"The thing about Lombardi," Corcoran says, "is that he didn't know a great deal about basketball, but he was a great basketball coach. I think Bill possesses many of the traits Vince had. They're disciplinarians. They're committed to excellence and totally dedicated to coaching. And they both placed a priority on the coach-player relationship, which I think is the most overlooked aspect of coaching. Whether it's the '30s, the '60s or the '90s, human nature doesn't change. Players look for help, look for direction, look for a way to win, and they'll follow the coaches like Lombardi and Parcells who can lead them."
Corcoran taught Parcells the same tough lessons he had learned from Lombardi. River Dell had a 17-point lead over Park Ridge in Parcells's sophomore season when a Park Ridge player convinced an official that the ball had gone out of bounds off a River Dell player. "What are you listening to him for?" Parcells screamed. The official whistled Parcells for a technical foul. Corcoran berated Parcells, and then benched him for the rest of the game. "No one player is bigger than the team," Corcoran said. River Dell lost. When Parcells showed up for practice the next day, Corcoran kicked him out of the gym. Not until Parcells had apologized to the team did Corcoran let him return. Lesson learned.
Find a way to win. No one player is bigger than the team. One man's clichés are another man's dogma. Lombardi's teachings became Corcoran's, and those lessons live today in Parcells. He has been a run-oriented offensive tactician at each of his three head-coaching stops—the Air Force Academy, the Giants and the Patriots. But he's not inflexible. Burdened with mediocre running backs in 1984 while with New York, Parcells directed Phil Simms to a 4,044-yard passing performance over a 9-7 regular season. The Giants then added a win in the wild-card round of the playoffs. The year before, they had been 3-12-1.
Recalls Simms, "Bill said to me before the opening game, against Philadelphia, All right, Simms, take some chances. Throw it deep. Attack them.' I'm thinking, Wow, does he mean this?" He did. Simms threw for 409 yards and four touchdowns that day.
Over the next few years New York built a mashing, run-blocking line, earning Parcells his reputation for presiding over boring, grind-it-out teams. "We'd be up 14-3 in the second quarter," Simms says, "and he'd give me the kill-the-clock sign. He'd point his index finger like a gun at his watch. I'd run the 45-second clock down to one and just milk the game away."
Last year in New England, Parcells again found himself with a dreadful running game. He adjusted, and Bledsoe wound up setting a single-season record by throwing the ball 691 times. "The object of the game is to win," says Parcells, "and I've never been concerned with exactly how we do that. There are certain basic ways I coach that I won't compromise on, but I believe inflexibility is one of the worst human failings. You have to look at your team, decide what you do best and win with what you have."
Parcells motivated and cajoled and angered his Giant teams. "One day at practice—I think it was '88—the defense is bouncing me around," Simms recalls. "The line's playing sloppy, and it's causing me to take some shots. Bill explodes. 'You —— linemen stink!' he says. Then he turns to me and says, 'Simms, it's your damn fault. If you weren't so chummy with those guys, they'd have more respect for you, and they'd fear you, and they'd never let you get hit. You're an idiot!' I think Bill's full of it. Then I'm driving home, and I start to think, god, he's right. My linemen aren't scared that I'll get ticked at them. I needed to be more of a jackass to them. It sounds cold, but it's true."
Simms, who retired after the 1993 season, continues: "I look back, and I realize something that Drew may take four or five years to realize. Bill Parcells is the best thing that ever happened to my career. I had to be tough. The strong survive. It's war out there. And Bill got us ready for war."
Mac Bledsoe does not seem to be the kind of guy who would subscribe to that "football is war" stuff. However, he likes what Parcells is doing with his son. "I'm behind Bill," Mac says. "It's obvious he's a great coach, or he never would have had the success he's had. I've heard more than one TV guy or newspaper writer talk about Bill yelling at Drew on the sidelines as if that's their whole relationship. But tell me what happens all week long—not just for the three hours that the camera's on them on Sunday. Then you can judge their relationship."
On a mild evening in June, Parcells is sitting in an empty radio booth on the press level at Trenton's Waterfront Park, watching the Double A Thunder play the Canton-Akron Indians. His annual three-week vacation at the Jersey Shore is proceeding just fine. Lots of beach. Lots of golf. Some minor league baseball. There is no TV and no phone in the room at the guest house where he and his wife, Judy, stay every year.