As former NFL head coach Bill Parcells prepares to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this August, his legacy and greatness have not gone unnoticed by league observers.
In ESPN’s recent countdown of the top 20 greatest coaches, the Big Tuna ranked 11th. That is high praise considering the legendary names that were ranked ahead of him, whom all would unanimously agree belong in the top 10 – Curly Lambeau, Joe Gibbs, Tom Landry, Bill Belichick, Paul Brown, Chuck Noll, George Halas, Don Shula, Bill Walsh and Vince Lombardi.
Parcells’ head coaching career spanned 19 years – the final four as coach of the Dallas Cowboys from 2003-2006.
Of all the teams he coached, it is with the Cowboys that he had the least success, and it is the prime reason why the NFL Network ranked him 7th on its list of the top 10 motivational coaches in history back in 2012, and not higher. Various observers interviewed on the segment said that Parcells would have been rated higher if his results in Dallas were better.
However, penalizing him for not having more success in the Lone Star state is rather unfair.
The main reason is because of the talent drop off that was in Dallas, especially in his first year there, compared to Parcells’ other stops along his first class ride to Canton.
When Parcells arrived in 2003, the Cowboys were coming off three consecutive 5-11 seasons under Dave Campo. But with a simple change in culture, Parcells – a guy who had been around the block and seen it all in the NFL – propelled what was for the most part a lousy roster to a 10-6 record and a playoff berth.
It was the true definition of getting the most out of your talent and doing more with less. He may have been older and his hair may have been a full white by then, but the 62-year-old Parcells hadn’t lost his coaching touch or ability to motivate.
In 2004, the Cowboys went 6-10 with 17-year veteran Vinny Testaverde at quarterback and past their prime receivers Keyshawn Johnson and Terry Glenn, 9-7 in 2005 with Drew Bledsoe at the helm and 9-7 again in 2006 with Tony Romo taking over for Bledsoe at halftime of a Monday Night game against the New York Giants in late October.
While not the greatest track record, the impact he had on the Cowboys cannot be overstated.
Under Parcells, the team drafted Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff, Bradie James, Marion Barber and Terence Newman, and signed Romo. All of those players would become the core of the Cowboys teams up until 2011, and Romo, Ware and Witten are the leaders of the current team, all likely to end their careers in Dallas.
The Cowboys also saw their first playoff berth of the 2000s in Parcells’ first season, and very well could have won their first playoff game since 1997 if Tony Romo hadn’t bobbled the snap on a 19-yard field goal attempt with 1:19 left in the Cowboys’ 21-20 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the 2007 Wild Card Round.
Parcells was also instrumental in Romo’s early development, constantly drilling into Romo’s head the importance of protecting the ball and having an internal “time clock” – knowing the right time to get rid of the football to prevent sacks or knowing when to throw the ball away if there was nothing developing downfield.
Surely, a look at the Cowboys’ record under Bill Parcells doesn’t wow you – 34-30 in four seasons – but his impact cannot be underestimated. He changed the culture of a team that was perennial losers in the post-Triplet era of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin, instilling a disciplined culture while also being responsible for bringing in the core group of future Cowboys.
The statistics might not be there for Parcells as Cowboys’ head man.
But don’t confuse that with impact.