Parcells narrates the truth about coaching - The Buffalo News
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Parcells narrates the truth about coaching

By Tim Graham

Over the decades, Bill Parcells has compiled a collection of inspirational reading materials.

"Stuff that I like," the Hall of Fame coach says over the phone while sifting through it.

Parcells has kept General MacArthur's "Creed for Youth," an Abraham Lincoln speech, Bear Bryant's principles, Warren Buffett quotes, "Casey at the Bat" and "The Ballad of Yukon Jake."

He doesn't remember where he obtained perhaps his most treasured clip. It's from a book called "The Coaches." He doesn't know the author, although a deep online search returns the name Bill Libby. It was published in 1972.

"It's something I've had with me for 40 years," Parcells says. "I don't know how I got it. I just came upon this, and I have it laminated."

Parcells calls the essay he's about to read to me "the truth" about what it means to be a coach, a grueling profession that's not easily understood.

"This really is it," Parcells says. "I have looked at it hundreds of times over the years. It's just something that kind of hit me. You live alone. It's the loneliest."

Parcells notes that he has tried to warn all of the assistants who've worked for him and struck out on their own as head coaches -- Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin, Sean Payton among them -- the job isn't so glamorous.

I've called to Parcells to speak about an exhausting profession that can wreck minds and bodies. An in-depth feature with comments from Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone, former coach Marty Schottenheimer, sports psychologist Cal Botterill and Parcells will run in Sunday's paper.

Denver Broncos coach John Fox had an aortic valve replacement this week. Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak collapsed with a mini-stroke at halftime Sunday night.

Parcells had bypass surgery in 1992, when he was 50 and in between coaching the New York Giants and New England Patriots. Mike Ditka suffered a massive heart attack at 49 while coaching the Chicago Bears in 1988. Dan Reeves had in-season heart procedures at 46 and 54 years old, the latter a quadruple bypass.

The pressures, guilt, fatigue and burnout of coaching contribute to some tortured souls.

"Now, the rewards are pretty great if you're successful," Parcells says of being a coach. "But success really is never final in this business. Failure can be."

And now Parcells wants to share the essay because he thinks it can help him explain the life of a head coach better than he can.

"This is some pretty powerful stuff in my opinion," Parcells says.

He begins (click on the audio link below to hear it in Parcells' own words) ...

"He is called coach. It is a difficult job, and there is no clear way to succeed at it. One cannot copy another who was a winner for there seems to be some subtle, secret chemistry of personality that enables a person to lead successfully, and no one really knows what it is.

"Those who have succeeded and those who have failed represent all kinds -- young and old, inexperienced and experienced, hard and soft, tough and gentle, good-natured and foul-tempered, proud and profane, articulate and inarticulate, even dedicated and casual. Most are dedicated, some more than others. Some are smarter than others. But intelligence is not enough. All want to win, but some want to win more than others. And just wanting to win is not enough in any event. Even winning is often not enough. Losers almost always get fired, but winners get fired, too.

"He's out in the open, being judged publicly almost every day or night for six to seven or eight months a year by those who may or may not be qualified to judge him. And every victory and every defeat is recorded constantly in print or on the air and periodically totaled up.

"The coach has no place to hide. He cannot just let the job go for a little while or do a bad job and assume no one will notice, as most of us can. He cannot satisfy everyone. Seldom can he even satisfy very many. Rarely can he even satisfy himself. If he wins once, he must win the next time, too. They plot victories, they suffer defeats, endure criticism from within and without. They neglect their families, they travel endlessly and live alone in a spotlight, surrounded by others.

"Theirs may be the worst profession -- unreasonably demanding and insecure and full of unrelenting pressures. Why do they put up with it? Why do they do it? Having seen them hired and hailed as geniuses in gaudy, party-like press conferences, and then having seen them fired with pat phrases such as 'fool' or 'incompetent,' I've wondered about them. Having seen them exalted in victory and depressed by defeat, I have sympathized with them. Having seen some broken by the jobs and others die from it, one is moved to admire them and hope that someday the world will learn to understand them."

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