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Tuna Envy

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All it took for Bill Parcells to return to coaching was for New York and New England to finally get over him

By Stephen Silver

I watched ESPN’s one-on-one interview (shouldn’t it be two-on-one?) the other night by Chris Mortenson with new Cowboys coach Bill Parcells and his owner, Jerry Jones. Whether the Parcells/Jones marriage can work remains to be seen, although Parcells’ record indicates that while he’s as effective as anyone who has coached in the NFL in the past two decades, in all three of his previous jobs he has both left a huge mess behind, and left the fans wanting more. This tells us a lot about why he chose this particular time to come back.

I lived in Boston during Parcells’ final year with the Patriots, and in New York at the end of his Jets tenure, so I’ve seen this phenomenon first-hand. In 1997 the Patriots reached the Super Bowl, but the question of whether or not the Tuna would walk was unquestionably the #1 story in New England that week, even bigger than the big game itself. When Parcells finally did quit and jumped to the Jets, Pats fans remained obsessed with the ex-coach, really, until last year when they finally won the Super Bowl under his protege, Bill Belichick. His replacement Pete Carroll paled by camparison, and Pats fans had to contend with Parcells’ ghost twice a year, in the form of games against the Jets that were always marked by not-so-creative puns on the word “Tuna” in Globe and Herald headlines.
Just as Parcells left the Giants in the lurch in 1990 (leading to the “Ray Must Go” era), the reaction to his departure from the Jets a decade later was similarly pathetic. First Parcells quit, then he was replaced by Bill Belichick, then Belichick quit after two days, and the entire Jets fan base demanded Parcells’ return. Then a year later, after coach Al Groh quit to return to his alma mater, and again there were demands from irate Jets fans that they bring the Tuna back. Then, when Herman Edwards got the job, outraged fans begged Bill to at least remain in the General Manager’s job. Which reminded me a lot of a jilted boyfriend begging to remain friends with his erstwhile lover.
In the past year, however, Bill Parcells’ grip on the sports fanbase of the entire northeast corridor has loosened. The Patriots, of course, won the Super Bowl last year under Belichick, something Parcells never accomplished in New England. And, the week Parcells was announced as the Cowboys’ new coach, the Jets wrapped up a near-miraculous comeback that won them the AFC East title, their first since the Tuna left. Perhaps Bill Parcells realized that it’s been over a decade since he last coached a team to a championship and more importantly, that he was no longer the mythical, desired figure that he once was, and that he needed a whole new football-obsessed town to shower him with the attention to which he had become accustomed. And then, after three or four years of returning the ‘boys to respectability, he’ll walk away again, return to ESPN, and laugh with glee at Dallas’ utter inability to get over him.

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About Stephen Silver

  • Dallas may break the mold. Locals here are more likely obsess over Jerry Jones (the real head coach) than Bill Parcells (the assistant head coach), no matter how good he is (was).

    I’m surprised Parcells took the job, since he must know that he won’t have the freedom he would have with, oh, any other NFL, college, or Pop Warner team.

    Then again, I still hear people occasionally speak wistfully about Jimmy Johnson, so who knows?