14, 2001 -- Bill Parcells, self-described “Jersey Guy,”
marches to his own drummer, and whether you agree with his booming tune
or not, from his perspective he doesn’t care.
What matters above all for Parcells is winning football games,
and Bill (or as the tabloid press in New York likes to call him,
“Tuna”), has demonstrated a knack for getting that job done.
Say what you will about the Tuna, what he lacks in charm he makes
up for with a fiercely-honed sense of what motivates football players
and makes them believe they can win any game, any time.
Anything that doesn’t win football games is a far second in the
Tuna hierarchy, losing eats the Tuna alive.
overkill “will to win” causes two complimentary and yet diverging
realities: He HATES losing, so as the Jets struggle in 1999, he wonders
about his balky heart condition. ..."
Final Season, Tuna recounts his 1999 tenure as head coach of the New
York Jets. In many ways,
for a coach used to success or at least steady progress in rebuilding,
the 1999 slate was a season from hell.
At the very end of the previous 1998 season, during the AFC
championship game, the Jets were leading the Denver Broncos at halftime
– just 30 minutes from the Super Bowl.
It would have been, perhaps should have been, Tuna’s fourth
appearance in the ultimate football game, and the triumph of a
remarkable 3-year rebuilding program that brought the Jets from sewer to
the penthouse skybox. But
the Jets lost that game; the coaches, the players, and especially the
fans, however, had good reason to “wait ‘til next year.”
With hope dancing dreamily
in1999, things do not start well, and then they got worse.
Before the season the Jets’ beloved and football-suffering
owner Leon Hess died; Tuna considers Hess one of his closest friends in
football – one of the sport’s true gentlemen.
In the very first 1999 game, prize Jet quarterback Vinny
Testerverde suffers a season-ending Achilles’ heel injury, plunging
the team into uncertainty. Tuna
acquires been-around QB Rick Mirer to run his offense, but Rick has
limitations and isn’t cutting Tuna’s mustard.
With the ship listing and the Jets losing close, Tuna-killing
games, the coach turns with fervent optimism to another Jersey Guy - Ray
Lucas - for QB salvation.
Though at one point during
1999 the Jets were 1-6 and bleakly staring at a true hell-hole season,
Tuna - along with the shaky/brilliant/Tuna-competitive Lucas – manages
to rally the team to an 8-8 season.
But before the final game of that bittersweet season, Tuna
decides he’s had enough. He
would stay in football and with the Jets in an indeterminate but
authoritative role, but he would roam the sidelines no more.
No question, the game was losing one of its most colorful and
The reasons for his
retirement reveal a good deal about Tuna, as do many anecdotes from The
Final Season. Tuna
is the very definition of “driven.”
He has set ideas about how to win football games, and he
relentlessly pursues these theories until they pan out or bust: Win the
time of possession battle, minimal penalties, minimal mental mistakes,
field position, clock management. And
then he gets players who follow his creed: with his Super Bowl-winning
Giants, QB Phil Simms and LB Lawrence Taylor (Tuna positively loves the
erratic Taylor). With the
Jets, Testerverde, Lucas, LB Bryan Cox, and Tuna’s favorite running
back (whom he dubs “Wonder Boy”), Curtis Martin.
Tuna’s overkill “will to
win” causes two complimentary and yet diverging realities: He HATES
losing, so as the Jets struggle in 1999, he wonders about his balky
heart condition. In order
to win – or at least salvage the 1999 season - Tuna skirts the
borderline in nearly working himself to death.
For sheer survival alone, Tuna had to leave the sideline after
1999, although his heart wasn’t in imminent danger of failing.
He didn’t feel he could sustain the effort to start all over
again in 2000.
Readable throughout, and
written with Boston Globe sportswriter Will McDonough, The
Final Season can be considered a long essay from the sports section.
Tuna recalls his struggles with players, their agents (he refuses
to speak any longer with since-traded wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson’s
agent), the referees, the league, and his uncertainty over the emerging
new ownership of the Jets following the sale of the team by the Hess
family. Lacking in
the book are anecdotes about Tuna’s legendary give-and-take with the
press. There are few scenes
more compelling than watching Tuna during a post-loss press conference
particularly after a tough loss, fielding and battering media questions,
some which he dismisses with hilarious disdain and rancor.
Given how frustrating the 1999 season was, more elaboration on
the media’s coverage would’ve been very welcome.
Perhaps sportswriter McDonough’s participation in the project
influenced this exclusion?
Ultimately, Tuna’s exit
from the sidelines causes organization unrest for the Jets.
His hand-picked successor as coach, Bill Belichick, decides at
the very last minute he doesn’t want to coach in the huge darkness of
Tuna’s shadow. In steps
another long-term Parcells assistant, Al Groh, to helm the Jets, but
that’s where The Final Season ends: Tuna has come, Tuna has seen, Tuna has
conquered. In his
wake he nearly left a winner; some would say he left turmoil.
In the end, he took a franchise that had an almost Red-Sox like
curse for losing, and made them believe, even if he smashed some drums
in the process.