Former Jets head coach and general manager Bill Parcells is entering the Pro Football Hall of Fame today. We have not spent much time discussing it because Parcells is remembered as a Giant. This is only right. He got his head coaching start with the Giants, won his only two championships with them, and coached them longer than any other team. Unlike Hall of Famers Ronnie Lott and Art Monk (and Brett Favre in a few years), Parcells did not just pass through the Jets, though. He was an important part of team history.
Parcells coached the Jets from 1997 through 1999 and stuck around as general manager through 2000. Those years were a turning point in New York Jets history. From the time they entered the NFL in 1970 until 1996, the Jets had won less than 40% of their games. Nobody is happy with the current state of the team, but it makes me laugh when people say Rex Ryan has turned the Jets into a punchline. People laughed at the Jets much, much harder in the days prior to Parcells, and there was a reason. Think about teams like the Browns, Bills, and Raiders of the past decade. When Parcells arrived, the Jets were on that level. The team hit rock bottom with a 4-28 two year stretch under Rich Kotite in 1995 and 1996.
Even though he was coaching a Super Bowl team in New England at the time, Parcells was unhappy with his lack of control over personnel decisions. This set off a controversial and contested chain of events that led Parcells to New York and gave birth to the bitterness of the Jets-Patriots rivalry. Prior to the Parcells saga, the Jets and Patriots had about as much bad blood as the Jets and Bills do today.
Parcells inherited a 1-15 team. His first year the Jets improved to 9-7. His second year the Jets went 12-4, won the AFC East, and made it to the AFC Championship Game. It was one of the most stunning turnarounds the NFL has ever seen. He raised the team's performance, and it has stayed steady ever since. The team that did not even win 40% of its games between 1970 and 1996 has won over 50% of its games since 1997. 2012 was just the Jets' fourth losing year since Parcells took over. The team has immediately followed the first three by posting a winning record the next year. It is thus fair to say he totally changed the trajectory of the Jets.
Parcells was also the man who brought Curtis Martin to New York. He loved Martin from the time they spent together in New England. Running back was low on the list of Jets needs heading into the 1998 season. They had 1,000 yard rusher Adrian Murrell. Parcells understood two things, though. First, making a strength even stronger is just as valid of a way to improve a team as filling a hole. Second, Martin's work ethic would rub off on the locker room. It worked, and Martin provided invaluable play and leadership during his time with the Jets.
Was Parcells perfect? No. Could he have accomplished even more with the Jets? Absolutely.
He played favorites too much. Longtime Parcells guy Dave Meggett, who really should not have been on the field, muffed a kickoff in what was arguably the most pivotal play of the 1998 AFC Championship Game loss to the Broncos. When the Jets needed to hire a new coach in 2000, general manager Parcells handed the job to loyal deputy Al Groh instead of conducting an exhaustive search. Under Groh, the Jets collapsed at the end of 2000 and missed the Playoffs. Groh fled to the University of Virginia after that year.
Many of his personnel decisions were suspect. In 1999 the Jets were considered the consensus team to beat in the AFC entering the season. Vinny Testaverde ruptured his Achilles tendon in the first half of the opener, and Parcells' handpicked backup Rick Mirer bombed, digging the team into a hole out of which it could not climb. The Jets also had a spotty Draft under Parcells until his final class in 2000. He also left the team in an unenviable salary cap condition.
There were some brutal in game decisions, like the halfback pass in the red zone Week 17 of 1997 in Detroit. It led to an interception that helped cost the team a Playoff spot.
Parcells also did not stick around. Back on Thanksgiving when I interviewed John Hall, the kicker for the Parcells teams, it was kind of striking how in an otherwise diplomatic interview, he was very candid about how difficult Parcells' retirement as a coach was on the team.
These helped prevent Parcells from winning a championship with the Jets and becoming truly revered. He is still widely respected, and that is how it should be. He helped turn a disaster into something respectable, even if he didn't totally finish the job.
What else can we say about Parcells? Nobody built a better coaching staff. Head coach in the NFL is a position that requires an incredible time commitment overseeing the big picture. A lot of the important tasks have to be delegated to assistants. Finding quality people to conduct these tasks and training them properly is an underrated yet enormous part of being a head coach. Three assistants who worked under Parcells at one point, Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin, and Sean Payton have gone on to win Super Bowls as a head coach. There have also been a remarkable number of former Parcells assistants who were less successful as head coaches but found head gigs in either the NFL or major college football because they were viewed as excellent assistant coaches in part because of the training Bill gave them. That list includes Ray Handley, Romeo Crennel, Al Groh, Charlie Weis, Todd Haley, Eric Mangini, Chris Palmer, and Tony Sparano.
Vince Lombardi is the undisputed king of motivation among NFL head coaches. It is unlikely anybody will ever top him, but Parcells can stake a legitimate claim to being second behind Lombardi. He had an incredible understanding of how to motivate players both individually and as a group. There are many stories that illustrate this, but one sticks out in my mind.
Parcells was recently asked what his proudest coaching job was. He didn't talk about his Super Bowl teams or any of the clubs he led to the Playoffs. He talked about those 1999 Jets who lost Testaverde in the opener and limped to a 1-6 start. Parcells changed quarterbacks from Rick Mirer to Ray Lucas, and the team rallied to finish 8-8. Every single year, you see teams get off to awful starts and never recover. It isn't necessarily a case of players quitting. It might be that somebody doesn't put in the extra time in the film room. It might be that when the team falls behind early, nobody has the confidence to step up and make a play. It is very easy to see a team go into the tank. In many ways, those situations are the biggest test of a coach. Parcells got his team to get over its rough start and kept it focused enough to get on a roll with nothing to play for.
That kind of work is why he is a Hall of Famer.