- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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Bill Parcells, who is a member of the 2013 Pro Football Hall of Fame class, told USA Today that the one regret in his standout career was leaving the New England Patriots. According to Parcells, if he could do it all over again, he would have stayed in New England after the 1996 season and continued working for owner Robert Kraft after losing to the Green Bay Packers in the Super Bowl.
It's interesting to think what could have been had Parcells stayed with the Patriots longer. Here are several things to consider:
Would there have been a Patriots dynasty in the early 2000s? Parcells was definitely on to something in '96. In typical Parcells fashion, he turned a downtrodden New England franchise into a winner and eventual AFC champion before Parcells and Kraft stopped seeing eye to eye. That caused Parcells to split, and New England went on to hire two coaches: Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick. Carroll was a decent 27-21 in three seasons in New England but could never get the team back to the big game. But things took off once Belichick was hired. Five Super Bowl appearances and three championships later, Belichick is still New England's coach in 2013. Belichick was the assistant head coach and secondary coach in New England during Parcells’ final season with the Patriots. Had Parcells stayed, Belichick might have been groomed to be the Patriots' head coach in waiting. Or another team could have called sooner and offered Belichick a head-coaching job elsewhere. Without Belichick, there would be no Patriots dynasty.
Would Parcells have switched from Drew Bledsoe to Tom Brady? Bledsoe was Parcells' quarterback, and the two made it to the Super Bowl together in '96. If Parcells were still coaching the team five years later, would he have had the same foresight to stick with Brady after Bledsoe got injured? Belichick made one of the gutsiest calls in NFL history in 2001 to stay with an unknown, sixth-round pick over a former Pro Bowler. The result was New England winning the first of three Super Bowl titles with Brady, who went on to become one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Parcells had a stronger connection to Bledsoe than Belichick ever did, so the right decision would have been more difficult for Parcells to make. It's even questionable that New England would have drafted Brady in the first place if Parcells were still running the Patriots. Speaking of which ...
How would keeping Parcells impact New England’s drafts? One of the reasons Parcells is being inducted into the Hall of Fame is he was one of the rare people who can both coach and evaluate talent at a very high level. But the Patriots also built their dynasty through the draft with Belichick. It started at the top with Brady, the greatest value pick ever, and continued with homegrown talents such as Richard Seymour, Matt Light, Asante Samuel and Vince Wilfork. Maybe New England's rosters would have been just as stout with Parcells calling the shots. But that’s asking a lot.
Overall, things worked out best for the Patriots. They had a few slightly above-average years with Carroll, then hit a home run with Belichick, who also will someday be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
There is little doubt that Parcells would have continued his success in New England. But could he match Belichick’s five Super Bowl appearances and three titles with the Patriots? Probably not.