Friends. Teacher-pupil. Competitors. Mentor-mentee. Frenemies.
Over the past forty years, Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells have shared a number of experiences — and periods of silence — while at three different organizations: the New York Giants, the New England Patriots, and the New York Jets. But however onlookers may want to classify their seemingly up-and-down relationship, the two coaching legends vouch there are mutual feelings of love and respect.
“I look back at those years with Bill as some of the best years of my life — some of the best years of my career,” Belichick told ESPN. “Did we agree on every single point? No, but that wasn’t the point.”
ESPN’s upcoming 30 for 30 film, “The Two Bills,” documents the pair’s relationship from inception to present day. The 90-minute production traces the trajectory of their overlapping careers through archival footage and interviews, from Super Bowl XXV highlights to Belichick’s press conference announcing his resignation as head coach of the Jets.
Sitting in the Giants locker room at MetLife Stadium, where it all began, both men spoke candidly about their times together. Here what we learned from the upcoming documentary that will air on Feb. 1 at 9 p.m. on ESPN:
Giants players were initially skeptical about Belichick.
Although Belichick’s name is essentially synonymous with the “greatest of all time,” that high level of regard has been developed and earned over time.
After working with the Baltimore Colts, Detroit Lions, and Denver Broncos, Belichick was received tepidly when he was hired by the Giants at the age of 27.
“When Belichick first came in, he was with Dave Jennings timing the punts, and I’m like, ‘Who is this guy?'” retired Giants linebacker Harry Carson told ESPN. “A lot of coaches, you can look at them and tell that they’ve played the game. Belichick was the complete opposite. He didn’t look like a football player. You sort of disregard him because he’s not really one of us. He’s a coach, but he’s not really one of us.”
After six disappointing seasons in New York — four with a losing record — Parcells promoted Belichick from special teams and linebackers coach to the team’s defensive coordinator in 1985.
“I didn’t like that,” retired Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor said. “I thought that was the wrong decision. I went to Bill Parcells and said, ‘Listen, man. Hey, you got to be kidding me.’ Bill said, ‘Oh, yeah, he’s a defense guru.’ I’m like, ‘Man, this guy has never played football in his life. He’s probably used to ping pong.'”
But Parcells assured Taylor and others that most of the 3-4 defensive schemes the Giants ran back in the ’81 and ’82 seasons were designed by Belichick. The team went on to win two Super Bowls (XXI, XXV) and post a franchise-best regular-season mark (14-2) in 1986, with Belichick as their defensive coordinator.
“It took a couple of years, but Bill Belichick really earned our respect,” Taylor said. “He proved to me that he knew what he was doing … I cannot remember ever going into a game where we were not mentally prepared.”
Players used to call Belichick ‘Doom.’
Given Belichick’s demeanor throughout his tenure with the Giants, Parcells coined a rather appropriate nickname for the up-and-coming coach. Players soon caught on.
“We used to call him Doom,” Taylor recalled. “Because every time he walked around, it was end of the world. ‘Ah, you didn’t make this play. Ah, you didn’t go over here.’ Everything was end of the world.”
Former Giants special teams coach Romeo Crennel said he doesn’t think Belichick took any issue with the gloomy moniker.
“With Belichick, looking at the negative side and preparing for the negative has made him a better football coach,” Crennel told ESPN. “He prepares for all the things that can go bad. To tell you the truth, I think he kind of halfway liked the idea that people were calling him ‘Doom’ because that way he didn’t have to be nice to anybody.”
Parcells knew how to deliberately push people’s buttons.
According to former Giants assistant Charlie Weis, “the one thing Coach Parcells was by far the best at, from anyone I’ve ever seen, was button pushing.”
“He knew what buttons to press for every individual in the organization,” Weis said.
The documentary features several moments that show Parcells getting frustrated on the sidelines and dishing out little jabs to players or coaches. During one game, he told Belichick via headset, “Hey, don’t you start giving me any s—, Belichick, or your ass will be out in the f—— parking lot.”
“I don’t remember that, I really don’t,” Parcells said upon watching the clip. “But I was regretful of saying a few things I said. I said so many of them, I don’t remember any of them at all because it’s a collective group.”
The 76-year-old, however, isn’t denying any of his comments from back in the day.
“I’m sure it’s true,” he said. “Listen, we’ve both been through it, and we know what that means. It really doesn’t mean anything. He knows it didn’t mean anything. And I certainly knew it didn’t mean anything.”
Belichick didn’t seem to be fazed by any of the harsh directives, either.
“Bill demanded a high standard and that’s what he should demand,” Belichick said. “You’re getting yelled at, but you’re in the heat of the battle, stuff happens. You don’t have time for a conversation. You don’t have time to debate. You give an order, you accept an order, and you do it.”
As Parcells put it, “sensitivity wasn’t in play very much.”
Parcells says one of his ‘great faux pas’ on television came while calling one of Belichick’s games.
Following his abrupt retirement after Super Bowl XXV, Parcells became a football analyst for NBC Sports. And one of his first assignments was the Browns-Bengals game during Week 3 of the 1991 season — Belichick’s rookie year as head coach of the Browns.
“Cleveland was down, with about two minutes to go,” Parcells said, recounting a story that Belichick had yet to hear. “I said on the air, ‘We still have time to win this.'”
His fellow commentator looked at him and said, ‘We?'”
Though he was no longer a part of a coaching tandem with Belichick, it turns out Parcells was correct. Browns kicker Matt Stover notched the game-winning field goal in the final moments of the contest.
‘The league office was not as pure as I might have thought’
Prior to Super Bowl XXXI, rumors began swirling that Parcells — now head coach of the Patriots — would be returning to the New York Jets following the end of the season. New England’s team owner Robert Kraft was not pleased with the chatter.
“It just blew my mind, to be honest,” Kraft told ESPN. “How does he go accepting other jobs somewhere?”
“I probed the NFL office, and the undercurrent was that having Parcells back in New York running the Jets was good for the NFL,” he continued. “It also told me that the league office was not as pure as I might have thought.”
After Parcells’s departure, Kraft maintained that it would be “a competitive disadvantage” for the Patriots if he were to continue coaching in the AFC East. The result was a multi-year agreement with the Jets for both Belichick and Parcells: Belichick would immediately assume the role of head coach but would become the assistant head coach once Parcells was cleared.
“I think the Jets just figured they’d be cute,” Kraft said. “What always bothered me is I think the league tacitly blessed it, and they told them how to do it.”
The Jets ‘never received’ the faxed interview request for Belichick from Kraft.
The Patriots had fired Pete Carroll at the conclusion of the 1999-2000 season.
After two Super Bowl titles with the Giants, five seasons as the Cleveland Browns head coach, and a brief stint with the New York Jets, Belichick seemed like a fitting candidate for Carroll’s replacement.
“We sent a fax to the Jets, saying we wanted to interview Bill Belichick as the head coach,” Kraft remembers.
But the process never really picked up any steam.
“To be frank, I think Coach Parcells saw it and didn’t want to lose Bill,” Kraft said. “We never got a reply. They sort of played it that they never got it.”
“I saw the fax come in, was kind of taken aback by it,” Jets director of pro personnel Scott Pioli told ESPN.
Pioli said he took the fax down to Parcells’s office, which prompted an impromptu staff meeting where Parcells announced his resignation. Belichick immediately ascended to the position of Jets head coach, but according to sources at the time, what he wanted was “a chance to talk to the Patriots.”