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Year in Review: 1997

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Tiger Woods takes
golf world by storm

Pedro Martinez signs
record deal with Sox

Latrell Sprewell
assaults coach, gets ax

Rick Pitino becomes
Celtics coach, president

Bill Parcells quits after Patriots' banner year

Martina Hingis
rules women's tennis

Florida Marlins win World Series

Women's pro hoop
meets with success

A Patriots surprise:
Super Bowl XXXI berth

Wil Cordero charged
with assaulting wife


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Check out the top news stories of 1997

An inside look at Parcells-Kraft

How they came to the breaking point in a tumultuous year

By Will McDonough, Globe Staff, 02/16/97

BILL PARCELLS BILL PARCELLS
(Globe File Photo)

FIND OUT MORE

Players take it in stride

It's no one-man show to Kraft

This is my story and I'm sticking to it because I lived it and know it is right.

It is my version of what happened between Patriots owner Bob Kraft and former Patriots head coach Bill Parcells, from a view that started right in the middle.

As background, it's important to point out why I was in the midst of this ridiculous football soap opera for the better part of the past year.

Bob Kraft and I have been friends for more than 20 years, or 17 years before he ever owned the Patriots. Our families have been very close. He has told me, and others, that I have been one of his best friends, and that he doesn't have many friends.

Bill Parcells and I have been friends since he was an assistant coach with the Patriots in 1980. For some reason, we just hit it off, even though he was just here for one season. All through his coaching days with the Giants, we stayed in contact and developed a friendship to the point where he, like Kraft, considers me one of his best friends.

In the interest of trying to show what was going on behind the scenes, it's best to proceed chronologically, starting with the final week of the regular season in 1995. The Patriots were in Indianapolis for a Saturday game, which they would lose to close out a dismal 6-10 season.

Before this, I had become aware through conversations with Kraft and Parcells of a growing, mutual dislike between them. Parcells considered Kraft a meddler and double-talker. Kraft regarded Parcells as an ingrate and someone who had no respect for him.

Patriots defensive coordinator Al Groh said that the night before the Indianapolis game, Parcells gathered all the coaches together "and told us he had a plan, and we should know what it was, because it concerned all of us. He said that he was going to meet with Bob and offer him $300,000 to get out of the final year of his contract" -- 1997. "He said that if Kraft did not want to do it, then he probably would not be coaching here in 1996. The next meeting we had, he said that Kraft agreed to it, so he was going to coach for one more year, and that was it."

Parcells originally signed a five-year contract with former Patriots owner James B. Orthwein in January 1993. In that contract was a clause that said if Parcells left at any time before the end of the contract, he had to pay the owner his salary for that season. Parcells was to be paid $1.2 million for the 1996 season and $1.3 million for 1997 (Parcells' contracts, as well as the amendments and assignment and acceptance deals Parcells signed and several correspondences among Kraft and/or his representatives, Parcells's representatives, and NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue were obtained by the Globe).

In addition, a marketing deal with Apex One, a clothing outfit, that gave Parcells rights to the clothing worn on the sidelines by Patriot personnel was bought out by Kraft in 1995 for $800,000, paid out over three years. The first payment, according to the June 1995 agreement, was for $400,000 in September of that year. The next payment was to be $300,000 on Sept. 16, 1996, and if Parcells was still the Patriots coach on that date, he would be paid an additional $100,000 in September 1997.

What Parcells wanted to do was buy himself out of the last year of his coaching contract ($1.3 million salary). In what he believed was a buyout agreement, Parcells signed in January 1996 an amendment to the clothing deal with Kraft that reduced the money Kraft owed him on the clothing deal over the last two years from $400,000 to $100,000 as long as Parcells was still coach on Sept. 16, 1996.

On Jan. 12, 1996, Parcells signed a separate amendment to his original employment agreement, which deleted the final year (1997) of his contract and the corresponding base salary of $1.3 million. But another paragraph in that amendment contained language later upheld by Tagliabue that kept Parcells from coaching anywhere but New England in 1997. It said:

"In the event that [Parcells] desires to continue as an NFL head football coach or other comparable position after January 31, 1997, and [the Patriots] desire to continue to employ [Parcells] as its Head Football Coach for an additional year through January 31, 1998 (hereinafter referred to as the `Extension Year'), then the parties agree (a) to extend the Employment Agreement for the Extension Year, (b) the base salary package for the Extension Year shall not exceed $1,300,000 for such year, and (c) the other substantive business terms of the extension agreement shall [be] on terms comparable to those contained in the current arrangements as amended."

The amendment had been drawn up by Richard Karelitz, Kraft's general counsel. Parcells later said he signed it without any counsel from his agent, Robert Fraley, or anyone else. That was his major mistake in all of this.

"It's my own fault," Parcells said later. "I was stupid. I should've been smarter than that."

Parcells thought he was buying out that last year of his contract for $300,000. But there were two separate amendments, and the one in which Parcells gave up the $300,000 for his clothing deal contained no language about his coaching agreement.

"I told Kraft he could use the money to help bring [Bill] Belichick here," said Parcells. "Bill was still in Cleveland, but everyone knew he was going to be fired, and I told Kraft we should get him."

The Patriots did sign Belichick as an assistant head coach in February 1996, and things simmered down between Kraft and Parcells. Or so Parcells thought.

Getting personnel

When Orthwein owned the team, Parcells was given a free hand to run the football operation. Kraft thought Parcells had done a poor job of selecting talent and put Bobby Grier, a coach most of his life with five years of experience scouting college players, in charge of player personnel in February 1995.

At the annual NFL meetings in Florida last March -- two months after the Parcells/Kraft amendments -- Kraft hinted to me that he might take personnel responsibilities away from Parcells. I told him he would be making a big mistake. I didn't know about the amendments, but I sensed from talking with Parcells that he was considering 1996 his last year as Patriots coach. I told him Parcells had filled every seat in the stadium, had made the Patriots a better team and deserved to call his own shots on the way out the door. Kraft later denied saying this to me, but he did say to me: "Don't worry, your boy will be happy." Meaning that Kraft would not undermine him regarding draft picks and free agents.

The first day of the '96 draft was Saturday, April 20. As has been my custom here for more than 20 years, I spent the previous three weeks calling teams, trying to get a fix on what the first round would look like.

On the eve of the draft, about 5 p.m., I called Kraft in his Boston office and asked whom he intended to pick in the first round.

"Well, it all depends on who is there," he said, "but my boys" -- Parcells and Grier -- "tell me we're going to take a defensive lineman.

"There's three guys we're interested in. Cedric Jones. Duane Clemons. Tony Brackens. We'll have a shot at one of those three."

Within 30 minutes of that conversation, I called Parcells and told him what Kraft said. "That's right," he answered. "One of those defensive linemen. That's where we need the help. We stink on defense."

I then asked him about Terry Glenn, because two people told me that Kraft wanted to draft the Ohio State wide receiver.

"We're not taking a receiver there," said Parcells. "We're going to get the defensive lineman and then get the receiver at the top of the second round. There still will be some good ones left around."

When I handed in my story that Friday, my sports editor, Don Skwar, told me that fellow Globe sportswriter Ron Borges was writing that Glenn would be the pick. It was my belief that Borges had spoken to Kraft that day. I told Skwar what both Kraft and Parcells had told me and said, "I wonder why Kraft is giving Borges a bad story."

I learned the hard way he did not; he gave the bad story to me.

The following day, my embarrassed chin was hanging on the ground when Parcells announced Glenn as the Patriots' first pick, seventh overall in the draft. From assistant coaches, I quickly learned that Kraft had walked into the room and called Parcells and Grier into another office.

"I didn't know what was happening," Parcells said later. "Then they said that Glenn was going to be the pick. I said we had agreed it was going to be a defensive player and that was it. I was mad as hell. I said, `OK, if that's the way you want it, you got it.' "

Grier and Kraft took over the draft. I asked Parcells if they told him in advance that they intended to do so. "They never said a word," he told me.

Less than 30 minutes after the Glenn pick was announced, I sought out Kraft, took him into the men's room and closed the door. I asked him what he'd been trying to pull the day before when he gave me the bull about taking a defensive lineman. He denied saying it. I said, "What do you think, I'm stupid? I don't know what you told me yesterday? You're lying."

All of a sudden, he started to talk in fast-forward.

"It wasn't sure for Glenn," he said. "It could have been Kevin Hardy. It could have been Cedric Jones. But when those guys were picked and we looked at our board, Glenn was the highest-rated player."

Then I told him, "You just made a colossal mistake. There isn't a chance in hell this guy stays here. You just made a fool out of him in front of all these people, and you didn't have the decency to tell him it was coming."

I wrote the next day that Parcells would not be back. It was also clear that Kraft and his son Jonathan were happy to show up Parcells in front of the media gathered for draft day.

"When the draft was all over," said Groh, "Bill called us all together and told us that this was done to publicly humiliate him and that he would never forget it."

Trust is broken

The day's events ruptured my relationship with Kraft. I couldn't believe he had flat-out lied to me. We talked a couple of days later on the phone, and he insisted I had misunderstood him. I didn't talk to him again for more than three months.

A couple days after the draft, I spoke with Parcells and asked him about the Christian Peter episode. The Patriots had drafted Peter, a defensive lineman from Nebraska who had been charged with several instances of sexual assault, in the fifth round, then dumped him two days later amid a public outcry about his past. Kraft said it was the NFL's fault for not supplying more background information.

"Bob sat right at the table," Parcells said later. "He heard everything there was to say about Peter. There was nothing about his past that wasn't discussed in detail. He sat right there and approved of what was done. It wasn't Bobby's fault."

In early May, Parcells, our friend Joe O'Donnell and I played golf at Oyster Harbors on Cape Cod. It rained hard, and we had lunch at the club while our round was delayed for more than an hour.

During the conversation, Parcells revealed that he had almost quit the week before, within 10 days after the draft.

"For about 24 hours, I made up my mind I was finished here," he said. "I didn't want any more to do with this guy. But now here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to get in the greatest shape of my life. I've already started to lose weight. I'm not leaving here 6-10. I'm going to come back here and prove I'm better than that.

"I did a lousy job. I know that. But next year we've got a chance to be pretty good. I'm just going to have as little to do with this guy as I can and just focus on coaching the team. Then when it's over, I'm out of here. I'm going to retire. This will be my last year coaching."

In late May, Chris Mortensen of ESPN broke the story about Parcells's shortened contract. I was on vacation but called Parcells. He told me about what had happened in Indianapolis in December '95 and how he had made the deal to bring in Belichick and get raises for a couple of the other coaches. The Globe published that version the next day.

On June 7, the Globe ran a story on the issue with comment from Kraft. In the story, he said the $300,000 Parcells gave up had nothing to do with getting Belichick. The story further said that other sources indicated that the refund had nothing to do with raises for the other coaches.

The story also said that Kraft and Parcells agreed that "if it were mutually beneficial for Parcells to continue coaching the Patriots after the 1996 season, he would be allowed to do so."

After the story appeared, I called Parcells. Kraft "knows what the deal was, and what the $300,000 was for," Parcells told me. "We talked about Belichick and the coaches." I asked him about the "mutually beneficial" stipulation, and he said, "That's right. If I want to come back, I come back. If I don't, I'm out of here free and clear. That's the deal."

The following week, June 14, O'Donnell and I flew to New Jersey to play golf at Parcells's club. Parcells looked great. He had lost more than 25 pounds. He was happier than I had seen him in years. Again, he talked about coaching hard and then quitting.

"I don't need the money. I got a house here. I got a house in Florida. I'm going to sell my house in Foxborough, spend the winters in Florida and the summers here."

For the second time in less than two months, Parcells said 1996 would be his last year coaching.

Reconciliation attempt

In late July or early August, Kraft phoned me at work one day and said he wanted to try to reconcile our friendship. We hadn't talked since two days after the draft, at my choosing.

He came to the Globe, picked me up in his car, and we drove to Castle Island in South Boston, where we sat on a bench facing the ocean and talked for more than two hours.

I told him he wasn't the guy I knew before he bought the Patriots. That guy never would have been involved in some of the back-door stuff he was doing with Parcells. He told me he was losing big money and was not happy. The reason for his unhappiness, he said, was Parcells. He claimed Parcells was two-faced, always talking behind his back, creating problems in the media for him. He was sincere.

I told him, "Then fire Parcells. You own the team. You spent all that money, and you're unhappy. Fire him."

He said, "I almost fired him right after the draft. I had it up to here with that guy. It just isn't any fun to go down there. I'm not having any fun. You keep telling me he won't come back. I'm telling you, it's not his decision. It's my decision. I own this team. He works for me. With me, it's a matter of respect. We give him everything he wants, and still he shows no respect for me."

Before we parted that day, I told Kraft I only wanted one thing from him. The truth. No more fast ones like the one he pulled in the draft.

"I didn't lie to you," he answered. "I just wasn't forthright. I thought if I told you about Glenn, you would tell [Parcells], and he would tell some other team, and we would lose Glenn."

During the season, Parcells was as happy as I've ever seen him. He liked his team. In his mind, he was keeping Kraft at arm's length and getting his job done.

Then, on Oct. 30, I got a surprising call from Kraft. "Your boy wants to coach again," he said. "Asked me about it today."

I said, "You're kidding me. He's always told me he's finished when the season is over."

Kraft said, "See how this guy changes? He does it all the time. Now he wants to coach again."

I called Parcells shortly thereafter, and he confirmed what Kraft had said.

"He was talking to me about all the stuff in the media about us not getting along and how it was hurting the franchise," said Parcells. "I told him, `OK, let's do something about it right now. We can end all of that stuff with a new contract. Let's talk right now.' He told me that I really didn't know what I wanted to do, and he didn't want to talk about it until the year is over."

In mid-December, Parcells told me he wanted to coach again. I was surprised. He said he was having fun, was in great shape, and was no longer worried about his health, which had been his No. 1 concern the previous three seasons. He told me that he instructed Fraley to call Kraft and start talking about a new contract.

"I called Kraft on Dec. 16," Fraley said this week. "I said I wanted to come to Boston to talk with him about a new contract for Bill. He said he didn't want to talk about a new contract for Bill and to see him when the season was over. That's twice he had the chance to sign Bill and decided not to do it.

"We got the message. He didn't want Bill to coach the Patriots again, no matter what happened. As it turns out now, even if he had won the Super Bowl."

The Super Bowl

As the playoffs started, I began to receive regular calls from Kraft, expressing concern that when the season was over and Parcells was gone, he would get hammered in the media. At this point, nobody -- not even Parcells or Kraft -- expected the Patriots to get to the Super Bowl, even though they had had a successful regular season. However, Kraft knew the fans would not be happy if Parcells walked away.

He constantly talked about "taking the high road." He didn't believe he and Parcells should be critical of one another.

I told him I didn't think Parcells would rip him when he left; he hadn't ripped the Giants when he stepped down in New York. I then asked Parcells about the situation. He told me to reassure Kraft that he would not be critical when he left.

I got them to agree that when the season was over, they would officially thank one another and wish each other well.

This all changed Jan. 12, the morning of the AFC Championship game in Foxborough between the Patriots and Jacksonville Jaguars. I was on assignment for NBC-TV and set up to tape an interview with Parcells that would air during our pregame show from 3-4 p.m. Even though the kickoff was not until 4, Parcells said he would only do the interview at 9 a.m. because we had done one at the same time the week before, and the Patriots had won. He didn't want to change the routine.

The next five hours would define the entire Parcells-Kraft relationship. When I arrived at 8:30, Parcells was ripping mad. He had seen a story in that morning's Boston Herald by Kevin Mannix, who wrote that he had learned an agreement between Parcells and Kraft gave the Patriots the right to deny Parcells permission to sign with another team unless New England received satisfactory compensation.

Mannix also wrote that the agreement "includes a provision that the Patriots would get compensation in the event Parcells signs with another team after the current season."

That employment amendment obtained by the Globe includes no such provision. In fact, compensation can't be written into a contract. Only the commissioner can award compensation.

Parcells was furious.

"Imagine, we're here today playing for the Super Bowl, and Kraft is planting this garbage in the paper," he said. "This is unbelievable. This never stops."

We did the interview on the field and returned to his office. He was still hot. It was all he could talk about. Finally, I told him, "Listen, I'll grab Kraft when he gets here, bring him into your office and straighten this thing out. He told me all along he wants to take the high road. Let's see what the deal is."

Parcells agreed. And then, completely out of character, he went to the locker room, dressed in his coaching clothes, and sat behind his desk for three hours waiting for Kraft. Parcells is superstitious about everything concerning game day and follows a schedule to the minute. Normally, he would have been in the dressing room with his coaches and players.

When Kraft arrived, I told him about Parcells's state of mind and asked him about the story, which I was sure he had planted.

"I had nothing to do with it," he said. "I never talked to the guy."

After he stopped to take messages from his secretary, Kraft went to Parcells's office with me. I closed the door and began the meeting by recounting the conversations about "taking the high road." Now, in front of each other, they agreed that this was the way to go.

Then Parcells extended his hand across his desk and said, "Bob, this is what I'm going to do. When the season is over, I say that it is time for me to move on. That I've enjoyed my time here. The fans were great. You treated me well. I wish you the best, and I even give you a plug for a new stadium. And the next day, you notify Tagliabue that I am free and clear with no further obligations to the New England Patriots."

Kraft withdrew his hand like a piston. I was stunned. He started talking in fast-forward.

"We shouldn't even be having this conversation," he told Parcells. "Our agreement is to talk when the year is over."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing or seeing. Where was the high road?

Parcells looked up and said to me, "I want to talk with Bob alone."


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