In recent years, I’ve heard fans and analysts alike debate over who is the better coach—Bill Parcells or Bill Belichick? A fair question and a great topic of discussion.
The general consensus seems to be that Belichick has surpassed his mentor with three Super Bowl titles compared to Parcells’ two. Lombardi Trophies are the measuring stick, they say—case closed.
So Belichick is obviously the better coach, right?
Parcells took over a struggling Giants’ team in 1983, replacing Ray Perkins who had left to coach at his Alma-Mater in Alabama. Within four years Parcells delivered New Yorks’ first Lombardi Trophy in 1986, and added another in 1990. Quite an accomplishment for a coach that had to contend with the likes of Mike Ditka, Joe Gibbs, and Bill Walsh every year to reach the top of the NFC mountain.
By the time Parcells left New York after the conclusion of the 1991 season, he had delivered two Super Bowl titles and three division championships.
After a two-year hiatus, Parcells took over the Patriots in 1993, replacing Dick MacPherson and picking New England up off of the NFL scrap heap. Parcells turned them into a Super Bowl contender within four years after the Patriots went 6-10 and then 2-14 respectively the previous two seasons before his arrival.
When Belichick took over in 2000, 15 players from the Parcells regime remained on the roster, including veterans Drew Bledsoe, Troy Brown, Tedy Bruschi, Ty Law, Willie McGinest, and Adam Vinatieri.
After disagreements with Robert Kraft regarding personnel decisions, Parcells came back to New York to right the Jets’ ship after Rich Kotite posted a 4-28 record.
Once again Parcells took a laughing stock of a football franchise and brought them back to respectability, taking a team that few gave a chance at a post-season birth far into the playoffs. The Jets' run culminated in an AFC Championship game as they gave the odds-on favorite and eventual champion Denver Broncos a run for their money in 1998.
Fast forward to 2003. After suffering yet another 5-11 campaign, Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones landed The Tuna and Parcells turned around yet another bottom feeder. Parcells brought the Cowboys to the post season twice, barely losing to the Seattle Seahawks in 2006. Again, while the Cowboys didn’t produce a championship, Parcells took a team that had posted a 5-11 record three years in a row and quickly turned them into a contender.
All four teams that Parcells took over had suffered losing campaigns in the previous year, and all four reached the playoffs by year two of his tenure—something that no other coach can say.
Bill Belichick has all but secured his position as one of the greatest coaches of modern history, suffering only one losing season during his tenure to date in New England, going 5-11 in his first year. From 2001 to 2007, Belichick brought his team to the Super Bowl four times, winning three, and performing the unthinkable—building a dynasty in the modern day era of free agency.
His game planning against the Rams’ "Greatest Show On Turf" in Superbowl XXXVI was pure genius. While most opposing defensive coordinators had tried in vain to get to Kurt Warner and force throws underneath, Belichick alternated between sporadic blitzes with dropping additional defenders back in coverage to clog passing lanes and limit yards-after-catch.
A Rams’ offense that previously averaged 31 points-per-game was brought down to Earth and held to 17 points overall. New England capitalized on three Rams’ turnovers and cashed them in for 17 points, with Adam Vinatieri kicking the game-winner from 48 yards out. Belichick’s defense accomplished what many said could not be done—control the Rams’ explosive offense, force turnovers, and beat them on artificial turf.
Belichick’s offenses are efficient, well-oiled machines that methodically drive downfield. While they are capable of the big play, their calling card usually consists of well-built drives consisting of carefully scripted plays—each setting up the next—that consistently move the chains into the red zone. Defensively his blitz packages and diverse coverage schemes are always cutting edge innovation.
Both coaches’ teams consist of "lunch pail guys", old-school throwbacks that bring their lunch pails to work every day. Usually their teams are void of attention-seeking superstars. Disciplined football is stressed in both camps—smart, conservative play that is void of penalties on defense, and smart with the football on offense.
Both like defenders with size up front, and both are intelligent enough to alter their schemes to their personnel when they know that they don’t have the players to match their preferred defensive alignments.
I don’t think that you can call Belichick the winner of this coaching derby simply because he owns more Lombardi Trophies. If Parcells remained in any one location in which he coached, he well may have picked up another.
Parcells picked four different teams up off of the floor, dusted them off, and turned them into respectable, playoff-caliber franchises—a unique accomplishment that no other coach has achieved.
Nor can you state that Parcells holds the edge, because the fact that Belichick helped build a dynasty in the modern day era of free agency is nothing short of remarkable. Today’s athlete actually accepting less money to play for a team because he respects the system? That's unheard of in the 21st century. Belichick helped to script the blueprint for long-term success in the 21st century free agent market.
So before we declare a winner or loser—keep in mind that both of their situations are unique, and both have firmly secured their place in NFL history.