Monday, September 03, 2007

A Tale of Honor and Intrigue Inside the Giants

Published: September 3, 2007

When the Giants hired Jim Fassel to be their coach after the 1996 season, Bill Parcells, then about to leave the New England Patriots, was never whispered to have been a serious candidate to return to the team he had guided to two Super Bowl championships. But now it can be told that Parcells was almost offered the job that Fassel got.

Ernie Accorsi, the former Giants general manager, who was then the team’s assistant general manager, tells that story and many more in “The GM” (Crown), a compelling chronicle of Accorsi’s career written adroitly by Tom Callahan, who was allowed to be a fly on the wall of the Giants’ inner sanctums during their tempestuous 2006 season. The Parcells story developed after another tempestuous season, 10 years earlier, when Dan Reeves resigned as the coach after a 6-10 season.

George Young, the Giants’ general manager at that time, wanted Fassel to be the new coach and was adamant in not wanting Parcells, but the co-owners Wellington Mara and Bob Tisch, who had to agree on Reeves’s successor, disagreed. Mara preferred to pursue Parcells, but when Tisch did not want Parcells, Young asked Mara if he could offer the job to Fassel, who was stashed in a nearby hotel.

According to Accorsi, Mara told Young to “go ahead,” and Young hurried to offer the job to Fassel.

“But George isn’t gone even two minutes,” Accorsi is quoted as saying, “when Bob Tisch calls to say he has changed his mind. ‘If you want to hire Parcells,’ he says, ‘go ahead.’ John Mara quickly calls our switchboard up front. ‘Did George Young leave the building yet?’ ‘Yes, he just ran out.’ ”

In that era before cellphones, John Mara called the hotel, hoping to head off Young. No luck.

“Eventually they call Fassel’s room, asking for George, and he comes on the line,” Accorsi is quoted as saying. “Either John or Wellington, I can’t remember which one — both of them, essentially — asks George, ‘Have you offered the job to Fassel yet?’ George says, ‘Yes, I have.’ ‘Has he accepted it?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘O.K.’ The Maras being the Maras, once the offer had been extended on their behalf, they weren’t about to take it back.”

But what if Young had not yet offered the job to Fassel? What if Parcells, who was already smoking out the Jets’ job as the coach and general manager, had preferred the Giants’ offer?

Either way, the Patriots would have been awarded compensation in draft choices, as ordered by Commissioner Paul Tagliabue after the Jets eventually hired Parcells. But if he had returned to the Giants in 1997, the recent history of both New York franchises surely would have been different.

Without Parcells, the Jets might have remained on a treadmill to oblivion instead of going to the 1998 American Football Conference championship game.

With Parcells, the Giants might have signed running back Curtis Martin (as the Jets did), but never developed Tiki Barber and never drafted Eli Manning.

As last season wound down with Accorsi about to retire, Parcells, according to Callahan, quietly told a former Giants colleague, “I’m available to be the Giants’ general manager if they get stuck.” Several weeks later, Accorsi’s assistant, Jerry Reese, got the job around the same time that Parcells resigned as the Cowboys’ coach.

Just asking, but if the Giants wobble this season, would Parcells be available to be Tom Coughlin’s successor?

Accorsi’s other stories often involved Joe Paterno, the Penn State coach who preached two football principles: get field position and don’t try to be too smart — both of which Coughlin ignored in the disastrous loss to the Bears last season at Giants Stadium.

With the Giants leading, 13-3, they called a timeout with a minute and a half to go in the first half.

“Don’t be too smart,” Accorsi groaned in the Giants Stadium tunnel where he watched games with Callahan. “The Bears are ready to settle for 13-3 at the half!”

With the Bears pinned on a third-and-22, the Giants let Thomas Jones escape for 26 yards, and then let the Bears narrow the score to 13-10.

In the second half, with the Giants trailing, 17-13, place-kicker Jay Feely trotted out to attempt a 52-yard field goal. “Oh, no,” Accorsi groaned. “Now we have all of our fat guys on the field. Watch Devin Hester run it back all the way for a touchdown.” All 108 yards, as it turned out. The Bears won, 38-20.

When the Giants hired Coughlin, Accorsi was all for him, saying, “If we can’t win with this guy, I’m taking up tennis.”

But when Accorsi retired, John Mara, who gave Coughlin a one-year extension instead of firing him, told Callahan, “For a going-away present, I thought of giving Ernie a tennis racket.”


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