Parcells' groceries make other coaches hungry

ON THE NFL

March 29, 1998|By VITO STELLINO | VITO STELLINO,SUN STAFF

In the NFL coaching ranks these days, the idea isn't to keep with the Joneses.

It's to keep up with Parcellses.

That's Bill Parcells, who said alter the 1996 season that if they want you to cook the meal, they ought to let you buy the groceries.

That was his way of saying that the head coach should be able to pick the players.

When the New England Patriots wouldn't let him do that, he jumped to the New York Jets for the power to run the show, although the Jets gave up four draft picks to get him. They also made him the NFL's highest-paid coach at $2.4 million a year.

Parcells got both money and power-a popular combination in the coaching ranks.

Mike Holmgren, the Green Bay Packers' coach, has the money (he makes $2 million a year) but not the power. General manager Ron Wolf picks the players.

At the Super Bowl last January, Holmgren jumped on the groceries bandwagon, talking about what a challenge it would be to run the show.

Holmgren has two years left on his contract, and the feeling is the Packers may let him go at the end of this year if his new team gives them some compensation.

Now it's Bill Cowher's turn. The Pittsburgh Steelers coach has neither power nor money. He makes less than $1 million a year, and director of football operations Tom Donahoe picks the players.

Cowher, a Pittsburgh native, talked at the NFL owners meeting last week about what an opportunity it would be to coach-GM in Cleveland. He was an assistant coach there in the 1980s.

"For anybody who has an opportunity to coach in that type of atmospheres particularly [since] the city hasn't had a team for a couple of years and the tradition that they have, it'll be exciting for someone," he said.

Cowher made it obvious he would like to be that someone if he can also be the general manager and make big money.

That was followed by a report in Pittsburgh that when Cowher's contract expires in two years, he wants $2 million a year to join Parcells, Jimmy Johnson and Holmgren in that neighborhood.

The Steelers' budget, though, doesn't call for paying a coach $2 million.The Steelers play in an old stadium that doesn t produce a lot of revenue and they watch their spending carefully. With defensive coordinator Jim Haslett waiting in the wings, they'll let Cowher leave when his contract expires after the 1999 season.

The Cleveland job will be filled by then, so it'll be interesting if the new Cleveland owner will give compensation for either Cowher or Holmgren at the end of this year.

It's obvious now that both Holmgren and Cowher are looking for new addresses. The only question is when they'll leave.

The groceries

When Parcells said he wanted to buy the groceries, it's apparent the kind of meal he wants to cook in New York is the fast-food type.

By making the six-year, $36 million offer to Curtis Martin that the New England Patriots declined to match, Parcells was, in effect, saying he's not coaching for the long haul.

That's because in giving up first- and third-round picks for Martin, he was telegraphing the tact he's looking to make a Super Bowl run in the next couple of years and then retire.

Parcells, holding his first news Conference since the end of the season, denied he was mortgaging the future.

But the Patriots, counting the compensation they got for Parcells, now have the Jets' first three picks this year and their first round pick next year.

The Jets, by contrast, have just one pick in the first three rounds this year-the second-round pick they got in the Hugh Douglas trade-and don't have a first round pick next year.

Martin is also a gamble because he was injured at the end of last year and underwent abdominal surgery at the end of the season.

Parcells blamed the Patriots for that, saying he used to spell Martin early to keep him fresh late in the season.

"There was an alteration in that philosophy, and at the end of the season, they didn't have the players. OK? They didn't have the player," he said.

Parcells still likes to needle the Patriots, and the Martin caper will keep the Patriots-Jets rivalry at a fever pitch.

The deal the Jets made with Martin's new agent, Eugene Parker (yes, the same one who kept Peter Boulware out of the Ravens' training camp), contained a few poison-pill provisions the league is still investigating.

Martin can void the deal after one year, and the Jets can't put the franchise tag on him, so he could leave next season.

That provision was designed to prevent the Patriots from matching it, but it's obvious Parker promised Parcells that Martin won't leave even though such an arrangement would subvert the rules. But nobody can prove the Jets have a side deal with him.

Returning to Baltimore

Jim Irsay, the Colts owner who'll bring his team to Baltimore this fall for the first time since his father moved the team in 1984, says he still has good memories of Baltimore.

"I get a lot of steamed crabs shipped in during training camp," he said at the owners meetings last week.

He wouldn't say who supplies them.

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