On Feb. 4 the Jets held a press conference to make a "major
announcement." They introduced their new coach, former Patriots
assistant Bill Belichick. Off to one side was new "consultant"
Bill Parcells, who proclaimed that he would "sit silently until
such time as I am able to be vocal." Yeah, sure.
Six days later commissioner Paul Tagliabue sent four Jets draft
choices to the Patriots, and New England voided the final year
of its contract with Parcells, clearing the way for him to
become the 11th coach in the 37-year history of one of pro
football's most inept franchises. And in this atmosphere of
duplicity and double-talk, Parcells began the task of sweeping
away the wreckage of a 1-15 season.
He was given total control, more than he had as coach of the
Giants' two Super Bowl championship teams, in 1987 and '91. He
could bring in his own people at every level of the football
operation. He would oversee personnel, which might not prove to
be the best idea since it never was his strong suit (see his
objection to the Patriots' drafting of wideout Terry Glenn). He
would get whatever he wanted. New practice fields, an indoor
training facility, a remodeled weight room. And why not? Owner
Leon Hess was only too happy to shell out $3 million to $3.5
million for the overhaul. In effect the club was saying, "We
don't know how to run a franchise. Please show us, Bill."
The press corps would be barred from regular-season practices.
Interviews with assistant coaches had to be cleared by Parcells.
No more interviewing players in the parking lot or by phone at
home. This, friends, was total control.
Then came Keyshawn Johnson's book, the one in which the first
pick in the '96 draft ripped the offensive coordinator (Ron
Erhardt) and the quarterback (Neil O'Donnell) and the team's
most prolific receiver, fellow wideout Wayne Chrebet. Johnson
called him former coach Rich Kotite's "mascot." How would
Parcells handle that?
People forget that Parcells has always been good at defusing
turmoil. While with the Giants, Parcells was warned by players
that linebacker Lawrence Taylor was having off-field problems.
"I'll handle it," Parcells said. You can't argue about the
production he got out of the future Hall of Famer.
Jets fans won't let Johnson off the hook. Every time he drops a
pass, like the three he missed in the Aug. 16 preseason game
against the Giants, they'll let him have it. Parcells knows that
Johnson--an imposing physical presence at 6'3", 210 pounds but a
player with a weird, let-it-fly attitude and a suspect pair of
hands--has to light up his offense.
The Jets will open it up with O'Donnell throwing to Johnson,
Chrebet and Jeff Graham. Tight end Kyle Brady is a
knock-'em-dead blocker who did a number on Cardinals
pass-rushing end Simeon Rice last year, but he doesn't figure in
the passing game. There is no big back; at 5'11" and 214 pounds,
fifth-year veteran Adrian Murrell is more of a darting type, and
last year he was one of the Jets' few bright spots, rushing for
1,249 yards and six touchdowns.
The defense has a terrific pass rusher on the right wing, Hugh
Douglas, but not much else up front. The linebackers have been
switched around to accommodate 33-year-old Pepper Johnson,
Parcells's old inside linebacker from his Giants days, who after
three years with the Browns and one with the Lions was rescued
from the scrap heap. Last year's man in the middle, Marvin
Jones, has shifted to the weak side, though playing in space was
never his strength. Mo Lewis, who at one time showed real talent
on the open side, now plays over the tight end. Puzzling stuff,
to be sure, but Belichick is a terrific defensive coach.
Parcells's mere presence has given the Jets the look of an
honest-to-goodness NFL franchise, and they'll certainly be
better than last year. But let's hold off before we put them in