Patriots Win Would Net 'Big Tuna' Place in History

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

With the Super Bowl countdown under way, two coaches who've previously been to the National Football League's championship game sat coasts apart, addressing press conference inquiries of a far different nature.

In California, George Seifert, back from a Mexican fishing trip, announced his resignation as coach of the San Francisco 49ers. In Massachusetts, the "Big Tuna" (New England Patriots coach Bill Parcells) dispensed his daily wisdom to reporters angling for Super Bowl leads.

Parcells is back in "The Show," as he calls the Super Bowl. Seifert will only be an interested observer of Sunday's game.

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Professional coaching at any level is a taxing experience, and those who assume their posts in the NFL know perhaps better than most the tenuous nature and relentless tension of leading franchises in today's big-business sports world.

At the moment, Parcells and Green Bay's Mike Holmgren are the men of the hour, the guys caught in the blender of demands made upon Super Bowl coaches: Devise a strategy, meet the media, conduct practices, marshall the troops, and, make sure their team wins.

Having coached the New York Giants to Super Bowl titles in 1987 and 1991, a win Sunday would make Parcells the first coach to lead two different clubs to Super Bowl victory. Holmgren, meanwhile, was in the supporting cast as an assistant coach when the 49ers won the '89 and '90 Super Bowls.

Parcells says the opportunity to compete in a Super Bowl is the ultimate in his profession. Speaking of the moments waiting in the stadium tunnel for the Super Bowl introductions, he says, "I can remember everything about that first time in Pasadena [Calif.] - where everyone was standing and everything. The same with Tampa [Fla.]. It's a euphoria."

The morning after his Patriots won the American Football Conference championship over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Parcells was in his office at 3 a.m. reviewing the film from the previous night's game. A vigorous work ethic is standard equipment for NFL coaches, but dedication alone doesn't bring results.

New England lineman William Roberts, who played for Parcells in New York, says the Patriots coach is equal parts "X's and O's guy and motivator." He also is an organizer who leaves few stones unturned.

Shortly after the Patriots earned passage to New Orleans for Super Bowl XXXI, Parcells provided each player with a six-page document outlining the team rules and procedures leading up to the game.

He wants no distractions, either about player tickets or his own uncertain future - his contract expires after the season and many have speculated that he'll go elsewhere to achieve the total football control he desires.

Although one might think he'd keep a tight rein on his charges in the Big Easy, Parcells is cutting them some slack. "I want them to enjoy this experience," he says. "I am not going to have a curfew for a couple nights. I trust this team." Still, he says wayward sheep will be told to hit the road - at their own expense.

Parcells is a "tough love" type with a toothpaste grin who earns respect from his players by being honest and evenhanded. He's as hard on his young star quarterback Drew Bledsoe as he is on any other player.

Holmgren, another so-called players' coach, is business-like but friendly. Backup quarterback Jim McMahon, a veteran who played under five other head coaches, admires the way Holmgren treats the Packers. "He comes in in the morning for our 9 o'clock meeting, and he's got a smile on his face," McMahon says. "It's like 'Good morning men, how are you doing? Let's have a good day at work.' "

How Parcells, the father of three daughters, and Holmgren, the father of four, have arrived at their current exalted stations in football could fill a book.

Parcells is a tuna-eating Englewood, N.J., native educated at Colgate and Wichita State Universities. Holmgren is from San Francisco and a University of Southern California graduate. A college quarterback, he was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1970 and landed his first coaching job as an assistant at San Francisco State in 1981.

Parcells never had any doubts about his direction in life. Although a college linebacker who was a 1964 NFL draft pick, he elected to enter coaching immediately, securing an assistant's job at Hastings College in Nebraska.

After a stint at Wichita State, he wound up as linebacker coach at Army. His experience there influenced his strategic thinking. He calls his "obsession with field position - with territory" a legacy of his days at West Point, where he'd get "free advice from every major on the campus."

Despite going on to jobs at Florida State, Vanderbilt, and Texas Tech before spending 1978 as head coach of the Air Force Academy, Parcells maintained a deep respect and admiration for the NFL's brand of football. As a teenager he had attended New York Giants games and as a young coach he once devoted a week to studying the Kansas City Chiefs practice.

In 1980, Parcells took an assistant's job with the Patriots. From there, he moved on to the Giants, and eventually became the head coach, transforming the franchise.

While in New York, he and Ron Wolf, Green Bay's current general manager, struck up a friendship. Wolf was the New York Jets' GM at the time and later, after joining the Packers, reportedly talked with Parcells about filling the team's head coaching vacancy. Parcells was out of coaching for two years because of health reasons.

Wolf instead hired Holmgren, who had helped groom Super Bowl quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young in San Francisco and is credited with developing Green Bay passer Brett Favre, the NFL's Player of the Year.

Parcells and Wolf remain close friends, and are even offseason neighbors in Florida. Both love to compare notes about NFL personnel, past and present "It's good we both got to the Super Bowl," Parcells says, "because if we hadn't we'd both be sitting down by the pool in Jupiter [Fla.], talking about what each of us has to do to get there."

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