Parcells: A Football Life
“You’re not on scholarship anymore. No one’s going to wake you up in the morning, but just like any other guy in business, I’m interested in production and reliability. I don’t want guys who I have to get out of jail, or don’t know where they are,” shouted the Giants head coach addressing rookie players in the first practice of the 1983 NFL season. In this superb collaborative biography (a memoir told in the third person), Bill Parcells and Nunyo Demasio chronicle the football icon’s storied career as he doles out a no-nonsense, personal brand of tough love to players during his formative “gypsy” years coaching at seven academic institutions (including Army, Florida State, Texas Tech and the Air Force Academy) and nearly 20 years transforming the struggling New York Giants, New England Patriots, New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys into winning franchises.
"This compelling biography is not simply the story of one coach who served as a teacher, disciplinarian, father figure, leader and mentor to many. Rather, it offers multiple perspectives on the history of the sport, its teams and individual members with captivating portraits of key central figures..."
Parcells’ captivating story begins in the quiet, tree-lined community of Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, where he grew up relishing sports (“I loved getting up to bat...or putting the ball in the bucket, or tackling some guy”), then excelling as a young athlete on Oradell junior and high schools’ baseball, basketball and football teams. Parcells was a standout for his über-competitiveness, “hair-trigger temper” and cerebral approach to play. He thrived under the guidance of River Dell High basketball Coach William “Mickey” Corcoran, a gifted former student of the “temperamental disciplinarian” Vince Lombardi, who emphasized a strong defense, and football coach Tom Cahill, who favored a powerful running game.
Parcells’ affinity towards sports continued during his college years, playing linebacker for Wichita State University’s team. Named to the College All-Star team in his senior year, he was selected by the Detroit Lions as an offensive tackle in the 1964 NFL draft, but later decided against pursuing a professional career (with a wife and toddler to support, it seemed too financially risky), opting instead for a defensive assistant coach position at Hastings College.
The 23-year-old rookie coach had a Faustian desire to increase his knowledge of the game, researching the work of college football heavyweights such as Ohio State’s Woody Hayes and Oklahoma’s Bud Wilkinson. Parcells was eager to learn how to organize drills, formulate strategies and help players develop --- albeit with high intensity, combative, “fire-and-brimstone” fervor (e.g. demonstrating to his defensive units how he wanted them to perform by manhandling his offensive players). Beyond the organized practices and scrimmages, Parcells and other assistant coaches shared numerous additional responsibilities, from cutting the gridiron grass to constructing lockers and cleaning uniforms. “Everybody did everything,” Parcells recalls. Regardless, “I was a coach and I loved it,” he adds, “I couldn’t get enough.”
Parcells maintained this insatiable appetite for knowledge throughout his professional coaching career, receiving formative lessons on personnel assessment and talent acquisition from Bucko Kilroy and Mike Holovak in New England. He also gained a deep understanding of the business side of the game from pas-de-deux contract negotiations, labor disputes (the 1987 NFL strike was the worst shutdown in American sports history), and difficult “divorces” (involving Patriots owner Robert Kraft and, later, Jets coach Bill Belichick).
PARCELLS provides a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at NFL life on and off the field --- from grueling off-season conditioning programs to thrilling regular season games, including the epic NFC and AFC championships and memorable Super Bowl XXI and XXV wins. This compelling biography is not simply the story of one coach who served as a teacher, disciplinarian, father figure, leader and mentor to many. Rather, it offers multiple perspectives on the history of the sport, its teams and individual members with captivating portraits of key central figures such as Lawrence Taylor, Belichick, Tom Coughlin, Terrell Owens and Curtis Martin.
Reviewed by Miriam Tuliao on November 21, 2014