In the middle of last season's seven-game losing streak, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross talked often of what he wanted to do with his football team going forward but occasionally allowed himself to ponder what might have been. And one of the things he wishes might have been revolved around Bill Parcells.
Ross told friends he thought the contract Wayne Huizenga gave Parcells was ridiculous. Ross inherited a dea that allowed Parcells to walk away from the team before his four-year term was complete and still collect the full promised salary of the deal -- somewhere between $12-$16 million.
Secondly, Ross told friends he wished he could have kept Parcells ... as his coach.
"He coaches this team, we'd be in a different situation," Ross told his associates. "We wouldn't be 0-5 [at the time]."
Ross, I am told, went so far as to consider offering Parcells the coaching job as far back as 2010.
And that's perhaps the thinking in New Orleans today. Parcells has been in contact with the Saints about myriad things -- in part because he often talks with coach Sean Payton, in part because Payton wants him to take over as the New Orleans interim coach.
Parcells and a Saints contingent met in Jupiter, Fla., where Parcells lives part of the year, on Tuesday. They reportedly played golf. If the job in New Orleans didn't come up, it is only because it has already been discussed numerous times since last week when the NFL announced Payton was to begin serving a one-year suspension for his role in the Saints' so-called Bountygate scandal.
Make no mistake: Parcells is intrigued by the idea of returning to coach, if only for nine or 10 months.
Last season, for example, an NFL team offered him a head coach job. He thought about it for 48 hours before turning it down. He didn't like the idea of picking up and moving. He didn't think he could assemble a good enough staff comprised of "his people." He didn't have a franchise quarterback on the roster. He certainly didn't need the money.
He said, "No, thank you."
"But when something like this comes up, it gets me going," Parcells told me, "and I have to admit it becomes very, very hard for me to say no."
Parcells may still say no to the Saints although the concerns he had last year don't exist in New Orleans. The staff is already in place. He will have a franchise quarterback and there is no appreciable rebuilding to be done. The opportunity is, by definition, temporary.
But there are things that counter-balance the lure of returning to the sideline. Parcells is now eligible for the Hall of Fame. He was a top 10 finalist for the Hall this year. If he returns to coaching, the five-year clock on his eligibility for HOF consideration will revert to zero. He would have to wait a minimum of five years before he gets his next chance at the Hall.
That is not something Parcells would dismiss lightly. He respects the game. He respects the NFL and what it has meant to him and his family. Getting into the Hall of Fame is important to him. At 70 years old and about to turn 71 in August, he wants to be alive when he eventually gets the vote to get in. If he takes the Saints job, he would be 77 at the earliest before he can get in.
I say all that to say this: Bill Parcells is still a prized commodity as an NFL head coach.
His time with the Dolphins was not, by any measure, a stellar one. He recognizes that. We all do. But I don't think Ross is the only one who wonders what might have been if Parcells had been coaching -- the thing he does best -- rather than sitting atop the organization and making personnel decisions.
Parcells, you see, had very little to do with the coaching of the team. Tony Sparano was extremely jealous of his spot as head football man and was vigilant not to be overshadowed by Parcells. Parcells similarly wanted to give Sparano every chance he could to succeed. So he gave Sparano space.
He didn't offer corrections. He didn't tell Sparano his opinion on things he thought the former coach was getting wrong. Parcells did this only if Sparano asked. And often times, Sparano didn't ask.
So Parcells would roam the sideline offering casual tips to players here and there. He would tweak their egos here and there. But he would not coach the Dolphins.
Then on Sundays he'd sit in his pressbox perch and call the shots on coaching flubs or miscues as they were happening or, in some instances, before they happened. On several occasions general manager Jeff Ireland sat with Parcells and I'm told asked Parcells how he knew what was about to go wrong.
"It's experience and it's part of being a good coach," Parcells said.
Ross thought Parcells would have been a good coach -- better than he was a personnel man. Another team shared that belief last year. The Saints are probably thinking the same now.