So players wore gray socks.
"I smile when I get them,'' Coughlin says. "What he's saying is, 'Don't forget your roots, who you are.'''
To New Orleans Saints coach
Nicknames are Parcells' way with assistants, too. He called
"He'd say, 'You general managers stick your head out of the ground every year in February and, if everything's clear, you come up,'" Ireland says.
Parcells University has a marquee reunion on Sunday, two graduates meeting in a match of undefeateds when Payton's Saints host Coughlin's Giants. The game doesn't just provide an early gauge of Super Bowl hopefuls. It also provides a porthole into one of the more fertile coaching trees the game has known.
Coughlin coached with Parcells with the New York Giants. Payton coached with Parcells in Dallas. And they come with stories of their mentor, good stories that drip with equal parts nostalgia, humanity, loyalty and closed-fist football sense, just like most of the products off his tree have.
"The desk plate in front of me came from him,'' Virginia coach
It can get a bit confusing and awfully incestuous, assigning coaches to distinct trees. Payton, for instance, coached four years under Coughlin in New York before moving to Parcells for three years in Dallas. Belichick, like Parcells, also can claim Weis, former Cleveland coach
But the bottom line is a Parcells guy has won four recent Super Bowls -- three by Belichick, one by Coughlin. Six are NFL head coaches (Belichick, Coughlin, Haley, Payton, Mangini and the Dolphins'
There have been fallouts. Parcells and Belichick had an ugly one across a couple of franchises. In Belichick's biography written by
If there's a uniting force inside this circle, it's how they started like their mentor did: From the bottom. Parcells began at Hastings (Neb.) College, washing uniforms between coaching players in them. Each of his guys came up in a similarly hardscrabble manner, dedicated more to craft than the accompanying fame.
Another uniting force is what they learned from him. Take the two undefeated coaches meeting Sunday.
"Every day with him was law school,'' says Payton.
"I don't know where to start saying what I learned,'' Coughlin said.
"Probably the one thing I learned from him that I needed most -- confrontation isn't a bad thing,'' Payton says.
"I learned to win from him,'' Coughlin says. "The Redskins were a tremendous rival of ours. They had an outstanding defense and one time we literally went down there with our entire offense consisting of three-step drops, quick slants, fades and a running game. I'm thinking, 'Holy smokes, how're we going to win?' We won the game. It was a revelation to me. It was an example of knowing your opponent and not going overboard with your thinking.''
"He taught me the importance of reducing the quantity of offense,'' Payton says. "During the offseason, you work on the index of runs and passes. These are the plays we want to be good at. We'd spend weeks on that list. Weeks. Then at some point in the spring, he'd laminate the list. That'd be it. Those were the plays we were going to work on being good at. No more were added. More is not better.''
Beyond the wins and losses, the X's and O's, Parcells' force-of-nature personality is what the assistants take away. It's not just the tough-guy persona assigned to Parcells, either. When Parcells left Dallas, Ireland gave him a baseball bat etched with favorite Parcells-isms.
"'One wrong, all wrong' is one that stuck with me,'' Ireland said. "I use it in meetings. You need to be on the same page in an organization, and when the one of us makes a mistake, we all do.''
"I like, 'If he doesn't bite as a puppy, he won't bite' -- saying if a rookie doesn't do something right away he might not ever,'' Sparano says.
"'He's like a ball in high grass -- lost,''' Belichick says.
"He has a line for every position - 'Small corners with great skills can play; small corners with good skills are targets,''' Payton says.
"He uses a couple lines from his dad,'' Dolphins offensive coordinator
"'He needs a year in Joplin,' ' Weis says. "Sometimes I'll say that in a staff meeting and everyone looks at me, like, 'What's he talking about?' It was a
"He'll say, 'I want beavers,''' Ireland says. "When you ask what that means, he'll say, 'What's a beaver do?' 'Chop down trees.' 'What else does it do?' 'Well, nothing. It just chops trees.' 'That's why I want beavers.' He wants guys who just think football.''
"I use so many lines and do so many things like Bill I don't even realize it,'' Haley says. "
Parcells has said one of his fears as he ages is not having any guys around him. He's always had guys he's coached with and coached up. At 67, he's got the Dolphins guys around him as the franchise's football czar.
He's also got franchisees around the country. Two seasons ago, Coughlin and Belichick met in the Super Bowl. On Sunday, it's Coughlin and Payton to measure who sits at the front of the class.