By Ernie Palladino
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Bill Parcells, a local guy who constantly implored reporters eager to lionize that week’s star with “Let’s not put him in Canton yet, fellas,” goes into Canton Saturday with full resume colored by a little bit of luck.
His favorite defensive lineman, George Martin, will introduce him. He’ll undoubtedly offer a speech apropos of any New Jersey native who won two Super Bowls with the Giants and brought the Patriots to another. Knowing the charm and humor Parcells can turn on whenever he wants, his Hall of Fame induction speech could go down as an all-time gem, to be forgotten only if the Alex Rodriguez ban/suspension/deal comes down that same day.
If that happens, everything in sports gets swept under the rug anyway.
But back to Parcells. As he stands on that stage in Canton, he will not only represent the height of coaching, but how luck plays so much into greatness regardless of one’s potential.
Had one circumstance been different in 1983, the world might never have known about Bill Parcells. Had George Young’s good friend Howard Schnellenberger not commanded a national championship Miami squad that year and committed to coach in the USFL, Parcells might have become but a sad, one-year footnote in the Giants record book.
Parcells had gone 3-12-1 as a rookie head coach that season. As he was always quick to say later in his career, you are what the record says you are. And Parcells was a bad head coach beset by his gigantic error in starting Scott Brunner over Phil Simms. Not only was it a mistake on the talent level, but he nearly alienated a quarterback who just two years before had taken Ray Perkins’ Giants to the team’s first postseason since 1963.
It was hardly a secret that Young had put a feeler out to his friend, Schnellenberger. It was all over the papers, and Parcells was a prodigious peruser of the sports pages. Not only did he know everything that was going on with his players, but he read and digested everything written about himself and the franchise. He more than once took on reporters over news nuggets he found objectionable; even threw one off the field in mid-practice in 1990 for sniffing out the truth about the extent of one player’s injury.
Luckily for Parcells, Schnellenberger had no interest in joining the Giants. He was going to stay in Florida, where he would coach the transplanted Washington Federals in Miami. But the deal fell through when the USFL, formerly a spring league, switched to a fall schedule and the Miami owner bailed.
Had Schnellenberger been uncommitted, the Jersey guy most likely would have lost his job, and with a 3-12-1 mark in his single year, he might well have wound up selling real estate the rest of his life. Instead, Parcells kept his job, much to owner Wellington Mara’s satisfaction. But he had clearly dodged a bullet and he knew it. The experience no doubt helped foster his later philosophy of coaching loyalty: “Do unto others BEFORE they do unto you.”
Parcells, of course, parlayed that second chance into Hall of Fame success. He made right the wrongs of ’83, reinstating Simms as his starter and handling the locker room his way. His motivational manipulation of players, from the last man on the roster to Lawrence Taylor, became legendary. So, too, did his defenses.
Simms, who asked for a trade upon his 1983 demotion, went on to form a mutual admiration society with Parcells, a union strengthened by his MVP performance in the Super Bowl XXI victory against Denver. And while Parcells’ team-hopping after his 1991 resignation from the Giants did nothing to endear him to owners, the Pats, Jets, and Cowboys were all the better for his coaching influence.
Had Schnellenberger been available after the ’83 season, probably none of that would have happened.
Parcells got lucky. Sometimes it takes a bit of that to allow true genius to flourish.
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