Their paths first crossed in 1979 when Parcells was hired as the New York Giants’ defensive coordinator under head coach Ray Perkins. Belichick was a special teams coach and defensive assistant with the team. Parcells left the Giants in 1980 to become a linebackers coach with the New England Patriots. He returned to the Giants the following year for his second tenure as defensive coordinator.
Parcells was named head coach in 1983 after Perkins left to succeed Paul “Bear” Bryant at the University of Alabama. Belichick was elevated to defensive coordinator in 1985. Parcells and Belichick led the Giants to victories in Super Bowls XXI and XXV. Belichick’s defensive game plan for Super Bowl XXV, which included convincing his players the Giants would win if Buffalo Bills running back Thurman Thomas ran for more than 100 yards, is on display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The Giants had a record of 65-30 with Parcells as head coach and Belichick as defensive coordinator.
Parcells retired after Super Bowl XXV, citing health concerns. Belichick departed the Giants to become head coach of the Cleveland Browns in 1991. After two seasons as an analyst, Parcells decided he wasn’t finished with coaching. He was named of head coach of the Patriots in 1993.
The Browns went 36-44 under Belichick, highlighted by the franchise’s only postseason victory in the last 28 seasons: a 20-13 win over Parcells’ Patriots in the 1994 Wild Card Round.
Browns owner Art Modell announced plans to move the team to Baltimore in 1995. Belichick was assured he would remain the team’s head coach after the move. Despite this, Belichick was fired a week after the move was made public.
After his dismissal by the Browns, Belichick joined Parcells’ Patriots staff as a defensive backs coach with the title of assistant head coach. Parcells and Belichick led the Patriots to an appearance in Super Bowl XXXI, a loss to Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers. Despite the team’s turnaround, there was tension between Parcells and owner Robert Kraft. Parcells felt as if Kraft wouldn’t allow him to provide input on personnel matters, famously saying, “They want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for the groceries. Okay?”
The beef between Parcells and Kraft came to a head during the 1996 NFL Draft. Parcells wanted to select Texas defensive end Tony Brackens with the seventh overall pick. Kraft vetoed the move and the Patriots selected the player he coveted: wide receiver Terry Glenn of The Ohio State University. Brackens was selected 33rd overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Parcells’ contract with the Patriots wouldn’t allow him to leave to coach elsewhere. After the 1996 season, the New York Jets wanted Parcells as their head coach and general manager. To get around the wording of Parcells’ contract, the Jets named Belichick head coach and hired Parcells as an advisor.
The Patriots threatened legal action against the Jets. The teams were able to negotiate a deal with the assistance of then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue. The Jets gave the Patriots a third and fourth-round draft pick in 1997, a second-round pick in 1998, and a first-round pick in 1999.
Parcells was given complete control of the Jets’ football operations while Belichick was the team’s defensive coordinator/assistant head coach. The Jets went 29-19 during their tenure, including an appearance the 1998 AFC Championship Game, where they lost to the then-defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos. It was only the Jets’ second appearance in the AFC title game since winning Super Bowl III.
The Jets were in a state of turmoil after the 1999 season. Longtime owner Leon Hess died May 7, 1999 and the team was about to be purchased by Robert Wood “Woody” Johnson IV, heir to the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical fortune. The Patriots had just fired head coach Pete Carroll and made no secret that they wanted Belichick as their head coach. Belichick could interview with the Patriots immediately because the head coach job was considered an upward move as opposed to a lateral move.
Parcells, perhaps still feeling contempt towards Kraft, needed to act quickly. He resigned as head coach, preventing any chance of Belichick interviewing with the Patriots. Parcells’ resignation also instantly promoted Belichick to head coach. Kraft wanted Tagliabue to intervene but there was nothing that could be done. The language of Belichick’s contract stipulated he would become Jets head coach upon Parcells’ resignation.
However, Belichick was only Jets head coach for one day.
In one of the most bizarre press conferences in NFL history, Belichick’s introduction as head coach turned into a resignation announcement. Belichick wrote his resignation letter on a sheet of loose-leaf paper which read, “I resign as HC of the NYJ”. He then spoke for 30 minutes explaining his decision.
“I just don’t feel I can lead the Jets in the year 2000,” Belichick said. “I just know what I need to do. I just don’t feel I can do it right now…I just can’t do it with the conviction, confidence and certainty that is needed to get the job done…All I can deal with is the situation I have at hand and that is what I am doing. It is not about trying to get out of a contract or leveraging a contract.”
That wasn’t the only reason why Belichick resigned as Jets head coach. It stands to reason that he didn’t want to be in Parcells’ shadow any longer, despite the success they had together.
Parcells was livid over Belichick’s resignation. He was even angrier when Belichick accepted the Patriots’ head coach position. Kraft gave Belichick complete control of football operations, something he denied Parcells. Parcells felt even more betrayed because he gave Belichick the same thing with the Jets.
Belichick signed a six-year contract with the Jets and Parcells demanded compensation. Eventually, attorneys for both teams and Tagliabue got involved. Tagliabue sided with the Jets, who received a 2000 first-round draft pick from the Patriots for Belichick. It was the shrewdest move in North American professional sports since the Boston Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees.
The rest, cliché as it sounds, is history.
It’s surprising that Parcells and Belichick agreed to sit down and tell this story. The 76-year-old Parcells is not as bombastic as he was in his youth and getting Belichick to talk about anything at length (especially something so personal) is like trying to stick an elephant’s tusk through the eye of a needle.
Still, The Two Bills should go down as one of the best films in the 30 for 30 series.
Parcells and Belichick were first linked by their time together with the Giants. The history of both the Giants and the National Football League cannot be written without these two men. An examination of their relationship and how it shaped the NFL landscape, especially before Belichick coaches in his eighth Super Bowl, cannot be missed.