Meet Bill Parcells, Bill Walsh, and Joe Gibbs

51-6MwiGHtLGuts and Genius tells the saga of the three heads coaches that truly did dominate the NFL in the 1980’s.  The author walks through the football lives of Bill Parcels (New York Giants), Bill Walsh (San Francisco 49’ers), and Joe Gibbs (Washington Redskins).  Between these coaches, through the 1980’s into the early 90’s, they won 8 Super Bowls and left an indelible print on the NFL.

There are a few key common themes that tie these coaches together besides their winning ways.

First, they were football savants.  While each had their philosophies and systems, especially Walsh with the West Coast Offense, they were also flexible enough to adjust their approach to meet the strengths and weaknesses of their own teams and that of their opponents.  Of the three Walsh probably has the most long-term impact on the game with this short passing game designed to stretch the field horizontally and allow playmakers to get the ball in space and move the ball the down the field.  He also left a much more extensive and successful coaching three than Gibbs or Parcells.

The second theme is leadership.  While each coach had extremely different personalities, they each found ways to connect with and motivate their players to play as a team and achieve more as a unit than they could as a collection of individuals.  They each formed lifelong connections with many of the key players and coaches during their eras.

A third theme is that each started off slow trying to rebuild moribund franchises and had many insecurities and self-doubt.  Even when they were successful, the stress and insecurities almost doubled because the standard was always winning the Super Bowl.  Anything else was almost considered a failure.

Finally, and most disturbing, is the extreme stress and unfathomable hard work it took to accomplish the perfection each chased.  Reading about the extreme stress each felt to win it all, with Gibbs basically living at the football facility to such an extent he missed his sons growing up, and the health, mental, and physical toll football took on these men is profound.

While there is probably nothing profoundly new in this book, it was extremely well written, told in a concise, efficient, and lively prose, and frankly it is hard to put down.  For some reason, at least for this reader, it even provoked emotion and remembrances of the great teams these men led.  And while it goes from one coach to the next from chapter to chapter, that approach worked very well here, and facilitated understanding how these coaches interacted with each other, their teams, and how their journey’s unfolded.

I found this to be a very interesting and worthwhile read.

Guts and Genius: The Story of Three Unlikely Coaches Who Came to Dominate the NFL in the ’80s

Review of Bill Parcells: A Football Life

parcellsThis “autobiography” of Bill Parcells is certainly fascinating, as any biography of such a character should be. Character is a good word to describe Parcells, as he is a character. Arrogant, sarcastic, demanding, profane, psychologist, restless and successful are just a few of the adjectives that describe one of the best professional football coaches of the modern era.

I have always been fascinated by people who make sports their life calling, especially one as demanding as being the head coach or executive of a National Football League team. Parcells has been one of the best with a unique and not always likable style.

This biography does a great job of providing the background of Parcells’s growing up and how being a self-described Jersey guy has colored his personality. His dedication to football and being a football coach is evident in his hopping from job to job at small schools in the college ranks, constantly moving his family and working for little pay hoping for bigger and better opportunities. The demands of his job and the constant moving eventually cost him his marriage, which unfortunately is not that uncommon for coaches. Parcells’s life has certainly been defined by football.

Bill Parcels really made his stamp on football immortality as the head coach of the New York Giants whom he lead from a bad team to two time Super Bowl champion grounded in the philosophy of a strong defense and solid running game. His time with the Giants was not always without its stresses. Parcells was furious when he found out General Manager George Young was essentially looking to get rid of him after his first season, one which saw the team go 3-12. Between the lines it appears Parcells never really got over that.

After eight seasons with the New York Giants and two Super Bowl wins, Parcells stepped down as the head coach. While it is never made clear why he left the Giants, only saying “it was time” he did have a heart condition and it is also clear that Tim Mara selling his share of his team to Robert Tish, ushering in a new ownership group, likely had something to do with this move as well. More than once in the book Parcells exclaims that a change in ownership is a good reason for a coach to leave the organization.

After heart bypass surgery and few years away from coaching, Bill Parcells became the head coach of the New England Patriots.
I am a diehard New England Patriots fan and many of my fellow compatriots do not like Parcells because he left the Patriots in a lurch before Super Bowl XXXI after the 1996 season. This was a pretty terrible thing for Parcells to do because he had been secretly working out a deal to leave for the hated New York Jets, which made him, in some ways, a lame duck head coach going into the franchise’s second ever Super Bowl. It was not quite as bad as the suspension and then reinstatement for the playoffs of New England head coach Chuck Fairbanks in the 1978 season where the team lost to the Houston Oilers in the divisional round lead by a coach on his way out the door and no respect among the players. But it was not an entirely classy move either.

But Bill Parcells did make one key decision that turned around the Patriots franchise and lead us to the Super Bowl. Had he made a different decision, who knows what the future would have held for the franchise. In the 1993 draft there were two quarterbacks that were going to go number one and number two: Drew Bledsoe of Washington State and Rick Mirer of Notre Dame. Parcells chose Bledsoe who went on to become a solid starter and part of the resurgence of a moribund franchise. Rick Mirer, while winning Rookie of the Year honors with the Seattle Seahawks, quickly became a washed up bust. Parcells made the right move. And let’s not forget that Parcells took a terrible team and through the draft, free agent signings, and his leadership turned it into a playoff contender.

And then there is the ownership situation. Robert Kraft bought the New England Patriots in 1994 and Parcells was part of the previous regime. It appears that Parcells did not give Kraft the respect he deserved as owner, as mostly what Parcells wanted from ownership would appear to be to just stay out of his way. Kraft, on the other hand, was probably a bit too meddlesome in football operations, which is highlighted by the Patriots selecting Ohio State wider receiver Terry Glenn in the first round of the 1996 draft, against the wishes of Parcells. This is probably the beginning of the end of Parcells’s stay in New England.

Bill Parcells went on to turnaround the Jets organization and make them into a contender and fostering a heated rivalry with the New England Patriots who got several New York Jets’ draft choices because of the way Parcells left the Patriots. After leaving coaching and being an executive with the Jets, Parcells again stepped down.

But like The Terminator, he’d be back, surprisingly with one of the most meddlesome owners in the league, Jerry Jones. He then turned around another ailing franchise, although not with quite the dramatic impact he had in his previous stints. But he did put the Cowboys on the right track after a four year tenure there.

Parcells’s final act was as the head of football operations for the Miami Dolphins where he tried to piece back the organization through hiring the right coaches and the draft. He didn’t have quite the success with the Dolphin’s as he did at other stops but they were certainly in a better place when he left than when he came. The wheels came off shortly thereafter.

Next I want to turn to a few of the major themes of the book that interest me the most.

Does Bill Parcells deserve to be in the National Football League Hall of Fame?

There were several detractors to Parcells Hall of Fame candidacy. The reasons included his less than spectacular overall record of 172-130-1. His job hopping didn’t help his candidacy as some wanted to make sure if elected he didn’t go back into coaching and possibly harm is legacy. He didn’t stay with any one team long enough, except maybe the Giants, to truly establish a dominant legacy with any one team. The most ridiculous argument is that Bill Belichick was with him during his most successful years.

Bill Parcells without a doubt belongs in the Hall of Fame. You can’t even think about the history of the NFL from 1983 to today without Bill Parcells’s being a major part of the story. He won two Super Bowls. And he turned around the fates of four franchises.

He also left an extensive coaching tree include Belichick, Tom Coughlin, and Sean Payton, all Super Bowl winners and many others who have been coaches in the professional and college ranks.

Relationship with Bill Belichick

Bill Belichick was the contractual heir to the New York Jets head coaching job when Bill Parcells stepped down in 1999. But in one of the most bizarre resignation speeches ever, Belichick jilted Parcells and the Jets to take the head coaching job with, of all teams, the New England Patriots. This lead to falling out over what heretofore had seemed to be an extremely strong bond as Parcells brought Belichick along with him everywhere he went and they had great success together. Parcells take on it was “a deal is a deal.”

Here I think Parcells is being a bit disingenuous and inconsistent. First, the way he left New England was a bit classes and he two broke his contractual obligations which lead to a brokering of a deal giving New England several of the Jets draft choices. Second, Parcells himself said that a change in ownership is a good reason for a head coach to be concerned and leave a job and the Jets had just been sold to a new owner.
I suspect, although this has never been stated, that Belichick also wanted to be his own man and since Parcells was set to be head of football operations and still his boss, and he didn’t want Big Bill constantly looking over his shoulder at his coaching decisions and being meddlesome.
I think Parcells feelings were just hurt. It was good to see that they have mended their fences since then.

Bill Parcells and Robert Kraft

Another difficult relationship that has since seemed to be repaired is the bad relationship Kraft had with Parcells when he took over the ownership of the New England Patriots. Parcells’s famous line “if they want you to cook the dinner, they ought to let you buy some of the groceries” is a classic. Of course a coach wants a strong say over the draft and other roster acquisitions and Kraft not handing more of the personnel responsibilities over to Parcells was a mistake. Parcells, on the other hand, did not communicate well with Kraft and presumably left in him in the dark and even had intermediaries speaking on his behalf. This is not a healthy way to run a football team. Both made mistakes. This is another relationship I am happy to see, if not fully patched up, at least each acknowledging mistakes were made and both regretting how the parting of Parcells from the team came about.

Conclusion

The one quibble I have with this book is the prose is not always as clear as it could be and sometimes I had to read something twice because of it. It was also written in the third person, which was a bit odd, but I eventually got used to it. Parcells voice is loud and clear in the book, nevertheless.

Overall I would heartily recommend the book to any NFL fan as it tells the “Football Life” of one of the most interesting and important coaches in the history of the game.

Parcells: A Football Life