|Dolphins' VP Bill Parcells remains in the game|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 10 July 2008 10:18|
On this day, Parcells has driven his black Cadillac sedan to a nearby golf course, where he's holding court with three people inside the clubhouse bar. Harness races blare from one television. Another is showing soccer. A third, the one nearest to him, is tuned to a St. Louis Cardinals game, no coincidence since they're managed by Parcells' close friend Tony La Russa. He leans back in his chair, telling a story. Looking tan and relaxed, Parcells is clearly at ease.
``The happiest place I know,'' the longtime NFL coach says of Saratoga Springs, repeating a refrain he's used before.
It's a strong claim that leads to questions, which must be asked. He is 66 years old. He's financially secure. He loves to golf and watch horses and go out to dinner, and perhaps no place on earth offers a better combination of those three hobbies than Saratoga Springs, which has the famed thoroughbred track less than five minutes from Parcells' front door. Servers at his favorite haunts, like the West Side Stadium (where pictures of him hang on the bar and his autograph is displayed in the corner) and the Wishing Well, fawn over him. Jets, Giants and Patriots fans, and there's an abundance of backers of his former teams in these parts, treat him like a deity.
Why, then, is this not enough to leave Parcells satisfied?
Why, then, did he get lured back into the NFL and accept the challenge of rebuilding the Miami Dolphins from the front office, taking over a team that went 1-15, the worst record in the league, last season? Why is he compelled to start over and try to fix a franchise with more holes than his beloved home golf course? Why can't he simply spend his summer mornings at the track and watch his trainer friends like Nick Zito and D. Wayne Lukas work out their horses and enjoy the relaxing pace of retirement?
Parcells doesn't hesitate before offering the answer.
``I like football,'' he says. ``I've always liked it. The clock's ticking for guys like me. When you're 66, you know you can't do it forever. Sometime you'll have to get off the train. But I still like it and I've been very fortunate to be allowed to be associated with this game and people in this game for a long time. So that's why.''
So that's why his Saratoga fix is, once again, temporary. Another training camp awaits, his first with the Dolphins, his first since taking a four-year, $20 million assignment from Miami owner H. Wayne Huizenga to make his team, somehow, someday, a Super Bowl contender.
Parcells insists that he isn't the star of this show, that he's just the chief overseer of coach Tony Sparano and general manager Jeff Ireland, his hand-picked lieutenants for this Miami mission, both of whom came with him to South Beach from Dallas.
``It's not my program. It's Jeff Ireland's and Tony Sparano's program,'' Parcells insists. ``They're the ones that are charged with the day-to-day dealings with the Miami Dolphins. I'm just trying to get the structure in place. That's what I'm charged with doing. That's my job. And it's not the same kind of job I've had before. And people can't separate that.''
But most players believe, even though Parcells won't be the on-field boss, he'll be the principal architect of everything the Dolphins do going forward.
``It's a whole different attitude,'' Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter says. ``Right now, when you have a coach like Parcells coming in and his coaching staff, it's just a whole different atmosphere with the respect level that you have for Parcells. You know what he's capable of doing. He's got the fire lit up under everybody.''
That's a Parcells tradition.
It's what happened with the Giants, with the Patriots, with the Jets and then with the Dallas Cowboys. All four franchises had losing records the season before Parcells arrived; each of them, within two years of him running things on the sideline, was in the playoffs.
``I would like to think that it would be similar here as it was there,'' Dolphins offensive coordinator Dan Henning says. ``But as Bill would say, they don't sell insurance for this stuff. You've got to get it done.''
Yet in some respects, this might represent Parcells' biggest challenge. Miami hasn't been to the playoffs in six years, the longest drought in franchise history.
``One thing I know about Bill: When he goes someplace and he leaves someplace, the place is better after he left than when he got there,'' Henning says. ``That's a good sign.''
One day earlier this offseason, Parcells arrived at the Dolphins' complex at 6:15 a.m. Ireland was already there, waiting for him, ready for a chat. Parcells would never say this, but the relationship between the two isn't like boss and employee. More like professor and student.
They talk about the roster, what the scouts are reporting, about the salary cap. Always looking ahead, always trying to figure out how this turnaround can happen.
``We still have holes on this team,'' Parcells says. ``So we'll look under rocks. We'll find what we like. We won't ever stop flipping rocks.''
Parcells has this gruff reputation, something he does little to defuse. He's supposedly this all-intense, old-school-football, no-time-for-anything-else sort of guy. And at one time, that characterization might have been accurate.
But somewhere along the way, he mellowed.
During Parcells' training camps with Dallas, it wasn't uncommon to find the coach in his office between practice sessions, staring at the television. Film study? Not exactly. He'd be watching races from Saratoga.
He moved into the house with the huge porch and three-car garage two years ago, and neighbors didn't know what to expect. One night shortly after Parcells arrived, two daring couples who live on the quiet cul-de-sac went ahead with a welcome-to-the-neighborhood tradition.
In the dark, they covered Parcells' lawn with pink flamingos.
And their hearts all skipped a beat when Parcells and girlfriend Kelly Mandart arrived home from dinner in time to see them nearby.
``We were discovered and we knew it, so we decided to walk over and fess up,'' says Jim Oplinger, a ringleader of the flamingo troupe. ``He was most gracious. He said it was a nice neighborhood tradition. I told him to tell me when he wanted the flamingos to disappear, but he left them up for a few days.''
The next night, Parcells attended a barbecue with his new neighbors.
``He's a very nice man,'' Oplinger says.
Oplinger is a retired engineer with an affinity for math and science. He tutors high school students because he can't bring himself to sit around and not work. And that's sort of the role Parcells fancies himself in with the Dolphins, a tutor to the likes of Sparano and Ireland.
``He still loves football and he believes he can build a team,'' Oplinger says. ``He's doing what he loves.''
Saratoga just isn't where Parcells lives. It's his home. He's already taken part in one charity golf event there this year, to raise money for children, and will be back for another event to support NFL alumni in August, during the heart of the Dolphins' training camp schedule.
Still, Parcells' focus is fully on the task in Miami. The 2008 season hasn't started, yet Parcells often finds himself planning things already for 2009 and beyond, sorting things into three categories: ``musts,'' ``needs'' and ``wants.''
His attitude, among both players and coaches - most players, anyway - is infectious.
``They brought coach Parcells in to win,'' Dolphins quarterback John Beck says. ``That's why I play football. I play football to win so when they brought somebody into win, I felt it was a great opportunity because that is what they are doing with this place. They want to turn this place around, get this place back to the way it was.''
It has not been a perfectly smooth welcome to Miami for Parcells.
One of his first decisions involved the Dolphins parting ways with longtime defensive star Zach Thomas, who, ironically, ended up with the Cowboys. And then came the whole ``Dancing with the Stars'' brouhaha, where 2006 defensive player of the year Jason Taylor appeared on the TV show for several weeks and missed Miami's offseason program, allegedly raising Parcells' ire to the point where he snubbed the team's best player during an encounter at the team's training facility. Parcells said he simply didn't realize Taylor was nearby, but there's still rampant speculation on whether Taylor will soon follow Thomas, his brother-in-law, out of town.
``I don't let much of what people say bother me,'' Parcells says. ``When you've been in this business as long as I have, if you don't have a turtle shell, you're in trouble.''
With the season looming and camp set to begin, football has called him back, just as it has nearly every year of his adult life.
No more mornings of hitting a few balls at ritzy Saratoga National, no more afternoons sitting by the pool or fussing with some gardening, no more evenings enjoying the crisp night air.
Parcells believes he, Ireland and Sparano have already made the Dolphins better.
But the job is just beginning. And that means retirement, again, must wait.
``You're never happy. There's always more to do in this game,'' Parcells says. ``It's a constant vigil. It really is.''