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Dan Shaughnessy

Tuna and Dolphins in depths of NFL these days

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / September 21, 2008
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Bill Parcells is the man behind the curtain for the Miami Dolphins. He won't be at Gillette Stadium this afternoon, and you won't see him on TV talking about his new job, but the 2008 Dolphins are his latest gridiron reclamation project.

That's right, girls and boys; these Miami Dolphins are Tuna's Fish.

And like tuna fish left out in the sun, they stink.

The Dolphins have a new coach, Tony Sparano (not related to James Gandolfini, Sparano did work at Boston University for five years), a raft of new players (only 26 of 53 are left from last year), and even a trash talker (Joey Porter). But they are 0-2 and have lost 20 of their last 21 games. They've been outscored, 51-10, in the first three quarters of their first two games. They've had five head coaches in five years and a different opening day quarterback in each of their last six seasons. Miami's home sellout streak, dating to 1997, probably will be broken this season.

Over of his career, Parcells has rebuilt the New York Giants, the New England Patriots, the New York Jets, and the Dallas Cowboys. He specializes in jobs like this. But the Dolphins look like they're going to take some time.

We'd love to talk to Bill about everything, but he's not returning phone calls from the media. Since December, when he signed a four-year deal to take over as Miami's executive vice president of football operations, he has met with the media only once. Parcells doesn't explain his decisions, and owner Wayne Huizenga doesn't care. Palm Beach Post columnist Greg Stoda says Parcells has gone from "Big Tuna to Big Tune-Out."

It's a perfect job for the 67-year-old Parcells. He gets to live in Florida, where he already owned a home. He goes to practices, watches film, attends coaches meetings, and stays involved in all things football. He calls himself a team "guidance counselor." He makes $4 million per year. He does whatever he wants and the owner leaves him alone. Pretty good work, if you can get it.

Parcells always will be a hot button in Foxborough. The Krafts hate him with the power of a thousand suns (and the fury of a particularly spiteful son). Bill Belichick might choose Arlen Specter over Parcells if he needed a dinner companion. But local fans never should forget that it was the Almighty Tuna who forever changed the fortunes of New England's football franchise.

It's often conveniently ignored that the Patriots were already on the comeback trail when Kraft bought the team in January of 1994. The resurgence started one year earlier (Jan. 21, 1993) when the late James B. Orthwein hired Parcells as head coach. The introduction of the Tuna was a shocker. Winner of two Super Bowls as Giants coach, Parcells had been out of football for 19 months after heart bypass surgery. He gave the New England franchise instant credibility.

Orthwein was a St. Louis beermeister who had rescued the Patriots from the ridiculous reign of Victor Kiam. When he hired the Tuna, the Patriots were coming off four straight sub-.500 seasons (including a 1-15 and a 2-14).

Parcells's first team started 1-11 (with rookie quarterback Drew Bledsoe), but won its last four games. A year later, Parcells had the Patriots in the playoffs for the first time since 1986. Two years later, he had them in the Super Bowl. Then he left. Maybe you heard about it.

It's unfortunate that things ended so badly for the Tuna in Foxborough because Parcells was good for Kraft, just as Kraft was good for Parcells. (Speaking of Kraft, are Bob and Jonathan sitting on phone books in their luxury box during games? Every time I seem them on TV, they are a couple of feet higher than the people next to them.) The Kraft-Parcells divorce divided New England sports fans and media members. It hurt Pete Carroll and later made life difficult for Belichick when he tried to resign as HC of the NYJ.

In absentia, the Tuna has managed to make his presence felt in Foxborough. Since leaving New England, Parcells has competed against the Patriots with the Jets, Cowboys, and now Dolphins. His daughter, Dallas, is married to Scott Pioli, Patriots vice president in charge of player personnel. This means Pioli's daughter is Parcells's granddaughter. There is no mention of the unusual connection in Pioli's 2,000-word biography in the Patriots' press guide.

The Patriots are double-digit favorites today, and CBS thought enough of the game to send Ian Eagle and Solomon Wilcots. The Dolphins are bigger, stronger, and younger since Parcells came on board, but this rebuilding job is going to take more than three weeks.

When he was a young college coach, Parcells once described his team as "slow and friendly." The 2008 Fish are not slow, nor are they particularly friendly, but they're not very good, either. Not yet.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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