The former New England coach did get the ball rolling with the Patriots' mostly forgotten Super Bowl XXXI appearance. And then Parcells, who left after that Super Bowl because of a power struggle with owner Robert Kraft, watched his protege Bill Belichick take over the Patriot reins (after New England had a few disappointing seasons under Pete Carroll) and surpass Parcells' massive accomplishments and legacy.
Parcells leaving the Patriots not too long before New England went on one of the great runs in NFL history is one of the league's great "what if" stories, and in a recent interview with USA Today Parcells recognized that as well.
"I regret leaving New England. Had we done things differently ... " Parcells told USA Today. "I had a good young team there. I hated to leave that team, because I knew what we could do.
"I was absolutely too headstrong. And he might have been a little headstrong, too. I think both Kraft and myself, retrospectively, would have done things a little differently."
The revelation that Parcells regrets leaving before one of the NFL's greatest dynasties took off shouldn't be too stunning, but it's interesting. When Parcells and his ego left the Patriots, doing so right after that Super Bowl XXXI loss to the Packers without even coming home with the team, his career never reached the same heights again.
Parcells had good but not great stints with the Jets and Cowboys before retiring. He won just one more playoff game and one more division title in seven post-Patriots seasons, both in 1998. That Jets team gave Denver a pretty good run in the AFC championship game but came up short.
Would the Patriots have had a similar run over the last dozen years had Parcells stuck around longer? One of the reasons the Patriots have been so great under Belichick is his ability to change his approach (his first Super Bowl team from 2001 bears little resemblance to the fast-paced passing team that made yet another AFC championship game last season), and who knows if Parcells would have done that. Or if Parcells would have wanted to draft slow and skinny Tom Brady if he was in charge of "shopping for some of the groceries" with the Patriots in 2000.
Parcells is a Pro Football Hall of Fame coach – he's being inducted this summer – but it's impossible to say if he could have replicated what Belichick has done with the Patriots. One thing is for certain: When the Patriots and Parcells look back at their breakup in early 1997, only one side has any regrets.
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