We all have seen that Bill Parcells understands the X’s and the O’s of coaching the game; almost all of them do. Ah, but what Parcells has brought to transform the New York Jets is an understanding of the oohs and the aahs.
He pulls the chains and pushes the buttons as if he’s manipulating one of those Cadillacs out of a tailgate party into a TV commercial.
“When I first heard him, it was actually funny,” cornerback Otis Smith reflected Thursday from the safety of the locker room. “You know, when he’s on somebody else, it can be funny.”
Like the day Keyshawn Johnson was in the papers groaning like Patrick Ewing about all the double-team defense he had to put up with. And Parcells was pacing up and down the rank and file of flexibility drills near Johnson’s ear. The coach was heard to say that Art Monk had made 940 receptions, which was a record at the time, “and only 11 times was he ever doubled--and half of those times one of the defenders fell down.”
“It never makes you laugh when it’s about you,” Smith said. “His timing is so good.”
This is not willy-nilly stuff. He does not pick on any Tom, Dick and Harry just to fit the mold of the grumpy coach who sees any defeat on the field as a failure of character or effort by his players. But if a defensive back--for example--messes up in practice, he is informed promptly that it was not overlooked.
“He is on Otis and me every day,” Aaron Glenn, the other cornerback, said.
This week the coach has inquired if Glenn expected to be sidelined by a case of “Marvin Harrison flu” for the Indianapolis Colts game today. Last week before the Buffalo Bills game, it was “Andre Reed flu.” And so on.
For Smith it was, “they’re drawing straws to see who gets to run at you.” But only after mistakes. And then the man at the point of attack feels his ears burn and his face flush.
When Parcells was winning championships with the New York Giants, he’d pick on Phil Simms or Lawrence Taylor or Maurice Carthon--guys the coach knew could take it, guys from whom a lot was expected, and guys who would serve as useful examples for the young ones. Those who have the most to give, the coach expects to give the most.
“Once you show him you can make plays, he wants you to expect to make them all the time,” Smith said.
“It’s different from just getting on you,” Glenn said. “He’s coaching. People who know him, know it’s coaching.”
There are coaches who preside and coaches who coach. Parcells is known as a teacher of all positions except the unfathomable skill positions of kicker and quarterback. Parcells’ style elevated the Giants and the New England Patriots. Now he has the Jets as evidence. He can be testy, and he can be fascinating on the changing times of football. He can be snappish, or he can make things perfectly clear.
He could nickname one Elvis Patterson, who played cornerback for Parcells’ Giants in their first Super Bowl, “Toast,” because he was burned so often.
“People see us out there,” Glenn said, in defense of the psyche of the cornerback. They do look so naked. Parcells will tell Glenn, who says he’s so small at 5-9, 185, that his neighbors don’t know he plays football, that he has to get his body into the right position to tackle running backs or he’s going to get killed.
Neither Glenn nor Smith, the two starters, have been beaten for a touchdown this season. Ray Mickens, the third man in the system, has been beaten once. That’s a pretty good total nine games into the season. It’s a useful part of the explanation of how the Jets come to be 6-3 when they lost their first two games.
The Jets gave up a mile of yards to the San Francisco 49ers in their opening game and Glenn was burned often, which happens. “This is a humbling game,” Parcells said. “Every once in a while you get your butt kicked. It’s what gets into your head after you’ve had some adversity.”
He looks for the player who can come back with verve after he’s been embarrassed on he field and the postgame film sessions. Glenn is one of the few players Parcells has kept from the experience of the 1-15 season. “I know I will not be here 1-15,” the coach said. “When it’s 1-14, I’m getting out. I probably couldn’t be 1-10 again.”
Ah, but he has made his mark. He brought Smith with him from the last team in New England. Glenn had not made his own mark except that he was known for hard work, which is only half the battle. In one season with Parcells, he went from 1-15 to the Pro Bowl last year. “He helped me go the next step,” Glenn said. And even in the Pro Bowl Parcells was on him. “Aaron was a player who, when something went wrong, he looked at the referee,” Parcells said.
So when Glenn was having trouble with the Vikings’ Cris Carter, with whom Glenn has some history, he yelled at the ref. So Parcells yelled at Glenn: “Don’t try to referee.” Even in the Pro Bowl, Parcells was coaching his players. He told Glenn: “Your job is to cover the guy. Period.”
When Glenn struggled at the start of the season, he had Parcells coaching him. However, he also had his own wife, Devaney, coaching. Sometimes, when “coach Parcells” gets on him, Glenn said, “it goes in one ear and out the other.” He cannot turn a deaf ear to Devaney.
“At the beginning of the year I was more worried about other people’s expectations for me than my own,” he said. “She said, I’m not playing as I should. She’s my biggest critic. She said I was playing too far off people; I’m not in people’s face.”
So he got in people’s face. The Jets beat the Patriots and then the Kansas City Chiefs and abruptly the Jets were thinking well of themselves. Glenn still was working hard even on his day off. He takes 60 or 70 balls a day in the catching drills, which has paid off with three interceptions, high for the team. Mickens also has three, Smith two. “My expectations are greater than anybody’s,” Glenn said. Anybody except his wife’s.
But the players don’t hear her. They hear Parcells’ sarcasm. This week he presented the Colts as a challenge greater than their record. Except for the Denver Broncos, Parcells notes that each team has its strength and weakness. The Colts have five top offensive players. They have Marshall Faulk, the running back who can catch a 2-yard pass “and he’ll hurt you bad, real bad.”
The cornerbacks are listening.