Parcells a Football Life

Re: Parcells a Football Life

Postby Veeshik_ya » Mon Mar 16, 2015 8:23 am

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Re: Parcells a Football Life

Postby Veeshik_ya » Mon Mar 16, 2015 8:56 am

Pardon the multiple posts. Something wacky going on with the forum today. Will try to delete, but don't know if I can.
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Re: Parcells a Football Life

Postby mwald » Thu Dec 24, 2015 4:40 pm

Parcells: A Football Life

The Good

Parcells: A Football Life by Bill Parcells and Nunyo Demasio, a reporter and feature writer whose work has appeared in various newspapers and magazines, is an autobiography that reads like a biography. Based largely on interviews with Parcells himself, Demasio tells his story in the third person. It’s an effective technique because, as the saying goes, when you talk about yourself nobody believes you.

A Life” being the hot sub-title in biographies these days, in this instance it’s not just dust jacket spin. From the days Parcells lived a few blocks away from Vince Lombardi as a youth to attending the 1958 Giants-Browns playoff at age 17 to suiting up for Wichita State then advancing through the coaching ranks to the top of his profession, this is the story of a man who spent his life around football.

The book both affirms and contradicts the popular image of Bill Parcells as a caustic, mercurial loudmouth who brow-beat his way to Super Bowl titles as a coach and positions of power as a talent evaluator and club executive.

A man with a genius for simile, Parcells’ biting, confrontational attacks straight to the solar plexus of psychological weakness were so effective that his players found the physical toll it took to win less painful than his mental abuse. Parcells wasn’t shy around management, either. Illustrating the maxim that authority is taken, not given, Parcells grilled Patriots’ brass as thoroughly as they questioned him, and presented a list of thirty-eight demands to suitor Hugh Culverhouse.

“I’m not for everybody,” Parcells admits in the book.

But he also balanced toughness with tenderness. Quarterback Phil Simms, who viewed Giants head coach Ray Perkins as forbidding, welcomed Parcells’ promotion to head coach, saying, shockingly, “I need some stroking.” And Parcells’ development of Curtis Martin, aka “Boy Wonder,” from tragic childhood to Hall of Fame is one of the more touching sections of the book. When Parcells sensed a player wanted coaching and was willing to pay the price, he gave them everything he had. Parcells’ genuine role as life coach to the players and coaches under him is one of the revelations of the book.

He also was more of a thinker than given credit for. As a first year college assistant Parcells studied college football’s heavyweight coaches. He read Bill Libby’s The Coaches, a 247-page volume profiling seventy-two coaches in sports ranging from auto racing to track and field. Its preface, describing various coaching styles and personas, so moved Parcells that he laminated a condensed version, becoming his bible of sorts.

An audience with the legendary Woody Hayes early in Parcells’ career allowed him to absorb the great’s thoughts on staff structure, practice setup, and the importance of field position. Parcells later said of Hayes, “He was a disciplinarian; he was demanding. But he also had a great sense of values, and he imparted those to people. In the short time I was with him, I learned a lot.” It was a prescient comment considering how closely it foreshadowed the coach Parcells would later become and what the fruit of his coaching tree would later say of him.

That Parcells and Hayes, described in the book as one of the best tacticians in football, didn’t discuss strategy or tactics shouldn’t be overlooked. Woven throughout Parcells are anecdotes of Parcells deemphasizing scheme’s role in winning football games, how he carefully structured his staff, how he viewed football as a battle for territory, his methods for developing talent, and the importance of the correct psychological approach to games.

• A firm believer that football success stemmed more from understanding human beings than X’s and O’s, Parcells’ approach was to counter what he termed “the psychology of results”, or four situational pitfalls teams fall into based on the outcome of the last game played.

• While some coaches nursed their scheme like a baby, Parcells viewed play calling as less a way to move up and down the field and more a method to dictate tempo and control momentum.

• When Bill Belichick opened a game with a few exotic looks that didn’t work, Parcells told him to quit showing off.

• When Sean Payton’s complicated offense caused the Cowboys’ execution to regress, Parcells forced him to simplify it.

• When Payton was named head coach at New Orleans it was Parcells who noted that head coaching jobs often occurred because of challenges inherent to the organization. “You’ve got to figure out what has kept the Saints from winning…or three years from now they’ll hire someone else.”

• The right talent was important (“make an exception and pretty soon you have a team of exceptions”), but Parcells believed that talent not handled right would soon be out of the league. “If I had put in Romo in his first year and just let him play he would have been out of football in a year and a half.”

Lacking the calling card scheme that makes it easy to celebrate influential coaches like Bill Walsh, the book makes a strong case for Parcells’ influence being no less impressive, just more intangible. Leadership, discipline, psychology, personnel and coaching staff structure is the land where Parcells’ genius resides.

Critics of Bill Parcells point out his lack of success without Bill Belichick, but a reading of Parcells: A Life does a lot to change that notion, mainly via a thorough tracing his coaching tree. It’s no stretch to see Super Bowl winning coach Tom Coughlin as cut from Parcells’ cloth, but more surprising is the degree to which Parcells influenced offensive guru Sean Payton, the man who, like Parcells, turned around a perennial loser.

And then there’s Bill Belichick, one of the greatest coaches of all time and the man who probably has more to do with arguments undermining Parcells’ legacy than any other. Parcells didn’t win without Belichick but Belichick won without Parcells, is the popular sentiment. Defending against that perception is a slippery slope for a book co-authored by the coach himself, and Parcells: A Football Life wisely avoids protesting too much. But it counters it two ways:

1. By focusing on Parcells’ vastly underrated turnaround jobs at New England, Dallas and Miami (as an executive) sans The Hoodie.
2. By adroitly exploring Parcells’ mastery of game by game psychology. It’s difficult to see the needling, heady Parcells losing motivational grip on his team’s trigger finger down the stretch and blowing a chance at an undefeated season like Belichick did in 2007 (at the hands of Coughlin, another Parcells disciple).

At minimum, this book sees the Tuna emerge from the Parcells-Belichick debate looking better than he did going in.

***

Parcells: A Football Life is about his life, not just his coaching life (although it’s hard to separate the two), and the authors deserve credit for revealing some of the warts. The focus on personal issues is one of the strengths of the book and gives occasion to its finest writing.

Parcells was a philandering husband, a fact he takes responsibility for and which led to his eventual divorce. He was also a poor father early on, skipping his daughters’ events even when football didn’t conflict. A passage where his daughter describes watching former players profess their love and loyalty for a father she barely knew is heartbreaking.

The chapters describing Parcells’ heart surgery and funeral of his brother, Don, are two of the most powerful sections of the book; it was hard not to be emotionally impacted reading them. The section describing Curtis Martin’s background, rookie training camp, preseason, and first NFL game was inspriring.

The section describing Parcells’ actions the morning and afternoon leading up to Super Bowl XXI was magical. We’re there with him, experiencing the awe and wonder as he did, relaxed and confident, soaking it up, letting the game come to him.

Unlike some biographies that devote most of the pages to the subject’s greatest accomplishment then plow through the rest, Parcells: A Life is a full account. The reader is reminded that his NFL influence extended up until very recently.


The Bad

When this book was released most blurbs focused on locker room dish, the behind-the-scenes machinations between Parcells, the organizations he worked for, and organizations he danced with before leaving them at the altar. It’s all there, with details juicy enough to make you feel like a squirrel in the rafters holding a cup to the ceiling boards. But that was Parcells’ career, so it’s not a fault of the book that a good portion of its pages are devoted to it.

Not so easy to overlook, though, is how the book lets Parcells off the hook for leaving championships on the table.

The sections describing how Parcells prepared his Giants and Patriots teams for their Super Bowl games are striking in their disparity. Arguably overmatched in in both Super Bowl XXV and Super Bowl XXXI, Parcells lacked the focus and preparation in his third Super Bowl that he brought to his first and second. Falling prey to exactly what he preached against to his players—worrying about himself more than the team—he allowed himself to be distracted.

We’ll never know if Parcells and Robert Kraft’s bad behavior—throwing sand at each other like kids—sabotaged the Patriots chance for victory over Green Bay. The facts presented by the book sure suggest it, though.

In fairness, the authors’ explanation for Parcells’ dalliance with other teams while he was under contract go a long way to portray Parcells as not quite the mercurial mercenary he’s been painted as.

But not long enough.

Parcells bumped up against a few difficult personalities in his coaching career, situations unfair and antithetical to success on the field. But was his experience drastically different than those faced by most NFL coaches? He gutted through it when he coached the Giants and was rewarded with a second Super Bowl title. But his gastrointestinal tolerance dwindled after that and, declining a spoonful of his own medicine (“losing will take a little from your credibility, but quitting will destroy it”), he walked away from the Patriots, Jets, and Cowboys just as he had them positioned for greatness. By reporting the facts of these situations but treading lightly on their impact to Parcells’ legacy, the book fails.

Parcells’ place in history relative to the other NFL coaching greats also could have been better explored. Having won two Super Bowls and coached in three, coached three different teams to winning career records and four to playoff appearances, being one of only thirteen men to coach at least sixty games with two or more teams and achieve a .500 or better record with more than one of them and, of that last group, being one of only four men (along with Jimmy Johnson, Don Shula, and Tom Coughlin) to win more than one Super Bowl, Parcells shares rare territory with an elite group of winners. But the book explores none of this. It only briefly touches on the arguments that put him in the Hall of Fame. A coach with this track record deserves more than a cursory review in this regard. Parcells’ legacy would have been better served had Demasio solicited the opinion of a few of his 1980s and 1990s peers and other coaching legends that are still around.

Nitpicking: The All-Parcells Team at the end of the book was a lazy addition. Nothing more than a list of the three best players from Parcells’ teams at each position, it reeks of a way for Bill to get his players’ names in print.

Only slightly better is the list of Bill Parcell’s Unsung Opponents. Potential abounds, but the comments are about as profound as the doodles on the back of a phone book.

The gravitas of this book is worsened by these two lists.

The Verdict

Expertly describing how Bill Parcells achieved greatness but barely exploring his place among the coaching greats, Parcells: A Life doesn’t quite scale the heights reached by David Maraniss’s When Pride Still Mattered (an obvious target), but it’s an impressive work and one of the best NFL biographies of recent times.

Epitomizing Einstein’s quote about moving from complexity to simplicity, Parcells’ story is one of substance over style, of essence over detail, of intelligence over cleverness. His coaching tenets were brilliant in their simplicity, as true yesterday and today as they will be tomorrow. They’ll outlast scheme. They’ll outlast strategic and tactical evolution. That’s what this book is about.

Of course, it takes a personality to pull it off.

With an intuitive sense for the principles that govern human events and an iron grip of the forces that motivate people, Parcells would have dominated any profession, making this NFL biography universally applicable and one of the few I’d recommend to someone not the least bit interested in football.
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