Bill Parcell’s is My Leader because his is the voice that I hear in my head; that tired, grumpy, never-satisfied New York accent drives me through the muck.
Duane Charles “Bill/Big Tuna” Parcells, the (soon-to-be-Hall-of)famed coach of those 1980s NYFGiants, New England Patriots, New York Jets, and, finally, the Dallas Cowboys. He had a cup of coffee as “Executive VP of Football Operations" of the 2007-2008 Miami Dolphins. He has lived at the Saratoga Springs horse track ever since.
Many will say that Parcells retired from coaching because the game passed him by. His conservative 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust approach would certainly not fit in with today’s pass-happy offensive onslaughts. He would be lucky to get three yards and certainly left in a cloud of Brady’s, Brees’, and Rogers’ dust. Nevertheless, Parcells was and is a leader of men who links us to the wisdom of the past. Here are some gems that I cling to.
“Don’t tell me about the pain. Just show me the baby.”
Absolutely not about actual labor. Parcells is honing in on accountability and the “no excuses” mentality. Most things are outside of our own control. We can only address ourselves—our motivations, actions, and character. Whenever I am tempted to complain about my circumstances, Coach is behind me, arms crossed, head shaking, asking where that goddamned baby is.
Furthermore, Parcells tells a story in his motivational book Finding a Way to Win (Parcells, Coplon, 1995) about coming home from school with a shitty report card.
There were times when my father frowned at my report card and said, “My expectations for you may be higher than your own, and if they are we’re going to have a little problem.”
And, if I claimed that I was trying my best, he’s shake his head like he was stunned. “What do you think you’re supposed to do?” he’d say. “ You don’t get any medals for trying.”
Cuts right to the heart of it, doesn’t it? See there? Parcell’s dad is really my leader. I was on the receiving end of a few of these conversations with my own parents. Maybe not word-for-word, but close enough. I did some pretty stupid stuff and procrastinated like a fiend. It was not uncommon for me to wait until the night before a deadline on writing a paper or doing a project. No medals were being won, certainly.
A few more good ones.
“True candor is measured telling of the truth and not opening rage-filled venting.”
“The road to execution is paved by repetition.”
“Be a teacher, not a drill sergeant.”
“Resourcefulness is essentially resiliency. It’s not giving in the midst of a bleak moment.”
“Measure excellence by performance and not by reputation.”
This last one has really come into focus as I’ve gotten older and I see people around me ride the coattails of what they did in the past. It seems to give them license to just sit there and bask in the glory of yesterday. Meanwhile, the few and proud are working their asses off trying to produce. Glory fades, my friends.
I became very attuned to the Parcells way during his time in Dallas, obviously. He was a fascinating and welcome specimen to the Dallas sports landscape, a direct contrast to the overly-accomodating spin doctor that is Jerry Jones (the de facto coach of the Dallas Cowboys). In fact, I greatly admire Jerry’s moment of clarity in making the Parcells hire in 2003. It brought order to a world of chaos. And, perhaps, that chaos was too much for him in the end. I will forever remember a few things about his time with the Cowboys.
- He negotiated player management with Jerry with this famous phrase: “If you want me to cook the meal, you better let me buy the groceries.”
- He dealt with the gifted prima donna T.O. Owens by stripping his ego and simply referring to them in the media as “the player.” (e.g. “The player did this wrong” or “The player hasn’t shown much.”)
- In one of my favorite long-form articles ever, Micheal Lewis profiled him for the New York Times Magazine. It is probably the best thing ever written about him and perfectly captured Parcells in that moment in time.
I think the NFL misses men like Parcells. We have his successors in Belicheck and Coughlin—both coaches who are authoritative, command respect, and foster an environment of collective winners (see: Super Bowls 36, 38, 39, 42, and 46).
Finally, I leave you with the famous Bill Parcells assessment quote calling back to the idea of performance. It’s a statement that you should apply to yourself at the end of every week. It slices off all the fat and excuses. At the end of every season, they don’t ask HOW, they ask HOW MANY?
"You are what your record says you are."