Guts and Genius: The Story of Three Unlikely Coaches Who Came To Dominate the NFL in the '80s
By Bob Glauber
Grand Central Publishing; hardcover, $28.00
The NFL in the 1980s was dominated by three of the greatest coaches in history, Bill Parcells of the Giants, Joe Gibbs of the Washington Redskins, and the San Francisco 49ers' Bill Walsh in what may go down as the best decade in pro football history.
These three coaches combined to win eight championships in an 11-year period starting with San Francisco's Super Bowl victory in 1981.
Walsh led the Niners to two other championships in 1984 and 1988. The 49ers won a fourth title in the season after he retired, 1989.
The Giants won two Super Bowls with Parcells at he helm, in 1986 and 1990, while Gibbs led Washington to three championships, in 1982, 1987, and 1991.
Parcells, Walsh, and Gibbs developed such NFL stars as Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Lawrence Taylor, Phil Simms, Art Monk, and Darrell Green. They resurrected the careers of players such as John Riggins, Joe Theismann, Doug Williams, Everson Walls, and Hacksaw Reynolds. They built championship teams in their own likeness, won with different styles, and revolutionized pro football like few others.
Longtime NFL writer Bob Glauber, who has been Newsday's national football columnist since 1992, digs into the careers of these three men in the new book Guts and Genius. Glauber talks to 150 players, coaches, family members, and friends to find out how they overcame their own insecurities and doubts to build Hall of Fame legacies that transformed their generation and continue to impact today's NFL
Their influence can be seen in the Super Bowls that have been won by the coaches who worked directly for them, or are part of their coaching trees.
Most notable is Bill Belichick, who was the Giants defensive coordinator under Parcells. He has led the New England Patriots to five championships since 2001, and they are back in the Super Bowl for the third straight year. The five titles for Belichick and Tom Brady are a record for a coach/quarterback combination in NFL history.
The last five NFC Champion coaches can be traced to the Bill Walsh family tree: Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks (2013 and '14), Ron Rivera of the Carolina Panthers (2015), Dan Quinn of the Atlanta Falcons (2016), Doug Pederson of the Philadelphia Eagles (2017), and Sean McVay, who took the Los Angeles Rams to this year's Super Bowl. Carroll led Seattle to the 2013 title, and Pederson's Eagles upset New England last year to take home the Lombardi Trophy.
"When I first discussed the idea for Guts and Genius with Gibbs, he offered a revealing response that explained a lot about how he was wired as a football coach," writes Glauber.
"This was just after Gibbs had finished the 2017 NASCAR racing season and he was finally able to wind down a bit after a seemingly interminable schedule of races that goes from February through late November. (Yes, he's nearly as consumed with NASCAR as he was in coaching the Redskins - although he doesn't sleep at the office.)
"When I told him I wanted to look at the three coaches who collectively dominated the period from 1981 to 1991 in the NFL - Gibbs, Walsh, and Parcells - and how each man had won multiple Super Bowls with different styles yet equally brilliant implementation of their systems, he paused for a moment to think about what it meant to compete in an era with his two Hall of Fame contemporaries.
"'That was one of the greatest times of my life,' Gibbs said. 'The experiences we had, the battles we had. This meant so much to me. If it hadn't been for Walsh and Parcells, I'd have four more Super Bowl rings.'
"He might be right.
"In fact, you might be able to make the same argument that Walsh might have won more than three titles and Parcells more than two rings. That's how formidable these coaches were against one another, and how their own brand of guts and genius not only contributed to their own championships, but also prevented the others from winning even more.
"Gibbs, for instance, beat Walsh in their only playoff meeting (after the 1983 season, but he was 0-2 against Walsh successor George Seifert in playoff meetings. Gibbs also had trouble beating Parcells, who was a combined 11-4 against Gibbs from 1984 to 1990, including that 17-0 thrashing in the 1986 NFC Championship Game.
"Parcells was also a thorn for Walsh, whose 49ers lost back-to-back playoff games in 1985 and '86 by a combined 66-6.
"And while Gibbs and Walsh are considered the more cerebral coaches of the three, it was the coach known more for his old-school, physical style who got the better of them in the playoffs. Parcells had a combined 3-1 playoff record against Gibbs and Walsh, and 4-1 when you add Seifert's 1990 Niners to the mix.
"Any way you want to look at them, though, these three coaches produced some of the greatest football the NFL has ever seen, and their collective domination of the decade was one of the most unique eras in pro sports history."
Parcells took over the Giants in 1982, and in his third season, they were back in the playoffs for the first time in two decades. Glauber writes of the 1984 postseason, "The Giants were in the tournament again on Parcells's own terms, and his players responded as well as he could have hoped. Simms had made it through the entire season without missing a start for the first time in his career. (Joe) Morris had begun to flourish with more time in the running back rotation. Even free-agent walk-on Bobby Johnson, given a chance by Parcells as a rookie, led the team with 795 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns.
"Parcells had made the correct move to replace veteran linebackers (Brian) Kelley and (Brad) Van Pelt with (Carl) Banks and (Gary) Reasons. Taylor produced what was then a career high with 11 1/2 sacks. (Harry) Carson and (George) Martin were now his unquestioned leaders in the locker room.
"And Parcells's coaching staff, which included his run-centric, meat-and-potatoes offensive coordinator Ron Erhardy and a defensive staff that featured a bright young linebackers coach named Bill Belichick, had taken shape.
"Parcells's team and his coaches were just the way he wanted. They were tough, and they were tough-minded.
"His first playoff test would take him to the West Coast against the Rams in Anaheim in the wild card round. Los Angeles featured Eric Dickerson in his prime, as the chiseled running back with the trademark black goggles and high-stepping style was coming off an NFL-record 2,105 rushing yards in the regular season - a mark that still stands.
"So there would be no secrets to how the Rams would attack the Giants, nor would there be any doubt that this would be the ultimate test for Parcells's retooled defense. Irresistible force against the immovable object? Absolutely.
"'You can't stop him,' Belichick said. 'You just try to keep him under control.'
"Dickerson got his yards, but the Giants got the better of Dickerson. He coughed up a first-quarter fumble that the Giants converted into a touchdown, and Dickerson was held to 107 yards on 23 carries. He did score a third-quarter touchdown to bring the Rams to within a field goal, 13-10, but the Giants wound up winning 16-13 after keeping the Rams out of the end zone on a key fourth-quarter series.
"Early in the final quarter, Dickerson broke into the open field and appeared headed for the end zone, but second-year free safety Terry Kinard caught him from behind at the Giants' 34. Dickerson helped power the Rams for a first and goal at the Giants' 7, but a key defensive stand held the Rams to a field goal. Dickerson ran only once more for 3 yards, the Giants tackled Dwayne Crutchfield for a 3-yard loss, and quarterback Jeff Kemp's third-down pass fell incomplete, forcing the Rams to settle for Mike Lansford's 22-yard field goal.
"The Rams had one more shot late in the fourth quarter, and were down to a fourth and six at their own 30. Martin turned to Taylor just before the Giants broke the defensive huddle.
"'Meet me at the quarterback,' Martin told him.
"'See you there,' said Taylor.
"They did as promised, combining for a sack and forced fumble to seal the Giants' 16-13 win for Parcells's first postseason victory.
"Up next: Bill Walsh and the 49ers at Candlestick Park.
"Parcells had already decided he'd keep his team in California in the event of a win over the Rams, especially with the divisional-round game in San Francisco set for a Saturday afternoon. The Giants practiced in Fresno, moved Friday night to a hotel in Berkeley, and then went to Candlestick for a rematch against a team that had humiliated them earlier in the season in a 31-10 Monday night shellacking at Giants Stadium.
"Montana had scorched the Giants' defense in that one with three touchdown passes by the midway point of the first quarter, but this game would prove more difficult for the star quarterback, who only three years earlier had won his first Super Bowl.
"Montana did produce three more touchdown passes in the early going, but the Giants intercepted him twice in the first half - including a pick that was returned 14 yards for a touchdown by Harry Carson to bring the Giants within four, 14-10. Montana had one more touchdown throw to Freddie Solomon, but that was it.
"The 49ers won the game, 21-10, leaving Parcells disappointed, yet certainly not demoralized. After all, the 49ers had already established themselves as Super Bowl worthy, and they were coming off a 15-1 season as the NFL's top team.
"The Giants drove into 49ers territory several times in the second half, but never came away with points, thanks to San Francisco's smothering defense. The 49ers limited Simms to 218 passing yards and intercepted him twice.
"'We had our chances,' Parcells said afterward. 'We got down there three or four times and couldn't get it in. That's the difference right there. I'm proud of my players. We are all disappointed.'
"Simms, who was sacked 6 times and lost a fumble in addition to his two picks, acknowledged the 49ers were the better team and deserved to win, but he remained defiant about his team's capability.
"'I still think we can play with them,' he said.
"Someone else who was imprressed by the Giants' performance, even in a losing effort: Walsh himself.
"'The Giants,' he said, 'are definitely a team of the future.'
"Those words would soon prove prophetic."
The following year would be a little different when Parcells met Walsh in the playoffs, as the Giants rolled to a 17-3 win over the 49ers at Giants Stadium in the Wild Card round before losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears. In 1986, they ran out San Francisco, 49-3, in the divisional round before beating Washington, 17-0, in the NFC Championship Game before beating the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXI, the Giants' first title.
Guts and Genius is the perfect book to read during Super Bowl week.