  He coached at seven schools in 15 years: besides Hastings, Parcells was a Shocker (Wichita State), Black Knight (Army), Seminole (Florida State), Commodore (Vanderbilt), Red Raider (Texas Tech), Falcon (Air Force).

At West Point, Parcells was influenced by its culture of leadership and discipline. Parcells met and grew close to Army’s basketball coach, Bobby Knight. The pair learned coaching methods from each other, and became life-long friends.

Finally in 1979, Parcells got his pro coaching break when Ray Perkins hired him as Giants linebackers coach.  Parcells left for New Jersey but his wife Judy and their three daughters wished to remain in Colorado Springs, where he had coached the Air Force Academy.  To save his marriage Parcells returned and found jobs as a real estate agent and athletic director of a local country club.  The sabbatical lasted less than a year.  Parcells couldn’t stand being out of football, and Judy couldn’t stand his temperamental misery; she encouraged him to return to coaching.

By 1980 he was back in football, this time as linebackers coach in New England.  It was there a nickname was born.  After a defensive back offered a lame excuse on a broken play in practice, Parcells replied, “Who do you think I am?  Charlie the Tuna?  A sucker?”  From then on he was Tuna or the Big Tuna.

BILL PARCELLS will reflect on Parcells’s influence – past and present – while fleshing out stories of key NFL figures: players, coaches, and owners.

Parcells has not been considered a strategist but he bristles at the suggestion that he didn’t do anything to innovate the game.  “Everyone says the West Coast offense: ‘Joe Montana, quick three steps; Jerry Rice, quick slants.’  But nobody says: ‘Well, Bill Parcells took this linebacker [Lawrence Taylor] here and steered him into something that really not too many had seen.’  Nobody mentions that because they only talk about offense when they talk about philosophy.  Or they don’t talk about the defense very often.”

Parcells’s most long-reaching legacy is the sequoia-like coaching tree he has produced. The head coaches who've captured six of the previous 13 Super Bowls were trained by Parcells: Belichick (three), Coughlin (two) and Payton (one).  Parcells considers his biggest NFL contribution to be "those who followed" -- coaches, players and scouts he groomed.  Parcells and his best-known disciple, Belichick, experienced a mutually beneficial yet complex relationship during 14 years on the Giants, Patriots and Jets. They had an acrimonious parting following the 1999 season when Belichick reneged on a contractual clause to inevitably replace Parcells as Jets head coach. 

In 2005, Parcells sent Belichick a heartfelt, conciliatory letter. A rapprochement finally occurred in the summer of 2006, when they met in Nantucket for golf and dinner. Their relationship improved so much that in 2009, Belichick heeded Parcells's recommendation about living in the same luxury building in Jupiter, Florida.

Parcells’s impact extends far beyond his marquee former coaches. Another ex-assistant, Romeo Crennel, guides the Chiefs.  Former underlings like Kansas's Charlie Weis and San Jose State's Mike MacIntyre are collegiate head coaches. Several others are former NFL head coaches: Al Groh, Todd Haley, Ray Handley, Eric Mangini, Chris Palmer, and Tony Sparano.  Parcells has also tutored personnel chiefs such as the 49ers's Trent Baalke, Dolphins's Jeff Ireland and Jets's Mike Tannenbaum.

Despite a distinct personnel philosophy, Parcells adjusted to players and circumstances.  He had young, gun slinging quarterbacks in Phil Simms and Drew Bledsoe with the Giants and Patriots, respectively.  But he also won with a veteran Vinny Testaverde at the Jets and journeyman Quincy Carter in Dallas.  “The sign of a good coach is one who will fit the scheme to the personnel available until he can begin to integrate people that fit more in line philosophically with what he wants to do.  What are you gonna do?  Cancel the games?  When I went to Dallas, I had Dexter Coakley, Dat Nguyen.  I had little linebackers.”  Solid, but no one’s idea of Lawrence Taylor.  Dallas led the league defensively. “You can’t build a driveway if you don’t have any cement.  If you don’t have any cement, you’re gonna make a rock driveway.”

BILL PARCELLS will detail the human side of football.  Parcells believes the key to football success is understanding people.

Parcells’s relationships with ownership and management deeply affected his career.  This dynamic began early and had a significant impact on how he approached each job.  In his first season as a head coach, the Giants struggled to a 3-12-1 record.  Not only that, but both of Parcells’s parents passed away that season.  Giants GM George Young surreptitiously contacted University of Miami coach Howard Schnellenberger to gauge his interest in taking over for the rookie coach.  Parcells deftly enlisted Raiders owner Al Davis (whom he had known since the 1960’s), who then enlisted TV analyst Jimmy “the Greek” Synder to reveal Young’s backdoor maneuverings.  The Giant organization denied trying to replace Parcells.  Eventually he recovered and won two Super Bowls with Big Blue, but the experience taught him an important lesson about the business side of football.  In subsequent positions, Parcells sought assurances and relative control.

In 1993, Parcells was hired by New England owner James Orthwein, who tried to move the team to St. Louis. Parcells was able to change the culture of losing that surrounded the team. Bob Kraft -- a Massachusetts native -- bought the team from Orthwein, keeping it in New England. The coach and new owner built their team into a contender.  However, repeated clashes severed the relationship.  Parcells led the Pats to Super Bowl XXXI but was not on the team plane after the loss.  At his next stop, the New York Jets in 1997, Parcells revered owner Leon Hess.  The media-shy oil magnate and authoritarian coach forged a special relationship. Winning a Super Bowl for Hess, Parcells says, would have been perhaps his most gratifying accomplishment.  Yet, once Hess died Parcells did not stick around, declining Woody Johnson’s pleas.  

After two seasons of retirement, Parcells shocked the NFL in 2003 by signing with Jerry Jones in Dallas. There Parcells coexisted for four seasons with the NFL's most proactive owner.  Jones and Parcells inevitably butted heads on some decisions, and Parcells describes Jones as "the great enabler" for coddling prima donna stars like wideout Terrell Owens. Nonetheless, the two control freaks -- and outsized personalities -- got along well enough to form an enduring friendship.

BILL PARCELLS will provide details and context behind Parcells’s publicized courtships.  “My father used to have an expression: ‘The time to worry is before you place the bet – not after the wheel is spinning.  There’s nothing you can do about it then.’  In every decision I make, I worry before.”  Parcells twice reneged on offers to coach the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, though for distinct reasons and different owners.  In 1991, owner Hugh Culverhouse said he felt “jilted at the altar.”  Not long after, Parcells had heart surgery and Culverhouse sent Parcells a conciliatory note.  In 2002, Parcells made an agreement with Malcolm and Joel Glazer to replace Tony Dungy as the Bucs head coach, only to back out at the last moment.  In 2007 Atlanta owner Arthur Blank and Miami owner Wayne Huizenga both courted Parcells.  As Blank sat in Parcells’s home going over deal terms, Miami Dolphin’s owner Wayne Huizenga called to offer him a position overseeing the football team.  Parcells said no to Blank, yes to Huizenga.  During Parcells's first season with the Dolphins, Huizenga unexpectedly sold the team, and Parcells left two years later.

Parcells’s Dolphins tenure started off with a flourish: the 2008 team, coached by Tony Sparano, matched the record for best turnaround in NFL history.  But Parcells decided against remaining under owner Steve Ross, who recruited celebrities like Usher to take ownership stakes in the franchise.  Until now, Parcells has not talked about what happened in Miami.

The book will describe how Parcells worked to understand what would best motivate players.

He studiously patrolled locker rooms and weight rooms, interacting with players to understand what made them tick.  He customized his approach to each player.  In New England, Parcells was asked about the status of the injured Terry Glenn, a smallish wideout.  “She’s coming along,” he responded.  Parcells caught a lot of heat for the comments; Glenn just caught a lot of balls: 90, while amassing a rookie record 1,132 yards.

When he began coaching the Giants, Parcells realized that the team had a marijuana and cocaine problem.  He registered as an outpatient at Fair Oaks Hospital in Summit, New Jersey to better understand drug addiction and learn methods to combat it. Parcells employed a legally-murky approach that including random testing.

Parcells also took extra steps in dealing with clean-living yet troublesome players like Terrell Owens. After the Cowboys signed the flamboyant receiver in 2006, Parcells read an article about narcissism from a medical journal, heeding the suggestion of a team doctor. The Cowboys coach immersed himself in the subject, perusing more material and discussing it with team doctors. The self-education provided insight into Owens. And in a psychological maneuver, Parcells exclusively referred to Owens as "the player" during press conferences.

Ray Lucas played for Parcells in New England and the Jets: “If you’re a steel door, even in a steel door, there are hinges, and there are cracks.  Maybe on the bottom, maybe on the side.  Maybe there’s one on top.  That sonofabitch finds it somehow, and gets into your head.  And then, he can either break you or he can build you up.”

Parcells elicits loyalty from his former players.  Over the years, he has built long-lasting relationships, especially with Curtis Martin, Keyshawn Johnson, and his biggest star, Lawrence Taylor.  BILL PARCELLS will delve into the coach’s relationship with the three.

“There’s God and there’s Parcells as far as the meaning they’ve had in my career,” says newly inducted Hall-of-Famer Curtis Martin.  Parcells presented his former running back in Canton in the summer of 2012.  Seventeen years earlier, Parcells had drafted Martin for the Patriots in the third round.  Martin grew up fatherless on Pittsburgh’s unforgiving streets.  He cared little for the sport of football but possessed a preternatural ability to run with the rock.  Still, a lackluster and injury-plagued collegiate career at Pitt, saw his stock plummet.  Parcells was impressed enough to draft Martin but still remained cautious.  Despite rushing for 102 yards in his pro debut, the coach called his rookie running back the “One-Game Wonder.”  By the end of the tailback's impressive season, Parcells conceded Martin was indeed a “Boy Wonder.”  After moving to the Jets, Parcells lured Martin to join him with a landmark contract.

Similarly, Keyshawn Johnson came from a single mother and poor neighborhood in the shadow of the Los Angeles Coliseum.  He sold drugs to provide for his family before parlaying an outstanding high school career into a scholarship at the University of Southern California.  The Jets drafted the 6-4, 215-pound receiver in 1996, but Johnson was viewed as a selfish until Parcells took over the team.  Parcells pushed Johnson to exploit his terrific size, and in return the receiver enjoyed his best years under Parcells’s tutelage.  In 2007, Parcells – knowledgeable about player struggles in post-NFL life – advised Keyshawn to retire and take a lucrative offer from ESPN.  He’s now a star on the network -- Parcells and Keyshawn appear together on Sunday NFL Countdown -- and a successful entrepreneur.

Perhaps no player is as closely associated with Parcells as Lawrence Taylor.  The two arrived in New York at the same time – Parcells as Giants’ Defensive Coordinator, LT as the second pick of the 1981 draft.  Parcells – who became head coach in 1983 – unleashed LT, revolutionizing the linebacker position.  They led a sputtering franchise to victories in Super Bowl XXI and Super Bowl XXV.  Taylor is now considered by many the league’s all-time best defensive player.  However, LT’s success was not without setbacks off the field.  Parcells was instrumental in helping LT combat his substance abuse.  Where other former players, like Martin and Johnson, have thrived in retirement, Taylor has struggled.

“I have failed to some degree with him,” admits Parcells.

Yet when LT was at his lowest following an arrest in 2010 on rape charges, Parcells remained at his side.  He fielded call after call from former Giants players, mobilizing his charges as if he were still their coach.

Despite L.T.'s perennial problems, Parcells maintains unequivocal support. The ex-coach disapproves of some of his characteristics, yet he admires others -- for instance Taylor’s loyalty. Taylor is among a number of former Giants that Parcells remains close to. Whenever the football icons connect, they needle each other while affirming their bond. L.T., who always kisses his ex-coach good-bye, addresses Parcells exclusively as "Coach."

Parcells has served as a surrogate father for so many players over the years.  However, Parcells’s football obsession played a role in minimizing time with his three daughters.  His daughter Suzy admits to crying after a former player described Parcells’s paternal role in a documentary.  BILL PARCELLS offers a nuanced portrayal of the enigmatic former coach.

Parcells is enthusiastic about this project and is committed to actively promoting the book, especially in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Boston. (The book has several built-in promotional avenues such as Parcells's appearances on ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown plus four prime-time specials per year.) Parcells’s main condition is that the book is published by no later than April 2014. We need to know that you can do this and when you would need the final manuscript in order to get the book out by then. 

One possible -- if ancillary -- boost involves his expected selection to the Hall of Fame. Parcells should be among the candidates chosen in February 2013, which would lead to an induction in August 2013.

Although he recently turned 71, you can never rule out an NFL return. A football addict in good enough health to play golf regularly, Parcells would be younger than septuagenarians in the league such as Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.

Less than three years removed from being an NFL executive, Parcells still has a stranglehold on the NFL. Before Peyton Manning chose a new team in spring 2012 as the biggest free agent in NFL history, the erstwhile Colts quarterback sought Parcells's input. The two spoke at least once per week for two months preceding Manning selecting Denver.

And if anyone thinks that the game has passed him by, Parcells suggests otherwise:

“It's a field-position game. That's what it is. That's not changing. They say the game's changed. But the game hasn't changed in that: You got the ball on their end of the field most of the time, you're gonna beat them. They got it on your end of the field most of the time, they're gonna beat you.

“Shit happens. And when it happens bad on their end, you win. And if it happens bad on your end, you lose. So try to keep it on their end. Simple.”