Parcells, the man who almost single-handedly changed the Patriots' fortunes, should receive most of the praise that comes from turning a team from a laughing stock to a team that suddenly viewed itself as a contender.
But, it’s hard to view Parcells in that light. He deserves criticism, because he also cost his team Super Bowl XXXI.
The Patriots rolled through the 1996 regular season, demolished the Pittsburgh Steelers and Jacksonville Jaguars in the playoffs, earning their first Super Bowl berth in a decade. Parcells had the team primed to beat Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers.
Parcells let his ego and his hurt feelings get in the way. Instead of putting 100 percent of his focus towards working on a game plan to beat the Packers, he started talking to the Jets about a head coaching job behind the scenes.
Going into Super Bowl XXXI that week, the talk should have been about the historic Packers finally returning to the big game against the upstart Patriots, instead the week was spent in speculation about whether Parcells was truly leaving the team.
For a coach who had constantly told his team to put their egos and their individual personal accomplishments aside for the betterment of the team, it has made his accomplishments with the Patriots ring hollow by not practicing what he had preached.
The Packers won the game 35-21, but the game was closer than the final score indicates, as the Patriots, who had led 14-10 going into the second quarter, had closed the gap to 27-21 with a Curtis Martin touchdown midway through the third quarter.
For those who think that the distraction is overstated, current Patriots' head coach Bill Belichick, who was an assistant coach on Parcells' staff during that season, felt it was a big issue.
In a quote from Michael Holley’s book Patriot Reign, Belichick is quoted as saying:
"Yeah, I'd say it was a little bit of a distraction all the way around. I can tell you first-hand; there was a lot of stuff going on prior to the game. I mean, him talking to other teams. He was trying to make up his mind about what he was going to do. Which, honestly, I felt [was] totally inappropriate. How many chances do you get to play for the Super Bowl? Tell them to get back to you in a couple of days. I'm not saying it was disrespectful to me, but it was in terms of the overall commitment to the team."
Parcells inherited a Patriots team that had finished with a record of 14-50 over the prior four seasons and took them back to the playoffs during his second season, losing to the Cleveland Browns in the playoffs.
The root of Parcells' frustration came with his personal disagreements with then-new Patriots' owner Robert Kraft, who purchased the Pats in 1994.
Parcells wanted complete control over the team and Kraft was a new owner who wanted to put his stamp on the team as he learned the ropes. There was certainly enough room for both men in the Patriots organization, but things became strained to the point that Belichick was hired in 1996 to serve essentially as a liaison between ownership and Parcells.
How much is Parcells to blame for the Super Bowl XXXI loss?
A Super Bowl victory would have cemented Parcells' status as one of the best coaches in the game; instead it showcased his constant wanderlust, never seemingly happy with his current situation, always looking for something better.
Parcells' legacy should be as an icon in Patriots' history, revered for how he reversed fortunes of the franchise. Instead, he is remembered for leaving the team immediately after losing the Super Bowl and never coming back to New England.
For such an important figure in Patriots' history to be almost an afterthought, the way he handled himself on his way out of New England has forever tarnished his legacy.
Parcells has no one to blame but himself.