“That’s what the field’s gonna be like on Sunday,’’ Parcells scolded.
Parcells’s first big acquisition was quarterback Drew Bledsoe, a guy who’d played in snowstorms. The Patriots had the top pick in the 1993 draft and Parcells selected Washington State’s strong-armed quarterback.
When Parcells’s first Patriots team took the field in September, players were wearing new colors and a “Flying Elvis” logo. Don’t blame Tuna for the death of old-school Pat Patriot.
“I’m a pretty traditional guy,’’ said Parcells. “I would have retained the Patriots uniforms that we had when I was there in 1980 [as an assistant under Ron Erhardt] if it was up to me. But all that change was already in place by the time I got there.’’
His first team started 1-11, but won four straight at the finish.
“We got slaughtered by the Jets [45-7] in the fourth week of the season and [I] kind of had a little heart-to-heart with the team after that and they kind of responded. It started to pay off the last month of the season and we knocked the Dolphins out of the playoffs in the last game of the season. As poor as the season was, that really helped us.’’
The finale at Foxboro Stadium was a rare sellout. Three weeks later, Parcells had a new boss when Kraft bought the Patriots from Orthwein.
“I was happy about that because at least I felt like we were going to have some stability and the threat of the team moving had been left behind,’’ said Parcells. “I could see that he was going to do things to try to enhance the franchise.’’
In the first year of the Parcells-Kraft partnership, the Patriots started 3-6, then won their final seven games and roared into the playoffs. On New Year’s Day, 1995, in the wild-card round of the playoffs, Parcells’s Patriots were beaten by Belichick’s Cleveland Browns, 20-13.
Which team had the better coach that day?
“Apparently, they did,’’ said Parcells.
The Patriots were national media darlings as the prepared for the following season — Parcells’s third in New England. Some experts picked them to win the AFC East; instead, they regressed, finishing 6-10, nowhere near the playoffs.
“I think the team, and maybe to a degree the coaching staff, kind of had a little bit of an inflated opinion of where we were in this world,’’ admitted Parcells. “You wind up being taught a lesson. That’s what’s humbling about it. We were taught a lesson.’’
Parcells’s final season was wildly successful . . . and tumultuous.
In February 1996, Parcells reached out to the man who’d been his defensive mastermind with the Giants: He hired Belichick as assistant head coach of the Patriots. It was reported that Parcells forfeited his own salary to bring Belichick on board — a report disputed by Kraft. Parcells today says he can’t remember the details of the arrangement, but fallout from the report suggested a coach-owner rift in Foxborough.
The relationship became untenable two months later when Kraft orchestrated a draft-day, first-round coup d’etat, ordering personnel director Bobby Grier to select Terry Glenn instead of Parcells’s choice, a defensive lineman.
“That was when I kind of found out that I was going to be a little on the back burner when it came to personnel,’’ said Parcells. “Someone else was going to be calling the shots. That was something that bothered me because I wasn’t 100 percent confident in the people that were doing it. When you have a new ownership, there’s a little politics that go on within an organization. People try to curry favor with the organization. That’s what happened. Certainly I was upset with what had transpired. People had convinced Bob that the quarterback-receiver tandem was the thing that was going to elevate the franchise, and the case in point was Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. So when a player like Terry Glenn was available we wound up picking him. It worked out very well. As soon as we got him, I was glad to have him. I did my best to make him a good player and we did have a lot of firepower.’’
On the second day of the ’96 draft, the Patriots selected Nebraska linebacker Christian Peter. Three days later, after numerous reports surfaced of Peter’s assaults against women, the Patriots dropped the defensive tackle. Folklore holds that the dismissal of Peter was owed to the objections of Myra Kraft.
“I don’t know,’’ said Parcells. “I wasn’t talking to Myra Kraft. I don’t know what the reason was. It was mandated and that’s what happened. But I will tell you this — I had a good relationship with [Nebraska coach] Tom Osborne before that, and it was never quite the same after that. I was very disappointed in that.’’Continued...