BILL PARCELLS cultivated a couple of hobbies outside of football over the past few years. He loved going to spring training baseball games, particularly Cardinals games with his buddy Ron Wolf, the former Green Bay general manager. He loved the horses, too. He finished building a retirement home in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., last year, but by the time the Saratoga meet opened in late July, training camp was already looming. "Football's year-round now," Parcells, 65, said on Monday, a few hours after telling Dallas owner Jerry Jones he was retiring as coach of the Cowboys, a job he'd held for four seasons. "Anytime you take a break, you feel guilty."
And so a most unusual 19 year head-coaching career ends. (Though with Parcells one should never say never; twice he swore he would not coach again only to take jobs with the Jets and the Cowboys.) His 183 career victories—13 more than Paul Brown and 21 more than Joe Gibbs—are ninth on the alltime list. He is the only coach to take four teams to the postseason. (He also led the Giants and the Patriots.) His my-way-or-the-highway approach produced quick results: At all four stops he made the playoffs in his first or second season.
Parcells—who didn't reveal his future plans (but TV work or consulting for a team are possible)—was the master of the motivational mind game. Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor struggled against Rams tackle Irv Pankey, so before the teams' 1989 playoff game Parcells handed Taylor an airline ticket and told him to fly to New Orleans and give the return ticket to Saints linebacker Pat Swilling. "He's the only guy who can handle Pankey. You can't," Parcells said. Taylor played angry, beating Pankey for two sacks. "It's amazing how deep he was able to get into your head," Cowboys QB Tony Romo said on Monday.
His legacy is more than his quick wit, or his quick fixes. It's his coaching tree. "I don't know how good the tree is," Parcells said, "but it's got quite a few branches." Former assistants Bill Belichick (now the Patriots' head coach) and Sean Payton ( Saints) were in the NFL's final four this year, and three other former aides—Cleveland's Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini of the Jets and Tom Coughlin of the Giants—are running NFL teams. The angelic-looking Payton credits Parcells with making him tougher. "I told him if he was afraid of confrontation, he was going to have a problem being a head coach," said Parcells, who walked away several times but never mellowed.