Publish date:

Inside The NFL


One of a Kind
Bill Parcells was a master at getting the most out of his talent

Bill Parcells, who stepped aside as coach of the Jets on Monday
after 15 years at the top of his game, always said the same
thing when writers or fans talked about how close one of his
teams was to getting over the top, or how the team was better
than its record. "You are what you are," Parcells would growl.
"You get exactly what you deserve in this game."

Parcells always seemed to get more out of his players than most
coaches. When he took over the Giants in 1983, the franchise had
won one playoff game in 25 years; Parcells led New York to two
Super Bowl wins in the next eight seasons. In '93 Parcells
became coach of a 2-14 Patriots team, and four years later New
England won the AFC championship. After they went 1-15 in '96,
the Jets hired Parcells, who took them to the AFC title game two
years later.

"The guy's really made a believer out of me," says Joe Horrigan,
a Pro Football Hall of Fame vice president and resident
historian. "History may view him as a Lombardi-like coach, one
who went into organizations that had been down and totally
refocused them into winners."

The public tended to view Parcells as a
three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust coach who turned to the pass
only as a last resort. But the Giants' Phil Simms had a
4,000-yard passing season under Parcells, and the Patriots' Drew
Bledsoe threw an NFL-record 70 passes in a 1994 overtime win
over the Vikings. Vinny Testaverde had his finest pro season
playing for Parcells last year, throwing 29 touchdown passes and
only seven interceptions.

A master of manipulation, Parcells could be a maddening
puppeteer, and he was hated by more than a few players. But he
was a genius at motivating his team and tweaking the various
personalities on a roster. He tried to talk to at least 30
players each day.

What Parcells did to get the best out of Lawrence Taylor--whose
career could have otherwise been ruined by drug and alcohol
abuse--is a book in itself. One example of Parcells's control
over LT came during the 1989 playoffs. The Giants were preparing
to play the Rams, and the 30-year-old Taylor was starting to
feel his age. He had been shut down by run-of-the-mill Rams
tackle Irv Pankey when the two teams met in November. When
Taylor wandered into the locker room eight days before the
playoff game, Parcells told him, "I've got a plane ticket for
you. I want you to go to New Orleans, and I want you to take
your helmet with you."

"Huh?" Taylor said.

"Go find Pat Swilling," Parcells said, referring to the Saints
linebacker. "Give him your ticket and your helmet, and let him
fly back here. He's the only guy who can handle Pankey."

Infuriated, Taylor worked out twice on the Tuesday before the
game--for the first time ever, friends said--and played
superbly. He had two jarring third-down sacks. "Lawrence was a
good kid," Parcells said on Monday. "You just had to know how to
get to him."

Parcells knew how, just as he knew when it was time to get out
of coaching. Before Jets owner Leon Hess died last May, Parcells
told him this would probably be his last season as coach. (He
also holds the title of director of football operations.) He
decided for sure in early December but kept it a secret. He told
his handpicked successor, Jets assistant head coach Bill
Belichick, last Saturday night but didn't inform his wife, Judy,
and three daughters until after New York's 19-9 win over the
Seahawks on Sunday.

"You can't fool yourself in this job," said Parcells, who will
stay on for at least a couple of months as a consultant. "The
commitment you have to make is so great when you're a coach and
running the football operations too. I wasn't sure I could do it
anymore. If you demand that kind of commitment from the
players--and I do--you have to demand it from yourself and the

Now, in the unlikely event the Patriots pry him away with a
coach-general manager offer, the 47-year-old Belichick, a
defensive mastermind who was 36-44 in his previous head job, a
tempestuous five-year run in Cleveland, will take the reins.
Intensely private, Belichick was doomed as the Browns' coach in
part by his difficulty in dealing with the media and his
inability to motivate and unify a veteran team. "Bill was a
40-year-old coach walking down roads for the first time," a
close friend of Belichick's said on Monday. "Any time
intelligent people make mistakes, they learn from them."

New Stars Emerged in '99
Changing of the Guard

In NFL circles 1999 will be remembered as a year of monumental
change on the field. Five of the top 25 players in league
history are gone or on their way out. John Elway, Reggie White
and Barry Sanders left before the season began; Dan Marino and
Jerry Rice are on their last football legs.

But 1999 will also be regarded as a year in which it became
clear that no player is irreplaceable. After Marino went down
with a neck injury in mid-October, the Dolphins went 5-1 with
untested Damon Huard running the offense. Sanders, surprisingly,
retired the night before training camp began, but the Lions
improved from a five-win season to 8-8 and a spot in the
playoffs. Injuries shelved the Jets' Testaverde and the Broncos'
Terrell Davis early on, and though both clubs had little more
than pride to play for in the last two months, New York and
Denver arguably ended the season among the NFL's best dozen teams.

Ray Lucas, who started the season as a Jets special teams
player, finished it as a bona fide NFL quarterback, winning five
of his nine starts. With Davis the Broncos started 0-4; with
backup Olandis Gary they went 6-6. What's more, over his first
11 games Gary averaged the same number of rushing yards per game
as Davis had in his 65 career outings--101.9.

Likewise, the transition from one rushing champion, Sanders, to
another, Edgerrin James, and from one strong-armed quarterback,
Elway, to another, Kurt Warner, has been smooth. This isn't to
suggest that Warner will be the player Elway was. But Warner, a
65.1% passer who threw 41 touchdown passes and only 13
interceptions, had a better season than Elway ever had.

In fact, Warner was just one of an odd mix of free agents,
afterthoughts and has-beens who had better seasons than
three-time league MVP Brett Favre or three-time Super Bowl
champion Troy Aikman: Lucas, Steve Beuerlein of the Panthers,
Gus Frerotte of the Lions, Elvis Grbac of the Chiefs and Tony
Banks of the Ravens.

"I've thought over the years that the quarterback-shortage story
was a bit of myth," Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said last
Saturday. "People overreacted when the great class of 1983,
along with Steve Young, started getting old and falling out of
the game. If you need a quarterback and you don't get a
franchise guy near the top of the draft, then you have to find
one [elsewhere]. The key sometimes is having a coach with
security--something a lot of coaches don't have--who can stick
with a guy through some hard times."

"And your quarterback has to know you have confidence in him,"
adds Rams coach Dick Vermeil, who went 13-3 after Warner replaced
injured $16.5 million free-agent signee Trent Green in the
preseason. "When we lost Trent, everybody was wondering about
Kurt, justifiably. But I told our team, 'We're going to win with
Kurt Warner.' We had a good team around him, and the players
believed--and Kurt believed."

Most important, play-calling offensive coordinator Mike Martz
believed. From the first game he called plays designed to let
Warner throw rockets downfield. The Rams scored 526 points, the
third-highest total in NFL history.

So remember this about 1999: It may have been the year that some
aging stars said goodbye, but it was also a season in which new,
unexpected ones emerged.

Too Little, Too Late
Playoff-Worthy Teams

During a season in which an 8-8 record was good enough to get
two NFC teams into the postseason, here are four .500 teams who
would be wreaking havoc had they qualified for the playoffs.

--Jets. In their last four games they beat the playoff-bound
Dolphins (twice), the Cowboys and the Seahawks. With Testaverde
and the ascendant Lucas a potent 1-2 combination, with running
back Curtis Martin coming off a franchise-record 1,464-yard
season and with a soft schedule to feast on, the Jets should be
one of football's top five teams in 2000.

--Panthers. Beuerlein, who has been a free agent four times in
the '90s, enjoyed the 11th most prolific passing season in NFL
history. His numbers: 4,436 yards, 36 touchdowns, 15
interceptions, a 60% completion rate. Give coach George Seifert
one more year and a first-round draft pick, and the Panthers
should make hay in a suspect NFC West next season.

--Ravens. It's hard to get excited about a team that lost to the
mail-it-in Patriots in its season finale, but remember this:
Baltimore lost twice to the Jaguars, once by a field goal and
once after leading with two minutes left. In all other November
and December games the Ravens were 6-0, winning by an average of
19 points. With a top six pick in the draft (courtesy of a
shrewd trade with the Falcons last April), pass-minded coach
Brian Billick can acquire his quarterback of the future without
having to give up anything he'll need to compete in 2000.

--Raiders. Jon Gruden looked as if he'd just won Game 7 of the
World Series after a 41-38 overtime win at Kansas City on
Sunday. Gruden, one of the game's brightest offensive minds,
deserves a break after playing the schedule he did: opening at
Green Bay and Minnesota, flying 2,100 miles in December for a
Thursday game in Nashville and traveling on Christmas Day and
New Year's Eve. The Raiders finished 4-3 against playoff teams,
including a 45-0 devastation of the Bucs. The recently re-signed
duo of Tyrone Wheatley and Napoleon Kaufman gives the Raiders
the best inside-outside running combination in the AFC.

Worth Repeating
Quotes of the Year

Titans linebacker Barron Wortham, on rookie teammate and AFC
sack champion Jevon Kearse: "Bulk up the Road Runner, put him in
pads and let him go. That's what he's like."

Chiefs running back Donnell Bennett, on fans' complaints about
Elvis Grbac: "There are three things that all people think they
can do: run a hotel, fix a car and coach a quarterback."

WEAE radio's Bill DiFabio, to Steelers coach Bill Cowher at a
November news conference: "Bill, I have to go to Thanksgiving
dinner, and my Uncle Dino will ask me what's wrong with the
Steelers. Can you help me out and tell me what to tell my Uncle

Titans general manager Floyd Reese, on his team's Y2K
preparations: "Millenniums come and go. We're getting ready to
play Pittsburgh."

Touches Of Class
Remembering Payton

Rams running back Marshall Faulk wanted to wear number 34 on the
Sunday after Walter Payton died of liver cancer, but the NFL
told him changing numbers was against the rules. So Faulk
pledged $340 to the American Liver Foundation for each touchdown
he scored this season. By season's end his total was $4,080.

On Dec. 12 the Bengals' Corey Dillon was within reach of
Payton's single-game NFL rushing record, but Cincinnati coach
Bruce Coslet pulled him in the third quarter of a rout of the
Browns. Asked why he benched Dillon, Coslet said that Payton had
set the record in a 10-7 game.

COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER The intense Parcells rubbed some players the wrong way, but it's hard to argue with his results.

COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO Couch took his lumps in '99, but he also gained invaluable experience in his 14 starts.

Winners & Losers

Best Moves: Colts' Polian Pushed All the Right Buttons

1. Colts president Bill Polian hit the trifecta. He made three
highly questionable moves in the off-season: giving free-agent
defensive end Chad Bratzke a six-year, $30 million deal
(including a $9 million signing bonus); trading star running
back Marshall Faulk to the Rams; and bypassing Heisman Trophy
winner Ricky Williams in the draft to take running back Edgerrin
James. Well, Bratzke finished tied for third in the AFC in
sacks, James won the NFL rushing title, and the Colts finished

2. The Browns stuck with Tim Couch. The best thing 2-14
Cleveland did was give its franchise player 14 starts, during
which Couch proved to teammates what a tough leader he is. One
Browns player says he heard tackle Orlando Brown say on the
sideline just before rumbling back onto the field and shoving
referee Jeff Triplette on Dec. 19, "Gotta get back out there. My
man Couch is out there. We've got a deal." The deal: Brown would
never let Couch play without being there to protect his
backside. That's bonding that money can't buy.

3. Dick Vermeil kept the faith. Decision after decision came up
roses for Vermeil, and the Rams breezed to the NFC's best record
(13-3). After newly acquired starting quarterback Trent Green
was lost in the preseason with a knee injury, Vermeil didn't
pursue Jeff Hostetler as a backup quarterback because he
believed in a nobody, Kurt Warner. He acquired Faulk for a
relatively cheap price (second- and fifth-round draft choices).
He wisely turned over the offense to a brainy young coordinator,
Mike Martz, who helped Faulk have the best all-around season an
NFL rusher has ever had. For two years Vermeil had told anyone
who would listen that he had good players. Now St. Louis is the
NFC favorite to reach the Super Bowl.

4. The Chargers got tough with Ryan Leaf. The only way this
numskull might succeed is if the organization takes him by the
throat and persuades him to put in the time necessary to be an
NFL quarterback. The team took the first step in November, when
it suspended Leaf for four weeks for insubordination.

Worst Moves: Green Bay Made a Bad Read on Rhodes

1. The Packers hired the wrong guy in Ray Rhodes. After Mike
Holmgren left for Seattle, the Packers thought they were getting
a guy with the bite of Lombardi. Instead they got Guy Lombardo.
Rhodes made the mistake of treating his players like responsible
veterans. That style cost Rhodes and his coaching staff their
jobs after only one season.

2. The Vikings' Dennis Green blew his power play. He's a good
coach, as evidenced by his 83-53 career record, but Green
dropped the ball after owner Red McCombs handed him full
personnel authority last winter. Against the near-unanimous
wishes of his staff, Green passed on the best pass rusher to
enter the league in the '90s, Jevon Kearse, and instead used his
two first-round draft picks on quarterback Daunte Culpepper and
defensive end Dimitrius Underwood. Culpepper is a long-term
project, while Underwood lasted all of one practice before
quitting the team.

3. The Patriots wasted a golden opportunity. Remember those six
high draft picks that New England received as compensation when
Bill Parcells and Curtis Martin left for the Jets? None of the
six players selected with those choices finished this season as a
starter, and only three were still on the team.

4. Art Modell completed the Cleveland nightmare. When he moved
the Browns to Baltimore in 1995, the debt-laden Modell thought
he would strike it rich and be in a position to pass the team on
to his sons. But Modell's financial morass--he was still $185
million in the red at the start of this season--was so severe
that he had to sell a minority share of the team to a Maryland
entrepreneur who can exercise a clause in the contract to buy
out Modell in 2004. Four years ago Modell could have sold the
Browns to someone who would have kept the team in Cleveland,
made a mint and been a hero. Now he will probably lose the team


1. After the playoffs you will have seen the last of Deion
Sanders as a Cowboy, Dan Marino as a Dolphin and Jerry Rice as a

2. Super Bowl XXXIV, Jan. 30: Rams 33, Colts 27. Best big game
in years.

3. The Bears will be the breakout team of 2000. Chicago has a
young quarterback and an imaginative offense in place, and its
defense held 11 foes to 21 points or less in a 6-10 season. Now
the Bears enter the off-season a league-high $25.9 million under
the cap.

4. Barry Sanders will remain retired.

5. Seahawks honcho Mike Holmgren will let two players with
All-Pro potential but too much dog in them--wideout Joey
Galloway and defensive tackle Sam Adams--leave by way of free

6. Tackle Jon Runyan will re-sign with the Titans for $6 million
a year, landing the biggest deal for an offensive lineman in NFL

7. Five coveted free agents will be on the move: DE Simeon Rice
(Browns); DE Chuck Smith (Redskins); QB Jeff Blake (Ravens);
Galloway (Bears); and TE Ken Dilger (Jets).

8. Ryan Leaf and Steve Young will be opening-day starters in San
Diego and San Francisco, respectively.

9. The Browns and the Redskins will open the April 15 draft by
taking Penn State players 1-2: defensive end Courtney Brown and
linebacker LaVar Arrington.

10. Super Bowl XXXV, at Tampa, Jan. 28, 2001: Jets 19, Bucs 13.
Belichick finishes the job for Parcells.

Send your pro football questions for Peter King's mailbag and
read more from Paul Zimmerman at