Parcells was brought up in an environment in which coaches got in athletes' faces. "Everybody who ever coached me was on me, coaching me hard," he says. "But, see, if you respect a player and he respects you, then you have a relationship, and in a relationship all commentary is allowed. I can say anything to Pepper Johnson, and he will understand where I'm coming from. Man, the things coaches used to say to me...."
Parcells is usually sparing in talking about his past. Questions about his days with the Giants or the Patriots or about any of his college jobs (there were seven between 1964 and '78) will often be met with a contemptuous, "That's ancient history." To an inquiry about Thanksgiving Day football memories at a press conference that morning, Parcells snapped, "It doesn't matter." But, as coaches often do, he enjoys talking about his coaches, the men who shaped his life, the unflinching discipline he got in basketball from Corcoran, the inspired tongue-lashings he got in football from the late Tom Cahill, his high school coach, who later hired Parcells to be linebackers coach at Army. With an almost childlike delight—and with laundered language—he remembers the day that one of his coaches yelled to him during football practice, "Parcells, I wish you were a piece of crap out there because then at least somebody might slip on you." He conjures up the Thanksgiving Day game in his senior year at River Dell during which, after an audible he called near the goal line didn't produce a touchdown, Cahill turned him toward the field, put his arm around him and said, "Parcells, you s.o.b., the next time you make a call like that, your fat ass is going to be on the bench for the rest of your career, which fortunately isn't too much longer." After the game, which River Dell won, Bill's mother, Ida, who rarely saw him play, said to him, "Wasn't that nice of Coach Cahill to console you like that."
"See, whatever I give as a coach, I took as a player," Parcells says. "It happened to me, and if it happened to me and I turned out all right, then my players can take it too." He got the same lessons at home. His father, Charles, known as Chubby, was an outstanding athlete but did not stage-father his son's sports career. Chubby turned Duane—young Parcells picked up "Bill" in his teenage years after he was continually mistaken for another boy named Bill, and he liked that moniker better than Duane—over to the coaches and told them to keep him in line. "Don't be afraid to give him a kick in the backside," Chubby told Corcoran.
Parcells deconstructs himself according to the grand clichés of sport: He was the kid who shoveled snow off the neighborhood courts so he could shoot hoops in the dead of winter; he had no-nonsense coaches with hearts of gold who taught him discipline; he learned perseverance from a father who sent him back out to fight after he took a licking (from Danny Astrella, who's still a friend) because "you gotta go back out there, son, you always gotta go back out there." But there's no reason to believe that these experiences weren't real, no reason to believe they aren't the foundation of this hard man who coaches with so much confidence.
"The only players I hurt with my words are the ones who have an inflated opinion of their ability," says Parcells. "I can't worry about that. I'll call somebody 'dumb' or 'stupid' if they make a dumb or stupid play. I don't know any other word for it, and if they don't like the word, that's too bad.
"Mind games? Look, I don't think about them. The ability I have as a coach is to see the end picture. I've been around enough to know what it takes to get a team to reach its potential, and I want players who want to reach their potential. Because I feel I can see the end picture, I'm less tolerant than I used to be, less tolerant of mistakes and players who aren't giving everything. I'll tell you when I knew that was the way I had to be: right after I almost got fired [following his rookie season with the Giants]."
Twenty minutes has become 50, and Parcells is starting to watch the clock. The afternoon is slipping away, and there are game films to analyze. A question: Is there a player whom he regrets getting on too much? He thinks about it for a good 15 seconds and mentions Mark Collins, a safety who was a defensive standout in the Giants' 1991 Super Bowl win and is now with the Seahawks. "Maybe I got on him a little too much, went a little too hard," says Parcells. "Maybe I never let him know what a good player I thought he was. But, you know, I ran into him recently and he said to me, 'Thank you for being the way you were. You made me a better player.' "
As regrets go, that isn't much.
It's Simplistic to suggest that Parcells has a .580 winning percentage solely because he's a control freak whose players work hard for him. He has an approach that has proved successful and from which he won't be deterred, and woe to the owner or front-office type who stands in his way. It's revealing that a coach of whom Parcells speaks highly is his former Philadelphia Eagles rival, Buddy Ryan, a man of bluntness and bluster who's out of football. "Buddy had a philosophy, and he pursued it without fear," says Parcells. "No fear!"
As elucidated by several of his current and former players, other Parcells watchers around the league and Parcells himself (sort of), here are the keys to the Parcells approach.