Bill Parcells learned a life-changing lesson in his first coaching job at little Hastings College — give your team the best chance to win.
If that later meant cutting a couple of popular guys to get his type of tough-minded players, or tearing down a perennial All Pro linebacker to make him better, patting a shy player on the butt instead of yelling at him, spending the endless hours on the Xs and Os or even looking the other way with Lawrence Taylor, at times, Parcells did it.
It was a way of coaching that helped Parcells change the fortunes of four struggling franchises, win two Super Bowls with the Giants, go to a third with New England and win election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on his fourth attempt.
Parcells will enter the Canton, Ohio shrine Sunday with a 172-130-1 record in a 19-year head coaching career.
"He worked hard, and he had the ability to get along with people and motivate people, and he had a burning desire to win," said 82-year-old Dean Pryor, who had coached Parcells at Wichita and then hired him at Hastings after he was cut by the Lions. "You know, he got his butt chewed as much as the players, but boy, I mean, if Bill made a mistake or he did something right, he didn't forget it. He was extremely bright. He could evaluate a player, watch him and make him better."
Parcells still stays in touch with Pryor, who intends to make the trip from Jonesboro, Ark. to Canton this weekend. The message that Pryor preached about giving players a chance to win never left Parcells.
"You as an individual coach have a responsibility to try to give those players who put themselves at risk and in harm's way a chance to achieve success, and that goes for universities and professional teams, as well," Parcells said." I know I preached that to every organization and to every coaching staff I ever had. These guys deserve a chance to win, and we have to give it to them."
Fellow Hall of Famer Harry Carson was already on the Giants' roster when Parcells was hired. Despite being one of the best linebackers in the league, Carson said Parcells didn't hesitate to tell him he had bad habits as a middle linebacker and that he could be better, and then riding him on it.
When Carson was at his lowest point, Parcells built him back up and made him better.
"Bill is not for everybody," Carson said. "But he is a coach who knows his stuff and he was able to implement what he wanted to do with players like me, who were willing to bite the bullet and be patient with him and not take it personally or be bruised by the criticism he might level at you. His criticism could be brutal, but he knew what buttons to push for each player."
Parcells also knew he wanted hard-nosed players who knew their roles. He never asked them to do things they couldn't do.
"He gets his players' expectations so high, they don't have a choice but to succeed," Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said. "He did that year after year after year."
Despite living on the edge off the field, Taylor respected Parcells no-nonsense style.
"Don't get me wrong the guy could coach his (butt) off and you gotta remember that was one helluva staff, but what struck me in the early days about Bill was his ability to motivate," Taylor said in statement released through his agent, Mark Lepselter. "He'd always try to tweak me and I'd give it right back but I knew he knew that I was a little different."
Parcells was a little different, too. He was a Jersey guy, even before Tony Soprano or Bruce Springsteen made that popular. Coming from a family that by his own admission was confrontational, he loved the give and take.
Giants coach Tom Coughlin, who worked under Parcells from 1988-90, recalled being dragged to a deli one morning during training camp in his first season.
"As soon as he opens the door of the coffee shop it's like old home week," Coughlin said. "He's busting everybody's chops in the deli and he's busting their chops and it's back and forth, back and forth. It was an interesting scene, it's like the way he is when he gets on a roll with people. He's got one comment right after another and he's having a good time with it and you might give him a little feedback so he can build on it."
Parcells cared about his people and let them know, Coughlin said. As important as Parcells' congratulatory calls after Coughlin won Super Bowls with the Giants, Coughlin also recalls the call he got from him after being fired in Jacksonville. It was just as important.
Even if he didn't' know you, Parcells doesn't hesitate to share his knowledge.
Jets coach Rex Ryan recalled interviewing with Parcells for a job in Miami that he basically knew he wasn't going to get. The truth is Ryan just wanted to talk football with him.
"Let's just put it this way: I gained way more out of it than he did," Ryan said. "He got nothing from me and I got a ton from him. He was amazing. He talked about setting up a team. He talked about the bottom of your roster. He even talked about the developmental team and a whole lot of things that I've used. I don't know how long the interview was, but I took so much from it."
For all of Parcells' success, there was almost another ending to his Giants story and maybe his coaching career. After posting a 3-12-1 record in his first season, his future was in doubt. Owner Wellington Mara and general manager George Young eventually decided they had not given him enough of a chance after a season marked by an unusually large amount of injuries.
"I can still remember George Young saying, he was interested in (then Miami coach) Howard Schnellenberger at the time and I can't get him this year, but maybe I can get him next year, let's give Parcells another year," current Giants co-owner and chief executive John Mara said. "That year was '84. We got to the playoffs, and the rest is history."
AP Sport Writers Schuyler Dixon in Oxnard, Calif. and Dennis Waszak Jr. in Florham Park, N.J. contributed to this report.