The combination of Bill Parcells as head coach and Bill Belichick as defensive coordinator was one filled with highs—two Super Bowl titles with the Giants—lows—a bad split after three year with the Jets—and a little in between in the nine years they spent together in those roles.
If Giants fans recall Belichick during his time in Blue fondly as the defensive wizard in the two Championship runs, Jets fans have a less glorious memory: the ignominious single day as head coach following Parcells’s sudden “retirement” after the 1999 season, a contract clause naming him the head coach upon Parcells’ departure having kicked in (and, strangely, a six-day stint three years earlier which helped Parcells get out of his New England contract). And they no doubt recall the infamous press conference that ended his tumultuous Jets days, during which Belichick curtly “decided to resign as the head coach of the New York Jets.” Ironically, the end result was Belichick moving to New England as its head coach, and, well, Jets fans know how that story turned out: five Super Bowls and 17 straight winning seasons later.
Ian O’Connor‘s new book Belichick: The Making of the Greatest Football Coach of All Time (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 492 pps, $28.00) goes deep into those details and more in a thorough biography of the man known mostly for the Super Bowl titles, Spygate, Deflategate, and a dour countenance, not necessarily in that order, especially for fans of Gang Green.
The exhaustive portrayal of the coach that many see as the greatest ever (if grudgingly by Jets fans) delves into his complicated relationships, particularly with Parcells, which after the Jets/Patriots fiasco became extremely strained.
Belichick’s time with the Giants actually began in 1979 under Ray Perkins, after four years as a low-paid, overachieving assistant with the Colts, Lions and Broncos. The first-year head coach, who tried to rule in the style of his University of Alabama coach Bear Bryant, with much less (23-34) success, came in on the heels of the lowest period in Giants history: six straight losing seasons, a 15-year playoff drought culminating in the “Miracle in the Meadowlands” loss to the Eagles the year prior (and 40 years ago yesterday!). Almost anything would have worked better than the Allie-Sherman-to-Alex-Webster-to-Bill-Arnsparger-to-John-McVay messes that led to Perkins’ appointment.
But Belichick was, to put it mildly, not immediately accepted by his players. Linebacker Harry Carson and defensive lineman George Martin were among those with whom O’Connor confirmed that Belichick, as defensive assistant and special teams coach, was mocked incessantly for his lack of playing pedigree and still-developing interpersonal skills.
In time though, some of those same players, and a first-round pick out of North Carolina named Lawrence Taylor, would help Belichick be the architect of one of the league’s all-time great defenses. Two Super Bowls later, Belichick got his head coaching chance in Cleveland, and five years later he was back with the Jets.
Though O’Connor devotes more than half of the book to Belichick’s time in New England, and just a paragraph to the Jets time, that period is critical both to the Parcells-Belichick relationship and eventual move northeast. Behind the scenes, Belichick was working on getting out of “Big Bill’s” shadow—and his employ.
For New York fans, there is plenty on the Giants’ two Super Bowl wins over Belichick, new info on Deflategate and Spygate which might interest rival Jets fans and lots more of note to football fans in general. Parcells’ two Super Bowl wins came with Belichick as his defensive coordinator, as did his AFC Championship with the Pats in 1996 (after a 26-27 mark in three prior years with the Patriots before Belichick’s return). And Belichick has, of course, gone on to a Hall of Fame career, maybe the best ever. Belichick is a deep, essential look at all of it.