The not-so-much passion of Bill Parcells

Here's a bit of advice. Don't follow your heart. Or your passion, or your bliss. Follow your lead blocker instead. I'll admit it's not advice you're likely to see on a motivational poster. Neither Tony Robbins nor Dr. Phil would approve. And it certainly won't get you on daytime TV. But it might win you a Super Bowl or two. It worked for Bill Parcells.

Passion is for Hallmark cards and Harlequin romances. In the NFL, it's insight not ardor that wins ballgames. And that's what Parcells is interested in. Winning. And whether it's a football team he's coaching or consulting for or a thoroughbred he's bought on a hunch, Parcells doesn't just want to win, he makes wins happen.

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He works fast, too. In the 10 years before he became their head coach, the New York Giants had had one winning season. One. The team itself was an ill-assorted collection of poorly performing players forming a distressing whole. The front office might have been even worse. Four years after becoming their head coach, the Giants were Super Bowl champs.

How he'd do it? Hard work for starters. Parcells has never been afraid of heavy lifting. But plenty of coaches have strong backs, Parcells has strong convictions. So strong, in fact, that in his first season as the Giants head coach, he benched the starting quarterback. The result? A 12-loss season that almost got him fired. Which brings us to another of Parcell's best qualities -- his ability to adapt.

The year after that three-win debacle, Parcells re-installed the old starting quarterback and the Giants made the playoffs. They made them the next year, too. The year after that they went all the way. And that quarterback who was benched? He might have been scarred, but apparently the damage wasn't permanent. After all, Phil Simms was named the MVP of super Bowl XXI.

Of course, the Parcells-Simms screaming matches on the sidelines always made for great TV and juicy copy in the sports section. But the truth of the matter is that Parcells never complained about his quarterback's eruptions and he never made it personal. For all the intensity, decibels and daggers, Parcells was actually dispassionate about the tiffs. To him they were simply part of the process. A cost of doing business. And Parcells was in the business of winning. And since Simms maximized the Giants' chances for victory, Parcells was going to play him. Period.

Some coaches really don't know that talent is at the heart of the matter. Others know it but aren't very good at assessing it. Rare is the coach who is both a good judge of talent and a leader of men. Parcells has both those gifts and more. He builds rosters quickly, precisely because his eye for talent is so keen. And the team thrives because he understands the men he's picked. He pushes players with sly subtlety. He coaxes and cajoles or kicks keister depending not on his mood, but his team's needs. It's true, Bill Parcells, legendary tough guy, is actually a jock whisperer. Attuned to the rhythm and moods of his players like few coaches I've ever known.

He was also a great game-day tactician. Just ask the Buffalo Bills. The 1990 Giants had no business winning Super Bowl XXV. But they did have Parcells; it was his savvy game plan that carried the day beating one of the all-time great offenses mostly by keeping them off the field.

That's another hallmark of Parcells' teams -- they're smart. Almost certainly because Parcells himself is smart. If you called him an intellectual he'd laugh or glare at you. He'd certainly deny it. But it's true just the same. Just look at some of the big brains Parcells has had on his staff: Sean Payton, Tom Coughlin, Charlie Weis, and Bill Belichick. Super bowl winners all, and all men who use excellent analytical abilities to install sophisticated schemes. That's not a coincidence, that's Bill Parcells.

So, if his coaches bring some of Parcells with them to a new job, what does the man himself bring? In a word, a plan. A philosophy. Though he's no slave to ideology. He's smarter than that. Since no two situations are identical, Parcells doesn't try to impose a particular system on a team. He tailors one to the team he has, or will have after he's made a couple of signings. But whatever plan he adopts, you can be sure he'll move shrewdly and soberly while pursuing it. The bluster and bellicosity are all for show. A sleight of hand to keep the outside world looking one way, while he and his team are off somewhere else doing the real work of team-building. It's pretty neat trick. And Parcells has mastered it.

It's a labor of love, this business of turning around teams. Some people would even call it Parcells' passion. But if you knew Bill, you wouldn't dare. Better to ask him whether his team is better off using a one- or two-running back set. I guarantee you he's been thinking about it.

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