Parcells: A Biographyby Bill Gutman
In January 2000, shortly after the New York Jets ended their '99 season, their coach, Bill Parcells, retired. By then he had won 149 games, lost 106, tied one, led three major pro football teams out of serious slumps, and taken two of them to the Super Bowl. He had made football history; he'd become the NFL's miracle man. Both intimidating and disarming, with a
In January 2000, shortly after the New York Jets ended their '99 season, their coach, Bill Parcells, retired. By then he had won 149 games, lost 106, tied one, led three major pro football teams out of serious slumps, and taken two of them to the Super Bowl. He had made football history; he'd become the NFL's miracle man. Both intimidating and disarming, with a tongue like a whip and the temperament of a tyrant, Bill Parcells joined the failing New York Giants in 1983. By 1990 he'd twice taken the team to the Super Bowl. Three years later he took in tow the downtrodden New England Patriots, whom he propelled to the Super Bowl in his fourth season. He returned to New York in 1997, this time to rally the Jets. In two seasons the team with a lamentable 115 record had won a division title and missed the Super Bowl by only a game. In 1999, beleaguered by injuries to key players, the Jets nose-dived, losing six of its first seven games, but Parcells still managed to salvage the season with an 88 finish. While this biography candidly assesses the career of a consummate coach, it also examines the driving force that took hold of Parcells early and never let him go. Call it ambition, a dream, bulldog spirit, or perfectionism, it made him one of the winningest coaches in NFL history.
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Sowing the Seeds, Jersey Style
In the 1983 film Eddie and the Cruisers, which depicts a group of youngsters trying to make it as a rock band in the 1960s, the leader of the group, the fictional Eddie Wilson, keeps reaching out for more. He wants to create music that is new and different, ahead of its time; wants to find that perfect sound. His best friend and fellow band member Sal can't understand this quest for perfection and finally tells Eddie that they aren't special, adding, "We're just a bunch of guys from Jersey."
Bill Parcells has always liked to refer to himself as a Jersey guy. Sure, he grew up there and continues to make his home in the Garden State. But while he often uses his Jersey guy persona to say, hey, I'm not really special, I just happen to be a football coach, in reality he is closer to Eddie Wilson, a guy who is reaching for more, looking for new ways to win, striving for perfection. His roots, though, are definitely steeped in the New Jersey of the 1940s and `50s, and even when he spent the better part of two decades learning his craft at various compass points around the country, the good ol' Jersey guy was never very far away. His Jersey roots run deep.
Ironically, when Charles and Ida Parcells had their first son they didn't name him Bill. The future National Football League coach with the oh-so-familiar name was actually christened Duane Charles Parcells when he was born on August 22, 1941, in Englewood, New Jersey. The change to Bill came in his early teenage years when a number of peoplemistook him for another boy, a look-alike, who happened to be named Bill. Young Duane Parcells found he liked being called Bill. Somehow, it had a better ring to it than Duane. He took it as a nickname, and it stuck.
Both of Bill's parents also had Jersey backgrounds, only from an earlier era. His father, Charles Parcells, grew up in Hackensack, where he acquired the nickname "Chubby" and became an outstanding athlete. Oddly enough, he was anything but chubby, being tall, thin, and very athletic looking. His real name was O'Shea, but early in his life he was adopted by the sister of his real mother, who later married a man named Parcells. Fortunately, none of those difficult early times stopped Charles Parcells from becoming a doer and an achiever.
"Charles Parcells was a striking, impressive man," said Tom Godfrey, who met young Bill when the two played Babe Ruth League baseball together and has remained a friend ever since. "He was the type of guy you looked at and said, `Wow, here's a successful man.' He had rod-straight posture, was tall and slender with a full head of white hair."
A multisport, multi-letter athlete at Hackensack High School, Charles Parcells went on to become a track and football star at Georgetown University. He was, however, much more than a campus jock. He was also a fine student who went straight from Georgetown U. to Georgetown Law. Upon getting his degree, he became an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Ida Naclerio Parcells, also a Jersey girl, grew up in Woodridge, her home being just five minutes from the Meadowlands, the area that now houses Giants Stadium. She was of Italian heritage and enjoyed being a housewife, caring for her husband and eventually her children. Yet even before her children were born, Mrs. Parcells became concerned about her husband's profession. As the wife of an FBI agent, she suffered the trepidations most wives of law-enforcement officials suffer, of not knowing whether her husband would come home each night.
Out of deference and respect for his wife, Charles Parcells left the Bureau the day after his first son was born and went to work for U.S. Rubber. There were brief stops for the family in Pennsylvania and Illinois before they eventually settled in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, which was south of Hackensack where Mr. Parcells grew up and north of Woodridge where Mrs. Parcells had lived. In a sense, they had come home, and now young Duane would begin to grow up a Jersey guy. Consequently, all his early memories are of New Jersey. Charles and Ida Parcells had three other kids after Bill, two more boys and then a girl.
Even before young Duane discovered sports, he learned an early lesson in perseverance and competitiveness from his father. One day five-year-old Duane was outside playing with some friends when he got into it with one of them. Within minutes he was home, telling his father that he had come up on the short end of a fight. The first thing Charles Parcells told him to do was to go back out there. If it meant another fight, so be it.
"You have to go back out there," Mr. Parcells supposedly said. "You always have to go back out there."
It wasn't long afterward that Duane discovered sports. It became his number-one love almost from the beginning. His father soon bought him his first bat and glove, a rite of passage for many a boy, especially in the postwar 1940s, when baseball truly was the national pastime. Living in New Jersey, it was inevitable that he would begin following the three local baseball teamsthe Yankees, Dodgers, and Giantsoften listening on an old table radio as the likes of Mel Allen, Red Barber, and Russ Hodges called the games in ways that imprinted the actions and personalities of the players forever in the minds and memories of young fans all around the metropolitan area. Yet even while following the so-called local teams, to the point where he knew every single player, Duane Parcells rooted even more for another teamthe Boston Red Sox.
In those years, the Red Sox and Yankees were bitter American League rivals and the Sox could give the Bronx Bombers a run for their money, what with the likes of Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky, Bobby Doerr, Dom DiMaggio, Vern Stephens, Mel Parnell and Ellis Kinder. The Yanks countered with Joe DiMaggio, Hank Bauer, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Vic Raschi, Eddie Lopat, and Allie Reynolds. The two teams were closely matched and many of the games were tantamount to war. It was an incredibly competitive rivalry and it pushed some of the right buttons in young Duane Parcells.
Before long, however, he wasn't content just watching. He soon began playing, joined by neighborhood friends and, shortly afterward, by younger brothers Don and Doug. Like most boys back then, they played all the sports, whichever happened to be in season at the time. They emulated their heroes in each, fantasizing about playing in the big leagues, and later in the NFL or National Basketball Association.
The first place Duane played was a vacant lot right across the street from his home. The lot was used by the Army for drills during World War II and was set between two aviation plants, Curtis Wright and Bendix. Looking back, Bill Parcells recalls that lot as the place young Duane Parcells began to love sports.
He pretty much discovered that love on his own. Despite Charles Parcells' athletic prowess and achievements, he never pushed any of his sons to play, never forced them into sports. He was about as far from the stereotypical "Little League father" as you could get. In fact, he rarely if ever talked about the good old days. He had some scrapbooks, but never opened them or showed them off to friends. There was a humility about him that precluded showcasing the things he had done in the past. Maybe that's why in later years his son would always field questions about the past, even the immediate past, with a terse, "That's ancient history." Yet, at the same time, Charles Parcells was a man of action who often told his sons, "Don't talk about it; do it!"
There were times when he was growing up that Duane would hear the inevitable comparisons around town, the ones that reminded him how good an athlete his father had been and that said, rhetorically, wouldn't it be great if you could be as good as he was. The important thing, however. was that he never heard it from his dad and, for that reason, it never bothered him.
It wasn't long before the Parcells boys and their friends played ball nearly all day long when they weren't in school. "Anything with a ball was good enough," Don Parcells remembered. He also remembered that older brother Duane was already taking charge, trying to set the rules and control the games.
"He used to tell me what to do, but I could outrun him," Don Parcells recalled. Then, kiddingly, he added, "It was a good thing I could outrun him, because otherwise I wouldn't be alive today."
By the time Duane was entering junior high school, the family decided to move. They went from Hasbrouck Heights to Oradell, a small town north through Hackensack and just past the slightly larger town of River Edge. There, they settled into a bi-level ranch-style home on Wildwood Drive. It was in Oradell where Duane Parcells began to be mistaken for the other boy, the look-alike named Bill. Before long, more of his friends and acquaintances were calling him Bill. Soon it became Bill permanently.
Oradell had fewer than seven thousand people when the Parcells family moved there. As in many other small northern New Jersey towns, a gradual transition had been taking place. What had been a traditional farming community for many years was now turning into a commuter suburb of New York City. More middle and upper-middle class families were moving in, new homes were being built, and additional businesses were springing up. The trains into the city were becoming busier, and there was an increasing traffic load crossing the George Washington Bridge every morning and evening.
Fortunately, there were still open spaces and thus many parks and fields, places where kids could go to have fun or play ball.
"Oradell had become a small, family-oriented town," Tom Godfrey recalled. "There were ball fields all over. In the summer we would just hang a glove on the handlebars of our bikes and go find a game. It was easy. If you wanted to play, you could always find a field with other kids ready to join you."
As the forties gave way to the fifties, young Bill began to add to the growing list of sports that fascinated and attracted him. Baseball was the first, but pro football wasn't that far behind. There was only one team in New York then, the Giants. At that time, they were still playing at the Old Polo Grounds, which was the home of the baseball Giants as well. By the time he saw his first game at the Polo Grounds in 1954, young Duane was being called Bill and also was eating, drinking, and sleeping sports. The Giants beat the Steelers that day, and Bill was hooked.
He began watching Marty Glickman's Quarterback Huddle on TV's Channel 5, as the longtime Giants announcer brought on many of the team's top players, such as quarterback Charley Conerly and safety Emlen Tunnell, as guests. It was a way to get to know the players and Bill Parcells watched faithfully every week. He had found a new favorite show. He also began going to more games with his Little League and later Babe Ruth League teams, usually seeing two or three a year. At the same time, he played all he could. He even played some sandlot football with Vince Lombardi, Jr., while the elder Lombardi was still an assistant coach with the Giants. That association made him feel even closer to the team and it was no surprise that he soon became a rabid Giants fan.
As much as he enjoyed watching the pro teams, it was when he was on the playing field that Bill Parcells felt increasingly good. Winning a game was extremely satisfying to him. Losing, by contrast, was plain lousy. He soon began to realize that to win as much as possible, he had to put himself in a position where he could control the outcome of the game. So he gravitated to control positionsquarterback in football, catcher or pitcher in baseball, center in basketball. Sometimes, however, he had to do even more. It was while he was playing Babe Ruth League baseball in the summer of 1955 when he first put these instincts into action and the sports personality of Bill Parcells began to emerge.
He was fourteen then, and one of his teammates was Tom Godfrey, who remembers meeting his new teammate for the first time.
"He was like a man at fourteen," Godfrey said. "I was more like a timid little twelve-year-old. It was apparent even at that young age that he was really a leader. He wanted to control everything on the field. At the end of practice he used to say, `I'll take the catcher's stuff home; you guys just make sure you're here tomorrow.'"
Then came one of the early incidents from which the Parcells New Jersey legend grew. His team was winning by a single run and trying to protect its lead in the final inning. Bill was catching, as usual, but he began to worry when the opposition's best hitter came up with two outs. Tom Godfrey remembers:
"He called time out, took off his equipment, and then called the left fielder in and told him they were switching positions. Nobody said a word. It was just expected of him. Even then, he was taking charge."
The left fielder climbed into the catching gear, and Bill trotted to the outfield. Sure enough, on the very next pitch the batter hit a lazy fly in his direction that he caught easily. The only thing that kept the story from having a real Frank Merriwell ending was that he didn't make a leaping catch at the fence to save the game. But his instincts for looking ahead, for seemingly knowing what would happen, were uncanny for one so young.
"Being a leader just seemed to be inbred in him," said Tom Godfrey. "He undoubtedly would have been a leader in anything he did. But he found his niche in sports early and once he did, he was always playing ball. Even then, he was some kind of competitive. That's what set him apart from the average kid. He was always going to win at anything, whether it was the major sports or something like handball, racquetball, tennis ... anything."
From that point on it was sports, sports, and more sports. The only other thing Bill made sure he had covered was his schoolwork. His father, being a student/athlete in his younger days, knew the importance of education and insisted his son not let his grades slip because of sports. Mr. Parcells taught Bill to strike a balance early, and it was a lesson well learned. Otherwise, Bill and his friends would do anything to play ballfinding a game at one of the many parks and fields, using the gymnasium whenever they could, or even shoveling snow off outdoor basketball courts in the winter so they could shoot hoops.
Walter "Butch" Bartlett met Bill when the two were in the eighth grade and played alongside him right into college. Butch, too, knew the kind of athlete his friend was right from the start.
"We were a hungry group," Bartlett recalls. "We played everything when we were young. In the summer we often went to the local recreation center and played baseball and basketball. It was a year-round thing then. No one specialized. We all played everything all the time. Bill was very demanding, even then, and it's obvious that he has stayed that way."
There were many days and nights when the two boys wound up at the Parcells home after a workout, something else that Butch Bartlett always remembered.
"His parents were very friendly with all the kids who came there," he said. "Bill's mom was a real Italian in that she was always cooking. And she kept the house immaculate. We spent all our time in the kitchen or downstairs in the rec room. I can still remember that there was always plenty to eat."
In the fall of 1956 Bill Parcells and his friends from Oradell were ready to begin high school as sophomores. Ordinarily, they would have been boarding a bus and traveling some five miles to Dwight Morrow High in Englewood. But because Oradell and River Edge were growing so rapidly, a new high school was built for students from both towns. It was called River Dell High and Bill was a member of the first class of students to attend. The construction of the new school would turn out to serve as a milestone in Bill Parcells's life, a catalyst for his continued development as an athlete and also the beginning of his predilection for coaching.
The River Dell athletic teams would play just a sophomore schedule in 1956-57. That way, the coaches would remain with them as they moved into their junior and senior varsity years as a way to build continuity at the new school. Tom Cahill was the football coach; he would later become the head coach at the United States Military Academy and hire former player Bill Parcells as one of his assistants. Cahill was a hard-nosed coach who didn't play favorites. Players had to earn his respect. While he taught future coach Bill many fine points of the game and showed him that a varying degree of toughness was necessary, he wasn't Bill's primary influence in high school
That honor went to Mickey Corcoran, River Dell's basketball coach, and a man Bill Parcells has called, "next to my father ... the most important influence in my life."
Now in his late seventies, Corcoran remembers the high-school career of Bill Parcells very well, right from the first day he met him.
"I called the kids in during the summer before school started to get a look at them," Corcoran said. "As soon as we began running some basic layup drills I noticed [Bill]. He'd go in and make a layup, then get back in line. But instead of watching the other kids, he was staring at me, checking me out. It was as if he was looking to give me his approval, like he wanted to know who the hell this guy was who'd be coaching him in basketball. I just had the feeling that this kid was looking to see if he would have a good coach."
When Bill Parcells entered River Dell High he was already 6' 2" and weighed 180 pounds. Though he was one of the biggest kids in school, he didn't want to be a lineman in football. He wanted to be a quarterback. Control again. Not surprisingly, that's where he played, with occasional forays as a running back and tight end, and as a full-time linebacker on defense. Once football was over it was time for basketball and that's when Mickey Corcoran began to make a real difference. Even then, Bill said he could see immediately that his new coach was different from any coach he'd ever had before.
"It was always defense with Mickey," he explained. "He said that by playing defense you wouldn't win every game, but you would be in every game with a chance to win."
Winning was already the name of the game for Bill. When he didn't win, or when things didn't go his way, he became angry. In fact, he had a pretty quick temper on occasions. But Mickey Corcoran had a trump card from the beginning, one that he would have to play several times during the three years the two were together.
"Call it youthful exuberance," the veteran coach said. "But Bill was overly competitive and would lose control of his emotions from time to time. He had to learn to handle himself as an athlete. I knew I might have some problems with him, until his father paid me a visit.
"His dad was the best," Corcoran continued. "The first time he met me he said, `Coach, sometimes Duane needs a kick in the ass. When he gets out of line, just give him a good kick in the ass.' After that, I had all the cards I needed to coach him. His father and I were on the same page. They were just a tremendous, wonderful family."
All through high school Bill Parcells had two strong influences working for him. His father constantly challenged him academically, telling him he needed good grades if he wanted to attend college, and also letting him know that if he didn't keep his grades up, there would be no more sports. On the court, Mickey Corcoran challenged him athletically, getting him to maximize his talent and teaching him some hard lessons about having the proper temperament for sports.
Bill was the best player on the team his sophomore year, but the coach made sure he got no preferential treatment. In a game against Park Ridge River Dell had a seventeen-point lead by the second quarter. Suddenly, the whistle blew and a technical foul was called on Parcells for complaining a bit too vociferously to the official. Mickey Corcoran picks up the story from there.
"As soon as it happened I pointed to a kid on the bench and said, 'You're in for Parcells.' I sat him next to me and chewed him out, telling him you simply don't do things like that. I figured I'd sit him for awhile, then put him back in. Suddenly the lead goes from seventeen, to twelve, to eight, to six. Now he's got me by the short hairs. If I put him back in, we'd undoubtedly win. But he's also gonna think, `The coach really needs me.' So I'm fighting with myself about what to do. The more I thought about it, the more I knew I couldn't put him back in. So I sat him and we lost the game in overtime.
"The next day at practice I ripped him a new asshole. Then I said, `Get out. We don't need you and your lousy points.' Later, he came in and talked it over with me. It was a teacher and a student trying to do the right thing. I had to teach discipline and had to do it right then. That way, I'd have my ducks in line for the next two years. As it turned out, it was the right call. He was still a typical kid, would lose his temper and kick the ball up in the bleachers. I threw him out of practice three or four times, but he was always in my office at 7:30 the next morning to talk about it. All in all, he was a delight to coach."
Tom Godfrey remembers the incident and says Coach Corcoran's action was a lesson well learned. "Bill never forgot that the rest of his coaching career. It showed him that no one was too big for the team."
While Mickey Corcoran was always ready to read his star player the riot act, he also came to appreciate the qualities that Bill Parcells brought to the game, and to his career at River Dell.
"[Bill] worked harder at practice than any other kid I had," the veteran coach related. "He was always the first one there and the last to leave. Same with football and baseball. It was always one more jump shot, Coach; one more punt, Coach; just a few more swings, Coach; that type of thing. He was more competitive than anyone and worked very hard at acquiring skills. Plus he always prepared himself to play in order to maximize his talent. That quality was evident right from jump street."
If Mickey Corcoran wasn't sure about Bill's competitiveness, there was one incident that put it all into perspective. River Dell had lost a very close, hard-fought game during that first season. As usual, whenever the team lost Bill was the last one out of the locker room. The coach saw how badly he was taking the defeat and decided to console him a bit.
"He had played his ass off that night," Corcoran remembers, "and did a wonderful job, as he usually did. So I said to him, `Pal, you did a great job out there. Look at it as a kind of moral victory.' He looked at me, very seriously, and said, `Coach, there are no moral victories. You either win or you lose, and we lost.' Now that's a pretty astute statement, especially coming from a fifteen-year-old. He had it all figured out, even then."
The losses were always very difficult for Bill to swallow. Don Parcells remembers his brother sitting tight-lipped and silent at the family dinner table following a defeat. In the winter, when he was unhappy with the way a basketball game turned out, he would often go behind his house and shoot hoops for hours at the homemade backboard, sometimes despite numbingly cold weather.
There was something else about his young star that Mickey Corcoran noticed in those early years. The coach would often take members of the team to nearby universitiesFordham, Columbia, or West Pointon weekends to watch college teams play. While most of the kids just relaxed and enjoyed the game as spectators, Bill Parcells sat and watched very intently. He seemed to be taking everything in. Afterward, he always wanted to discuss what he had seen with his coach.
"He would ask me all kinds of technical questions." Mickey Corcoran said. "It was always `Why does [Coach] Johnny Bach do that?' or `Why does [Coach] Lou Rossini do this? Why are they attacking a zone like that?' He was very observant and inquisitive, a student of the game, even then. It was something not many high-school kids do and, although we never discussed it, I thought he might make a coach some day. It was, I thought, certainly an avenue he might travel later in his life."
On the football field, Bill also exhibited the take-charge qualities that had been in evidence since Babe Ruth League days. Tom Godfrey remembers a game in which River Dell had driven within a couple of yards from the end zone with a first down. Two running plays failed and now the team had a third and goal.
"After the two running plays didn't get it done, [quarterback] Bill went over and talked to coach Cahill," Godfrey said. "He came back in, switched positions with the running back, took a handoff, and busted over the goal line himself for the score. He was the kind of player who was always going to figure out how to get it done, a leader. There was no doubt about it and everybody, all his teammates, knew it."
Yet there were times when he wasn't so heroic. No one can be successful all the time. If he messed up, the coach was always ready to read him the riot act. During the Thanksgiving game his senior year River Dell was again near the goal line. This time quarterback Parcells changed the coach's call with an audible, but the team failed to score. Afterward, Coach Cahill put his arm around his quarterback and said, quietly,
"Parcells, you s.o.b, the next time you make a call like that, your fat ass is going to be on the bench for the rest of your career, which fortunately isn't too much longer."
As much as the coach's words might have hurt, losing hurt Bill even more. Still, he was always willing to put himself on the line, take the last shot, try to get over the goal line, come to bat with two out in the final inning with the winning runs in scoring position. He was simply an outstanding all-around high-school athlete.
"He was great at all three sports," Mickey Corcoran said. "I always thought he was a tremendous baseball prospect. In fact, if he was coming out of high school today I'm sure he would be offered a nice contract from one of the major-league teams. As with basketball and football, he understood the game [of baseball], and worked hard at all the skills. He could hit and throw. Maybe he didn't have great speed, but he was quick. If you pinned me down, I'd say that basketball was his third-best sport. But he had toughness and tenacity, and that great competitiveness every time he played."
While sports and his studies occupied almost all of his time, Bill found one other source of enjoyment during his final high school yearshis 1956 Ford. It was something he earned, working in the summers to buy the car. In fact, he said that his dad didn't give him a dime toward it. He bought it, worked to pay the insurance, and also paid for the repairs. If he didn't have the money, the car sat until he earned enough to have it fixed.
"He loved that car," his friend Walter Bartlett said. "He was always polishing it, keeping it spotless, and doing some of his own engine work."
One of the popular pastimes in those days was cruising. Bill and his friends would make the two- or three-mile ride to Hackensack where they would cruise up and down Main Street, a scene reminiscent of the film American Graffiti, east coast style. The boys would sometimes catch a movie at the Oritani or Fox theaters, then hang out for a while at Munn's Ice Cream Shop. After that it was back on the road, checking out the other Fords, Chevys, Mercs, and older coupes that were chopped and channeled in the early years of hot-rodding.
"We'd put our varsity jackets on and just go out and drive," Tom Godfrey said. "But Bill was so into sports that he didn't do it that often. I think I can say that he really had no other main interests, just sports and more sports."
By his senior year colleges were beginning to show interest. Bill was a big kid, weighing close to two-hundred pounds his final year at River Dell, and still filling out. Plus he was versatile. He was both a center and power forward on Mickey Corcoran's basketball teams; played quarterback, sometimes tight end and linebacker in football; and was a catcher, sometimes pitcher, and occasional first baseman on the baseball team. Recruiters from some of the local schools, such as Seton Hall and Fordham, talked to him about playing basketball for them. Back then, colleges didn't offer that many baseball scholarships. He might have hooked on with a big-league organization, but he definitely wanted to go to college. So he began to think more about football as his primary sport while he continued his education and decided what he ultimately wanted to do.
There were subsequent scholarship offers from schools with big-time football programs, such as Auburn and Clemson. He considered both but, as he would later acknowledge, thanks to his father's influence his grades were excellent and he began gravitating toward schools that stressed academics more than athletics. After scrutinizing some of the Ivy League schools, he finally settled on Colgate University. But before leaving for Hamilton, New York, in the fall of 1959, he decided to get some more practical experience. Bill and Walter Bartlett spent the summer playing semiprofessional baseball, and that's when he got to know Larry Ennis.
Ennis was the player/coach of a couple of local semipro teams, the Oradell Raymonds and Clifton Giants. He was fine pitcher who, like many other young baseball junkies of that era, had professional aspirations. A big-league career was almost every kid's dream then. By 1959, Ennis knew the dream would never be. His arm had gone dead, an archaic diagnosis that today usually means a damaged rotator cuff or other such medical problem. Though he could no longer throw high heat, Larry Ennis was still good enough to play semipro ball, a very popular pastime in Jersey at the time.
"Semipro baseball flourished here after the war," Ennis said. "We played at twilight and on weekends, occasionally at night if a field had lights. We'd travel locally, also to South Jersey, and made some New York stops. Most of the players were in their late twenties or early thirties. When Bill came to me and said he wanted to play, I took him on right away since I had already seen him in high school.
"I knew he could handle himself behind the plate because I had watched him at River Dell. Plus I also remembered a game he pitched against Teaneck High in a tournament. Teaneck was a county power, but they only beat River Dell by a 1-0 score, and had scored that run on a fluke. Bill pitched a tremendous game."
Both Bill and his friend Walter Bartlett were watching Ennis's team take batting practice one day when they decided to ask in. Bill's confidence was something else that impressed Larry Ennis.
"Most high-school players would normally have doubts about stepping up and playing with older guys," he said, "but not Bill. He was always wanting to move up, play with older guys. It would have been easy for him to just look for games against younger kids coming up behind him, but he wasn't interested in dominating players not as good as he was. He wanted a challenge, and he related to the older guys real well. We were all pretty good ballplayers, guys who weren't quite good enough for the majors or guys still hoping to make it. So the quality of play was high. Yet Bill wasn't bashful, wasn't hesitant about taking charge behind the plate, even if it meant setting up the infield or outfield. He wasn't mouthy, but knew that the catcher ran the team and that he would have to earn the respect that came with the position. While he was one of the youngest players on the birth certificate, it wasn't that way on the field.
"Maybe the best way I can describe him is to say he could never spell the word intimidation," Ennis said. "His confidence seemed to come naturally, as if he had it all inside him"
Obviously, Larry Ennis was extremely impressed by the young catcher. As big as he was then, Ennis saw that Bill set up well behind the plate and obviously knew what he was doing.
"He had quick hands and called an intelligent game. In fact, he took it personally if you shook him off," Ennis said. "He had a quick release and strong throwing arm, and was very agile for a man his size. I remember the first game he played with us. I put him in the seventh slot in the batting order and he didn't like that. He shook his head, as if to say I'm better than that. Before long, we had him batting fourth."
Ennis recalls another game when the opposing team intentionally walked the batter ahead of Bill to load the bases. The object was to set up a force play at any base, but it still didn't sit well with Bill Parcells.
"I remember the guy sitting next to me on the bench saying that they made a mistake. I just nodded my head in agreement and, sure enough, Bill hit a bases-clearing double. Walking the guy in front of him had stirred up his pride, and he was the kind of kid who was always able to turn it up a notch when he had to."
Bill continued to play semipro ball with Larry Ennis right up until the time he left for Colgate in the fall. While he said he felt football had become his best sport by the time he was a high-school senior, he never claimed he liked it best. He seemed to enjoy them all. It was competition and winning that were number one. That was everything. He appreciated and respected coaches like Mickey Corcoran and Tom Cahill because they worked him and then worked him some more.
"Everybody who ever coached me was on me, coaching me hard," Parcells said, in later years. "So whatever I give as a coach, I took as a player."
He especially admired coach Corcoran for the way he prepared for situations, any and all situations"Mickey was always a step ahead," he said. "He could see things coming before they happened."and for the way he emphasized defense. Always defense. "From the time I was fourteen, Mickey talked about defense. So much of what I learned from him in basketball influenced the way I coach football."
Bill Parcells had certainly made his mark in high school. Mickey Corcoran called him the best athlete in the two towns (Oradell and River Edge) that made up River Dell High. Bill, however, was keeping his options open. He still had not talked openly to his friends or coaches about the possibility of becoming a coach himself one day. In choosing Colgate, he certainly wasn't putting all his eggs in one basket. It wasn't pro football or bust. No, Charles Parcells's insistence that his son keep his grades up and study hard seems to have made an impact equal to that of sports, even though Bill himself said the thing he remembered most about high school was practicing, practicing nearly all the time.
On thing, however, was certain. As Bill Parcells prepared to embark on the next phase of his life, he was ready. He was competitive and hardworking, and he always wanted to win. It was a formula for success in whatever field he would eventually choose. His role modelsnamely, his father and Mickey Corcoranhad done their jobs well. The kid from Jersey was well-prepared for whatever would come next.
Meet the Author
Bill Gutman has also authored biographies of Michael Jordan, Sammy Sosa, and Brett Favre.
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