Soon after hiring Bill Parcells, the New England Patriots discovered that he's . . . .
By Joe O'Shea
"You guys high-five every (expletive) thing," barks Bill Parcells, whose training camp has been fairly likened to basic training. "Wait until you beat somebody!"
But there is no denying it's a positive sign. Patriot high-fives have been a rare commodity in recent years, with the troubled franchise collecting only nine wins over the past three seasons. But these spirited exchanges are exactly what Parcells, who orchestrated two Super Bowl title runs during his eight-year reign as head coach of the New York Giants, envisions in his master plan for the Patriots' future. This battle plan is no great secret at 'Camp Parcells': Owner James Orthwein brought Parcells into the fold to build a Super Bowl contender in Foxboro.
How Parcells goes about this unenviable task, though, is a closely guarded secret. Bryant College security guards patrol the roped-off perimeter of the field, and even the public relations staff is armed with walkie-talkies. Parcells has kept the press cordoned off in a white tent beside one of the practice fields in order to prevent reporters from hearing what he has to say, yet his distinct bellow is easily heard above the din of clashing shoulder pads.
In spite of all the cloak-and-dagger secrecy permeating the camp, it's tough to ignore the positive vibes at Camp Parcells -- a feeling as fresh as the new logo on the Patriots' silver helmets.
"There he is," says a father to his young son at Bryant. "With the towel around his neck, black shirt and blue shorts -- Parcells."
Everybody wants a piece of the new coach. While fans at Bryant fumbled with their rosters to distinguish the rookies and free agents, Colonel Parcells, after a 19-month hiatus from the sidelines due to health concerns, is the focal point of these new -- and hopefully improved -- Patriots.
"I feel good about it," Parcells says of his return to coaching after a two-season stint as an analyst at NBC Sports. "I missed football. I missed the competition. I just look forward to it and try to build a new team. ... I missed the camaraderie with the players."
"Let's go, Drew!" Parcells yells at the first pick in this year's draft, quarterback Drew Bledsoe. "This isn't homecoming against Oregon State!"
The Parcells humor achieves its desired effect, delivering a very pointed message to the players, also drawing an audible chuckle from the gathered throng. Parcells is loud. He is a quick wit. His love of football is obvious, but don't let the humorous facade kid you.
Parcells is serious, very serious, about winning football games. After all, this is a man who, after the Giants toppled the San Francisco 49ers in the 1990 NFC title game, told the press, "Winning is better than Christmas morning, winning is better than sex." He is being paid handsomely (6 million for 5 years) to coach, and Parcells lets virtually nothing interfere with his highly regimented day.
"The days go quickly. I've always been one that operated best without (much) time," says Parcells, who grew up in Hasbrouck Heights, N.J., five minutes from where Giants Stadium now stands.
It's a facet of Parcells' personality that the press has learned to live with, as the coach strictly allots 20 minutes per day to speak with the fourth estate.
"He understands how his job works," says Boston Globe reporter Ron Borges. "He keeps it pretty tightly monitored because his time, to him, is pretty important. He says, I think, only half-kiddingly, 'I'd rather talk to football coaches than you guys.'"
That's almost all Parcells did after signing on. Aside from appearing at a small number of press conferences, Parcells holed himself up in his Foxboro Stadium bunker to talk to coaches and prepare for the draft. He was rarely sighted between then and camp. The press even posted an MIA bulletin in the Boston papers when Parcells wasn't sighted on Day 1 of camp.
But since Camp Parcells opened, it's been all business. He often picks out a handful of players to harass, and rides them for most of the day. But, as Patriots cornerback and special teams star Reyna Thompson knows all too well, all the pointing, yelling and posturing does have an intended effect.
"I would say that the key thing is that now when he blows up, it's more direct where it used to be like a hand grenade going off or something," says Thompson, who spent two years with Parcells with the Giants. "Now it's real pinpointed. It's like a direct hit on the target.
"But he has been a little bit -- I don't want to say calmer," Thompson says, navigating around any potential verbal landmines, "but a little bit more smooth than I recall. It's not a situation where he'll go up and whisper in a guy's ear. I think part of the reason that he's so boisterous and to the point is so that the other guys can benefit from the experience also."
Rookie running back Marvin Patton drops a last-option pass on the left flank, but Parcells sees things a little differently -- as he usually does. "Tommy, what are you waiting for?" Parcells screams at quarterback Tommy Hodson, who checked off his first options downfield and finally settled for Patton.
Parcells tolerates little short of perfection and 100 percent effort, even in practice. When he wants to drive a point home to the whole team, he yells; otherwise he takes a player aside for brief personal instruction. Either way, he never fails to deliver his message.
"He's very easy to play for from the standpoint that you know exactly what he expects, you know exactly what he wants" says Bledsoe. "He's very up-front about it and then you can either do it or you don't do it. If you do it, he's happy with you and you can play. If you don't do it, then you're out of here."
Just ask Reggie Redding, a solid contributor to last year's 2-14 team, who was a little unclear on the Parcells concept. Redding, a third-year offensive guard, was shown the door when he checked in overweight and out of shape for camp.
"C'mon Kevin," Parcells screams at second-year running back Kevin Turner. "That's the way to play!"
There is no room for slackers at Camp Parcells. The team that works together wins together. The fields are constantly abuzz with activity, in sharp contrast to prior coaches' languid workouts. One of the more unique sights at camp is players -- with shoulder pads on -- working out on the stationary bikes saddling the two practice fields. In the Parcells plan, the 'no-pain, no gain' mentality wins championships.
"To play perfect you have to practice perfect and that's what we do up at practices," says Pro Bowl tight end Marv Cook. "We work hard, but we work smart. Everything we do is geared toward some purpose and you know what you're doing, so there's a purpose to the hard work. ... I think everyone realizes what our goals are and what our mission is."
Fostering team unity is a major part of that mission. A major step in that direction was the hiring of strength and conditioning coach Johnny Parker, who held the same position with the Giants for nine seasons. Parker's highly successful year-long training programs limited injuries and built a fraternity-like atmosphere in the weight room, which Parcells maintains as the last bastion of privacy for the players and coaches.
"This schedule is a murderous schedule," Parcells admits. "Two-a-days for six straight days is a tough schedule for any football player. I would say a lot of the teams in the league are on a more moderate schedule now than we are, but I think that we need more work than some of the teams. That's why we elected to push."
"You're like Rip Van Winkle, Calvin!" Parcells screams at guard Calvin Stephens. "You're waking up!"
In spite of all his denials to the contrary, Parcells often engages in games of mental chess with his players, always prodding, always pushing. A Parcells practice is an exercise in mental as well as physical preparation.
"Every day I'm always asked what do you think he's going to do here?" Thompson says. "Is he really mad at you when he's like that? I feel like I've been the liason between what's going on in the coach's head and what the players are expecting. But he's thrown a few curveballs at us."
Like when Parcells held the players after practice to run two 220-yard windsprints during the first week of camp. "Here is the deal," Parcells says. "I'm looking for the players that have some staying power.
"That is part of the deal in pro football," he adds. "If they can't take the whole deal -- the physical part of the practice, the mental part of the practice, the hot weather, the coaches harassing them, those kinds of things: If they can't get through that and do it, then they don't have enough staying power. It happens every year. You see what happens to some guys, they can't do it."
Almost five full months after the Giants edged the Bills, 20-19, in Super Bowl XXV, Parcells found that he didn't want to do it anymore, announcing his retirement from the Giants on May 15, 1991. Although he denied health concerns as a factor in the decision at the time, he subsequently underwent three non-surgical heart procedures before undergoing open heart surgery to clear a coronary artery of plaque and scar tissue in 1992.
But he wasn't unemployed for long. NBC Sports, hoping his uncanny knack for judging talent and outgoing personality would translate well to television, signed him to a lucrative deal just over a month after he left the Meadowlands. He not only brought his intensity and eye for detailed preparation, he also carried his idiosyncratic superstitions into the studio.
"I did a game in New York once when he was coach," says former colleague Bob Trumpy of NBC Sports. "Well, he came in (to a conference room)and said, 'Trumpy, get on the other side of the table.' I said okay, but I asked why. He said 'I'm the coach and that's just the way it is. That's the wrong side of the table to sit on.' It's insane, but those are the things that set some coaches apart from others. He's probably the most superstitious person I know.
"It was never going to work out for him in television," adds Trumpy. "Parcells was a lot more involved in football than 35-second clips."
Although his broadcasting career was fluorishing, Parcells never truly quelled the rumors of his desire to return to coaching.
"If I feel right," Parcells told the New York Times before his bypass operation at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, "I want to do it again."
First Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Hugh Culverhouse came knocking, then Green Bay Packers general manager Ron Wolf. But, prior to his surgery, Parcells snubbed both opportunities, feeling that the time wasn't right for his return.
"You went from Eight-Ball to Four-Ball and now you're back to Six-Ball," Parcells says jokingly to Leonard 'Eight-Ball' Russell after a nice catch out of the backfield.
While a pain in his heart prevented a return to the field, it was a pang in his healthy heart for coaching that has brought him back to New England, where he began his pro career as Ron Erhardt's linebackers coach in 1980. His passion for the game and its players is evident in his on-field demeanor.
But in spite of Parcells' extroverted personality and reputation as a "my-way-or-the-highway" coach, an enigmatic air still surrounds him. He's a fiercely private man, protective of his family and personal life. Yet one man shares a position in both worlds: Parcells' River Dell High School (N.J.) basketball coach, Mickey Corcoran, who was seen at Bryant and will be a frequent Foxboro visitor.
"He gave me a good fundamental background about handling and dealing with people," Parcells says of his greatest coaching influence.
It's a talent which will be put to the test during this season, since one of the major challenges facing Parcells is harnessing the wide array of personalities and egos on this team.
It's a skill he has learned -- and put to use -- well.
"He's very organized and very discipline-oriented," adds Cook of Parcells. "He's a great leader. ... He's been (to the Super Bowl) twice and he's won it twice. As a player, that's what your goal is. That's what we're excited about. ... It's Bill Parcells. The players love to play for him."
What more can a coach ask for?
Copyright 1990-present Joe O'Shea, Jr.