Joe Gibbs and Bill Parcells are the NFL’s version of “Stuck on You,” joined at the headset for more than two decades. They spent the better part of the ‘80s trying to one-up each other, and three retirements later they were still at it. That is, until the other day, when Parcells, tuckered out at 65, decided to start collecting his Social Security.
You can’t talk about Tuna’s place in pro football history without bringing up Coach Joe. Heck, if Plutarch were still around, he’d probably include them in the next edition of his “Parallel Lives.” After all, from the 1983 to ‘90 seasons — a period that featured two Super Bowl visits for Gibbs’ Redskins (won one, lost one) and two for Parcells’ Giants (won both) — theirs was one of the most compelling coaching rivalries the game has known. It ranked right up there with Paul Brown and Buddy Parker in the ‘50s (if not quite with George Halas and Curly Lambeau in olden times).
When Gibbs went into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1996, few outside of the New York area would have disputed that he was the better coach of the two, despite Parcells’ 11-6 edge in head-to-head meetings. He had more Super Bowl appearances (four to two), more NFL titles (three to two), twice as many postseason victories (16 to eight) and a decidedly better winning percentage (.683 to .570). There wasn’t much room for argument, really.
But now … there’s plenty of room. While Parcells spent the next 11 years leading the Patriots to the Super Bowl, the Jets to the AFC Championship game and the Cowboys to two playoff berths, performing major renovations on all three franchises, Gibbs’ second act, following a lengthy sabbatical, has done nothing to enhance his reputation. The Redskins are 22-28 in the three seasons since he returned and still very much in a rebuilding mode. Whether he’ll see the job through is anyone’s guess.
And so the question is raised again: Who is the greater coach? Well, it depends on what you mean by “great.” If you go strictly by the numbers, Gibbs still gets the nod, though the gap has narrowed over the years. But if you take into account Other Factors, Parcells would appear to have the upper hand.
What Other Factors, you ask? For starters, his ability to assemble a winner in several places. He’s one of just five coaches to take two different teams to the Super Bowl and the first to guide four different clubs to the playoffs. That’s gotta be worth something.
Then there’s his talent as a team builder. When Parcells was with the Giants, general manager George Young handled the personnel work, but with the Patriots, Jets and Cowboys, he shopped for the groceries — as he liked to put it — himself. The results were pretty good, certainly better than Gibbs has gotten the last three seasons calling the Redskins’ shots.
And let’s not forget all those former Parcells assistants who have gone on to head jobs in the NFL — Bill Belichick most notably, but also Tom Coughlin, Sean Payton and Eric Mangini. None of Gibbs’ ex-staffers (e.g. Dan Henning, Joe Bugel, Richie Petitbon) has ever had much success as a head coach, even though a couple of them were given more than one opportunity. So you’d have to say that, from a philosophical standpoint, Parcells has had a bigger impact on the game.
One other thing: For all the grief Parcells has gotten for his abrupt departure from New England, the Jets and now Dallas, he has never left the cupboard bare. Far from it. The Patriots made the playoffs the next two seasons after he jilted them. As for the Jets, his bold signing of restricted free agent Curtis Martin and his stellar 2000 draft (Chad Pennington, John Abraham, Shaun Ellis, Laveranues Coles) laid the foundation for several future playoff clubs.
The Cowboys are in similarly solid shape. In fact, their best years may well be ahead of them. Tony Romo is just settling in at quarterback, and there’s plenty of youth throughout the lineup. Compare this with the aftermath of Gibbs’ first retirement — 4-12, 3-13, 6-10 — not to mention the Redskins’ current long-term prospects. Put it this way: Which roster would you rather have the next few seasons, the one Parcells put together or the one Gibbs has?
Of course, Coach Joe is still busily at work — and Tuna may yet make another comeback — so all the results aren’t in. But it looks like Parcells has passed him on the final turn. At the very least, the two jalopies are trading paint.