It's difficult to pick my favorite chapter among the 39. I enjoyed writing Chapter 5, which highlights Bill Parcells's bond with Bobby Knight at West Point during the late 1960s when both are young coaches for Army's football and basketball teams, respectively. Chapter 28 is perhaps the most heart-tugging one in the book: Bill as Cowboys head coach in late 2006 buries his brother, Don, hours before a key road game on Monday Night Football against the Eagles. However, if forced to choose a chapter, I'd go with number 32 because of its almost surreal mix of comedy and drama involving NFL's ownership and one behind-the-scenes power broker while providing insight into Bill's personality. In late 2007, Joe O'Donnell, a Boston-based food mogul virtually unknown to the sports media, spurs Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga to court his buddy, Bill Parcells. But when Falcons owner Arthur Blank also wants to hire Coach, things turn nutty in Bill's home at Saratoga Springs where a chance telephone call affects the courses of two NFL franchises. Below is an excerpt from the chapter.
On Tuesday, December 11, Wayne Huizenga flew to Albany on his private Boeing 737, which Parcells likened to a “luxury hotel.” Then the Dolphins owner drove to Saratoga Springs for lunch at Parcells’s favorite restaurant: the West Side Stadium Cafe. When he was informed of the meeting, Sexton admonished his client for arranging it at a public place. At least the billionaire owner, sixty-nine, looked inconspicuous in a zip-up jacket and khakis, and the resident coaching legend, sixty-six, wore a sweater and corduroys.
Most of the two-hour talk covered Parcells’s past football stints. Parcells expanded on the reasons he no longer wanted to coach. When Huizenga suggested that Parcells become Dolphins GM, the ex-coach declined. Huizenga wanted to know what aspects of football still excited Parcells after such a lengthy career, and Parcells quickly responded that it was building a team, specifically the talent-acquisition area. Huizenga said, “Well, how about being head of our football operations, not as a general manager or as coach. Both of them would report to you.”
Parcells replied, “Well, that’s interesting.”
“We’ll make you executive vice president of football operations. The only thing you’re not in charge of is suites and ticket sales.”
Parcells laughed. “I’d like to do something like that.”
The Dolphins owner suggested a three-year deal, but a potential hurdle entered the equation when Huizenga revealed that he was considering selling part of the team for estate reasons: his death before a sale would cost his family, including his four children, an estimated $450 million in estate taxes.
While understanding the importance of such a consideration, Parcells voiced concerns about working under a new owner. Huizenga insisted that even with a partial sale he would maintain control of the team, shielding Parcells from any interference. NFL rules required at least one owner to hold a majority stake in the franchise for ultimate authority.
Satisfied with the assurances, Parcells told Huizenga that he would make an official decision on Tuesday, December 18. The meeting ended with both men optimistic about a future together. However, just two days after the lunch meeting, a real-estate mogul based in New York who’d grown up in South Florida stunned Huizenga with a gigantic offer to buy the entire club. The proposal came from Stephen Ross, chief executive officer of the Related Group, who had been among the finalists for the Jets after Leon Hess’s death in 1999. Ross offered Huizenga more than $1 billion, where Huizenga had paid $138 million for the Dolphins in 1994 after having acquired the home arena from the heirs of owner Joe Robbie. Ross’s heady offer complicated Huizenga’s discussions with Parcells.
Parcells recalls, “So I get to thinking, ‘Well, I’m not going there if he sells this team. But deep down, that’s where I wanted to go: Miami. I knew Wayne already; I didn’t know [Falcons owner Arthur] Blank. And I had a place down in South Florida.”
On December 13, Arthur Blank telephoned Parcells to discuss a position with the Falcons. When Parcells conveyed his lack of interest in coaching or becoming a traditional GM, Blank made a proposal similar to Huizenga’s: sign as Atlanta’s vice president of football operations. Near the end of the phone call, Parcells revealed his recent sit-down with Huizenga, prompting Blank to insist on a face-to-face meeting the next day. With Parcells’s blessings, Blank traveled to Saratoga Springs on December 14.
Parcells met with Blank for several hours at the West Side Stadium Cafe, and once again Parcells focused on obtaining a role that would empower him to hire a GM and head coach. Once Blank accepted the parameters, Parcells revealed his December 18 deadline, only five days away, to decide on which job to take. After a December 17 appearance on Monday Night Countdown, Parcells left Bristol, Connecticut, with Jimmy Sexton. Given the impending deadline, Sexton planned to sleep over at his client’s home; their attorney was flying overnight from Memphis to vet any contract offer. During the ride, Parcells telephoned O’Donnell to find out the latest information on the Dolphins.
“Joe, what the hell is going on here? Is Wayne selling this team?” O’Donnell responded that unfortunately the situation had turned fluid. Early the next morning—deadline day—Parcells telephoned Huizenga to seek confirmation about reports of an imminent sale. The owner conceded that circumstances had changed because of Ross’s aggressive bid for the entire club. Parcells asked, “So they may make you an offer you can’t refuse? And you might take it?”
Huizenga replied, “Yeah, that might happen. But I’ll know by tomorrow at eleven o’clock.”
“Well, you understand that I have to do what I have to do, too.”
“Well, I’m hoping you can hold off until tomorrow.”
After hanging up with Huizenga, Parcells telephoned Blank to talk further about joining the Falcons. Key aspects of a potential agreement needed clarification, including finding a new role for GM Rich McKay. Parcells told Blank, “Look, I’m still not one hundred percent sure, but what we talked about last Friday sounds pretty good.”
Blank pounced. “I want to fly up there tomorrow, and bring my attorney.”
“You don’t have to do that.”
“No, I want to do it.”
That night, Blank emailed Parcells a boilerplate contract covering four years, one year longer than Huizenga’s proposal. Meanwhile, the New York Daily News and ESPN.com posted articles quoting Parcells on the likelihood of his joining Atlanta. Parcells publicly revealed that he would be meeting Blank the next day, December 19, to iron out details on a contract.
Wednesday morning at around 10 a.m., Blank phoned Parcells to say that his private plane had landed in Albany; the owner and his attorney would be at the house in about thirty minutes. After hanging up, Parcells called Huizenga.
“Lookit, Blank is on the way.”
Huizenga responded, “Can you hold him off? I’m going to know about a sale shortly.”
Parcells replied, “I can’t stop the guy from coming. This is a free country. He’s en route; he’s on the ground. He’s told me, ‘I’ll be there in a half-hour.’ ”
Huizenga promised to call Parcells by 11 a.m.
Uncertainty about Huizenga’s situation made everyone in Parcells’s household jittery. The group hoped that Huizenga would telephone shortly with news that the sale had collapsed. Parcells wanted to buy time, so he decided to temporarily leave the premises with Sexton and his attorney. He instructed Mandart to stick around for Blank.
“If Arthur comes, tell him we’ll be right back—that I just took Jimmy for a tour of the town.”
The threesome left in Parcells’s black Cadillac at 10:15 a.m. Almost forty-five minutes later a black SUV with Arthur Blank in the front passenger seat pulled into Parcells’s driveway. Stepping out of the car in a brown leather jacket, Blank held a paper shopping bag. When he rang the doorbell with his attorney, Kelly Mandart greeted them. She explained that Parcells was giving Sexton, on his first trip to Saratoga, a tour of downtown, and that they would return within a few minutes.
Blank reached into the shopping bag and removed three packages, giftwrapped in white paper.
“My wife and I went shopping for you last night. We wanted to get you some books on Atlanta so you can learn about the city.”
Mandart replied, “Oh, thank you. That was so nice. And please thank your wife for me.”
Parcells and company returned shortly after eleven. After everyone exchanged introductions and handshakes, Kelly told Parcells, “Arthur and his wife bought some books for me to familiarize myself with Atlanta.”
Parcells replied, “Oh. That was nice.”
A few minutes later, Parcells cornered Mandart within earshot of Sexton. Handing his cell phone to her, he whispered, “If you see area code 954, answer it. It’ll be Wayne. Don’t call me out of the meeting; that’s disrespectful. Just tell Jimmy the phone’s for him.”
For a meeting place, Mandart suggested the dining room, which contained a cherrywood table, Oriental rug, and chandelier. As the men left the kitchen, Jimmy Sexton stayed behind momentarily. After taking a deep breath, he told Mandart, “I can’t believe Huizenga didn’t call. I can’t believe Blank is here.” Sexton laughed nervously while shaking his head, then headed off to the dining room.
Every few minutes Parcells’s cell phone or the home line rang, interrupting Mandart’s attempt to make everybody lunch. In a Seinfeldesque scene, Mandart hustled to check the ID for each call. Not seeing the per- tinent area code, she went back to tossing salad, chopping vegetables, and grilling chicken. Occasionally both phones rang at the same time, as reporters on friendly terms with Parcells tried to get the scoop. Mandart had lowered the ring volumes so Blank and his attorney were oblivious to the calling frenzy.
Exploiting one moment of phone silence while taking the risk of missing a call, Mandart hustled into the dining room with a platter of chicken Caesar salad, sliced peppers and cucumbers, and dill dip. Parcells was at the head of the table; Sexton and his lawyer sat to Parcells’s right; Blank and his attorney to Parcells’s left. Just five minutes into negotiations, Sexton expressed qualms about language in the contract involving game tickets and access to a company car.
Around the same time, Wayne Huizenga telephoned Joe O’Donnell.
“Well, great try, old friend. I appreciate your effort, but I’ve lost Parcells.”
O’Donnell was surprised. “How’s that? He wants to go to Miami. He likes you.”
“We couldn’t get in touch with each other. And he’s signing with Arthur Blank.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Blank is meeting with him today to sign a contract.”
“Why don’t you just call Bill and talk to him?”
“I tried. I can’t get through. And he hasn’t called me back.” “I’ve got his girlfriend’s number. Let me call.”
Mandart answered her cell phone.
“Kelly, where’s Bill?”
She whispered, “He’s in the dining room with Mr. Blank.”
In an urgent tone, O’Donnell asked, “Jesus, what’s he doing?” “I think they’re about to sign a contract.”
O’Donnell implored, “Kelly, get Bill out of there!”
To find out if Kelly can get Bill outta there, you can buy the book here.