Thursday, January 30, 1997
'Big Tuna' now comes at big price

BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Bill Parcells has been granted a reprieve. National Football League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has ruled that the head coach of the New England Patriots can not coach another team next season without the permission of his current employer.

This will not be enough to keep Parcells with the Pats, but it might prevent him from signing on with the patsies. It might spare him the dreadful duty of running the New York Jets.

Tagliabue's edict does not preclude Parcells from coaching elsewhere in 1997, but it does make it a frightfully expensive proposition. To gain clearance to sign Parcells, the Jets may have to part with a high draft choice, a ponderous chunk of change, or both.

That's a steep price for a coach called the ''Big Tuna,'' one who might be had without compensation a year from now. And yet, the Jets can be expected to pay it.

Octogenarian owner Leon Hess is anxious to win big before his time expires, and Bill Parcells is as close to a guarantee as he is likely to get.

He won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants because of Lawrence Taylor and a lot of guys named, ''Hey, You,'' and last week took a young Patriots team to The Big Game before its time. Parcells' specialty is fierce defense, but he is also flexible enough to adapt to whatever tools are at his disposal.

Adapts to his talent

In New York, Parcells tolerated ''skill'' players to the extent that they didn't fumble. His Giants teams featured the same dreary efficiency that distinguished Lombardi's Packers and Ford's assembly line.

In New England, he reinvented himself as a rocket scientist, embracing the passing game and all its attendant risks. Parcells got in Drew Bledsoe's face, and then he got out of his way. He nurtured an offense that did not conform to his personal football philosophy because it happened to be the best way to win.

It didn't take an oracle to see this was the obvious move, but making it has made Parcells a rare commodity in coaching. If Hess is at all hesitant to meet New England's price, he is sure to be stampeded by the New York media and his own players.

''I pray every night that we get Parcells,'' Jets receiver Keyshawn Johnson told the New York Post last week. ''I've heard too many good things about him.''

What Parcells might see in the Jets is the mystery. With the singular exception of Super Bowl III, this is a franchise that has defined futility. The Jets have employed 12 head coaches in their history, and not one of them has compiled a winning record. Hess has fired three coaches in four years - notably Bruce Coslet - and succeeded only in capturing the No. 1 draft choice two years in a row.

Must be the money

If Parcells should take this job, it would be a career move that could be considered lateral only in the football sense of the word.

Leaving a Super Bowl team for these Jets is like leaving La Scala to serve as a singing waiter at Forest View Gardens; like leaving a tenured position at Harvard for the Columbia School of Broadcasting. Except for the dollars, it makes nearly no sense.

What coach in full command of his faculties forsakes a young, championship-quality team to start again from rock bottom's sub-basement? How can you walk out on the blooming brilliance of Bledsoe to take up with the weary workmanship of Neil O'Donnell?

Money leads the list of usual suspects. Power is another strong possibility. If Parcells consents to coach the Jets, Hess might even be willing (and wise) to offer him a piece of the franchise.

That was part of the deal when Miami owner Joe Robbie lured Don Shula away from the Baltimore Colts in 1970. NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle later decided Robbie had courted Shula improperly, and awarded the Colts a first-
round draft choice as compensation.

It seemed a severe penalty at the time, but Shula would turn it into a trifle. The Colts picked up a running back from North Carolina named Don McCauley. The Dolphins got themselves a dynasty.

Moral: When a coach of that caliber comes along, you grab him.