Bill Parcells pulled off what many in pro football thought was impossible: He made Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Hugh Culverhouse a sympathetic figure by rejecting a written deal he had negotiated for a week.
Culverhouse, who dueled Bob Irsay of the Indianapolis Colts during the 1980s for the dubious honor of being pro football's most ineffective owner, made a giant attempt to gain credibility for his downtrodden franchise last week by giving Parcells what he said even Parcells called a "fabulous offer."
Culverhouse offered the former New York Giants coach everything he wanted: total control of the franchise spelled out in 38 points in writing -- not the least of which was a five-year, guaranteed $6.5 million contract as director of football operations and head coach.
Culverhouse even dumped his general manager, Phil Krueger, Saturday so Parcells could hire former Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions executive Jerry Vainisi, who is currently with the WLAF, for the job.
But just when Culverhouse thought the deal was set, Parcells got cold feet. The Bucs called an 11 a.m. news conference yesterday that was televised live on ESPN. Even the cable network reported Culverhouse was going to announce the hiring.
Instead, a visibly shaken Culverhouse announced Parcells had turned him down.
"I called him at 10 o'clock last night at his residence at his request and he advised me he had a change of heart [and] that he was not coming to Tampa, although he had received a fabulous offer," Culverhouse said.
"We now feel as though we were jilted at the altar and I have more empathy for people who have been in that position. I respect Bill Parcells' decision. I don't like it. I'm not angry. I'm disappointed."
Parcells, a commentator for NBC-TV, gave a different version of the talks on the network's pre-game show.
He denied he had agreed to take the job. "What I had agreed to do was consider the job on the basis of a number of things that we enumerated in writing," he said. "That's what I agreed to . . . and in the end I had to say no. I never said I would take the job at Tampa Bay."
But Culverhouse made a more convincing case that he had a verbal agreement with Parcells, detailing their meeting last Monday in the New York area and their subsequent telephone conversations that included the mention of Vainisi and the decision to put the deal in writing.
Parcells said he turned the job down because, "In the end, I thought it may be too big a job, too many hats to wear in this modern time in professional football, and I just didn't feel right about the job. There was just something about it in the end. I didn't feel right."
It's puzzling that Parcells feared he would be wearing too many hats. When he was coaching the Giants, he disagreed at times with general manager George Young and had reportedly always wanted total control of a franchise. When he resigned as the Giants coach last May 15, all indications were he wanted a job where he could have that control.
Bob Costas, host of the NBC-TV show, then asked Parcells if he was now interested in Green Bay where his friend, Ron Wolf, was recently named general manager. Parcells only said he and Wolf would talk again.
When Costas asked if he wanted to coach again, Parcells said, "I haven't made that decision. Under the right circumstances, I will consider it as I did with Tampa Bay."
Parcells even said it was a "possibility" he'd stay with NBC.
When Culverhouse was asked if Parcells had used him, he said Parcells had told him he wouldn't use the offer to negotiate with another team and quoted Parcells as saying, "I'm coming to Tampa Bay."
"Yes, I feel somewhat, not used, but somewhat taken down to the altar and then there was a choke," Culverhouse said.
In the past, Culverhouse had a reputation for operating a bare-bones franchise. He drove quarterback Doug Williams to the USFL during a contract dispute in 1983 and couldn't sign Bo Jackson when the Bucs made him the first pick in the 1986 draft.
But to dispel any thought that money was a problem, Culverhouse spelled out the fact he'd offered Parcells $1.3 million a year, more than the $1.2 million a year that Joe Gibbs of the Washington Redskins reportedly makes and a salary that would have put him at the top of the profession. Culverhouse said he also agreed to Parcells' budget request for assistant coaches and agreed to his request to hire Vainisi as GM.
For once, it was impossible to criticize Culverhouse's actions and it appeared that Parcells was the one who negotiated in bad faith.
Culverhouse said he was "at a loss" to explain why Parcells turned him down.
In the end, it may have been a personality problem. Parcells, a fast-talking New Yorker, may not have been comfortable working for Culverhouse, a slow-talking Southerner with a deep drawl.
Now, Culverhouse must look for a coach. He's said he hasn't talked to any candidates besides Parcells. He turned down former Philadelphia Eagles coach Buddy Ryan last year, so if he wants a big name, Chuck Knox, who resigned as the Seattle Seahawks coach last week, may be his only alternative.