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Dan Shaughnessy

The Tuna bites, talks about coaches

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / January 31, 2012
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INDIANAPOLIS - The voice on the other end of the phone is gruff and familiar.

“Keep me out of this one, will ya?’’ Bill Parcells says. “Don’t stir up any [expletive].’’

He is the almighty Tuna and he’s up for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday. After rebuilding the Giants, Patriots, Jets, Cowboys, and Dolphins, Parcells, now 70, finally appears to be done with the National Football League. He does a little work for ESPN, goes to the track, and waits for spring training baseball near his home in Jupiter, Fla.

He’s also the man who knows more about Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin than just about anybody. He had both Super Bowl coaches on his staff from 1988-90. They all won a Super Bowl together in 1990.

Parcells is a Jersey guy. He won both of his Super Bowl rings with the Giants. He parted from the Patriots in a hail of acrimony, talking about “shopping for groceries,’’ and arguing contract language with Bob Kraft. He defected to the hated Jets, then took Curtis Martin with him. We assume this means he’s rooting for Coughlin and the Giants this week.

“That’s what everybody says, but that’s not necessarily true,’’ says Parcells. “I’m riding the fence. I don’t root. I look with interest and I really look with close interest at this game. I’m anxious to see what these guys do, and what their players do. It’s an interesting dynamic and matchup. It’s more interesting to me because I know the characters involved, but it’s also interesting because it’s happened before. It’s a pretty good rivalry. Boston-New York and all that, that’s great.’’

It’s always more interesting to talk to a guy who’s no longer on the job. Belichick and Coughlin this week stubbornly will insist that what happened in Super Bowl XLII has nothing to do with Super Bowl XLVI. Now that he’s beholden to no one, Parcells can acknowledge the obvious: this game is more interesting because it’s happened before.

Belichick and Coughlin were on a Parcells staff that included Ron Erhardt, Charlie Weis, Al Groh, and Romeo Crennel. Coughlin was the Giants’ receivers coach. Belichick was the defensive guru. Both cut their teeth on special teams.

“I’m proud of both of these guys,’’ says the Tuna. “I have a very high regard for both of these coaches and they have many of the same characteristics in terms of work ethic, thoroughness, competitiveness, getting the information to the players. Their personas are a little different. I get along with both of them. I actually talk to Bill more than I talk to Tom. That just happens to be the circumstances. Bill has a condo in my building in Florida, so I see him in the winter when the season’s over. During the season I talk to him five or six times.

Parcells says Belichick is more reserved than Coughlin. More laid-back. He says it was easier to read Coughlin than Belichick, saying both are “serious-minded fellas.’’

“They’re good guys. They came up the hard way, both of them. I knew Bill’s father well. [The late Steve Belichick was an assistant football coach at Navy]. Bill learned a lot from being around his dad, the work ethic. I identify with Tom. I started at Hastings College at Division 3 in Nebraska and he started at Rochester Institute of Technology. After practice at Hastings, I had to do the uniform wash in Cold Power. Remember Cold Power? That’s how far back that was. You had to cut the fields. You had to line ’em. We had to build lockers. That’s what Tom did at Rochester. He started the whole program.

“Tom played at Syracuse and Syracuse had an equipment man who had been an old Army guy. Syracuse always wore gray socks and the reason was because the equipment guy could get them cheap from Army surplus. When we played Tom’s Jacksonville team in the AFC Championship [in 1997], I mailed him a pair of gray socks. The message was, ‘Don’t forget where you came from.’ And he never has.’’

Parcells’s Patriots defeated Coughlin’s Jaguars, 20-6, to advance to the Super Bowl.

The Tuna has far more history with Belichick. They were together for a decade with the Giants, a season with the Patriots in 1996, and another three seasons with the Jets.

“When I first met Bill he was special teams coach,’’ recalls Parcells. “He has a very good special teams background. I asked Ray Perkins [then Giants head coach], ‘Can I have this guy on defense a little bit?’ Because I knew he was going to help.’’

How is Parcells’s relationship with Kraft these days?

“I feel like I have a good relationship with everybody,’’ says the Tuna. “I don’t see Bob too much, but when I have in recent years, it’s been very amiable and cordial and nice.’’

When Parcells coached the Giants, his assistants were not allowed to talk to the media. That was easy for Belichick and Coughlin. And the proteges have followed the method of their mentor.

Belichick is defense. Coughlin is offense. Both are considered old school.

“If you’re talking about trying to teach your team to play smart, tough, disciplined football, then call it old school,’’ says Parcells. “The game changes, it evolves. It used to be single wing, then the T-formation. Then the Wing T. Then the veer, then the wishbone. But the things that cause you to win and lose don’t ever change.

“I keep a little chart I call the Discipline Index in the NFL. It’s a combination of turnovers, sacks, and penalties. In other words, bad plays on offense. The team with the fewest bad plays this year was the Green Bay Packers. Who had the best record? The Packers. New England was second on the Discipline Index. The Giants were ninth and that’s about what their record shows. The teams that do things that allow you to win, and don’t do things that cause you to lose, those are the teams that play for the championship. You can call it Old School. But it’s not. The same things cause you to lose and allow you to win.

Belichick and Coughlin are legendary disciplinarians. They have a hammer that baseball and basketball coaches don’t have.

“It just football,’’ says Parcells. “It’s a humbling game and someone can always push you down. In football, you don’t come up being a 6-9 power forward in junior high school. Some of those basketball players dominate from the time they are grade school players until they go to the pros. That doesn’t happen in football very often. There’s always some place, some time when you get your [butt] kicked. It’s a humbling game and it’s humbling for coaches, too. There’s always someone out there that can get you. That’s why I still love the game and have a great interest in it.’’

Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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