By Mac Engel Fort
Special to The Eagle-Tribune
---- — A Dallas Cowboys assistant would often call his boss, Bill Parcells, the FHB — Failed Human Being. Yet in the same sentence this same assistant coach said he would follow that same man to any job anywhere.
Parcells could be a selfish, egocentric pain, but he never lost the quality of having those in his general vicinity desperately wanting to be liked by him even if they did not like him.
One former player who did not like Parcells in his tenure with the team told me recently that he wished the coach had not retired after 2006. While he did not like Parcells, he respected the man because he knew that the man knew what he was doing.
His tenure as the coach of the Dallas Cowboys ultimately was not successful because he never won a playoff game, but the franchise, his assistants, his players and everyone up to and including the members of the media who knew him were better off because of him.
On Saturday, he will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame largely because of his success with the New York Giants, with whom he won two Super Bowls. The bigger impact he made was the indelible impression on the people he met.
I enjoyed the man tremendously; having the chance to talk to him so frequently was a genuine pleasure.
A Dallas Cowboys scout once told me that we in the media didn’t realize how lucky we were that we could pick his brain for 30 minutes a day.
Parcells, more than anything else, may be a massive figure in the arena of professional football, but he was as human as they come, often full of himself, garbage and contradictions.
If you could look past his flaws, which were bountiful, and take away his strengths, there was much to be gained.
This was a man who told his players not to worry about their respective contracts, that everything would work out — then he would put the squeeze on any of his employers for an extra buck.
He was notorious for refusing to do anything other than this own way.
When he cared, however, he cared tremendously.
Dick Hyslop is a retired American Airlines pilot who was the captain of the Dallas Cowboys team charters and who befriended Parcells.
“He’s pretty standoffish. There aren’t many people who get into that inner circle with him. His close friends were few and far between,” Hyslop said. “If you are in that inner circle, and I think I was there for a little while, there is nothing he wouldn’t do for you. Nothing.
“The thing that people didn’t always see was that he was always very humble and very gracious.”
Shortly after Cowboys rookie free agent safety Abe Elam made the roster in 2006, Parcells advised him to take one of the 17 paychecks he would receive during the season and to live on that.
Every other check should be saved. The next year, Elam was with the Jets. On his entry to Giants Stadium one Sunday, a security guard asked Elam if he was still living on one check and depositing the rest.
“Tell Parcells yes,” Elam said.
Comparisons have been made between Parcells and his former counterpart at West Point, college basketball coach Bob Knight. Don’t buy it.
Parcells might have shared domineering, perfection-driven characteristics with Knight, but this was a man who did not surround himself with a legion of sycophantic yes-men the way the latter did and still does. Parcells could take it whereas Knight simply could not.
As gruff, condescending and uncomfortable as he could be, he also oozed charisma and offered a level of common sense rooted in old-school values.
What he said would stick with the many players, assistant coaches and members of the media.
“It’s never your fault, but you’re always there,” is a personal favorite he learned from his father.
“Burn the boats” is a line he borrowed from Greek mythology to inspire his players to be all-in and not provide themselves with an escape plan.
“Game quitters” is one he learned from boxing to describe guys who are “game to try” but will ultimately quit.
He once told CBS 11 reporter Steve Dennis, “You would be surprised how many of these players don’t want to be on the big stage.”
There are many more, still recited and used by former assistants, friends, players and media members to this day, to be passed on to others.
In Canton, Bill Parcells’ life in professional football will be celebrated where his achievements will live forever.
Across the U.S., how he affected others — good and bad — will live forever as well.