The Tuna: The Battle For Foxboro Begins

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If you weren’t five minutes early, you were late.  Former New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Parcells created a culture that laid the groundwork and foundation for the organization who we know and love today.  Parcells came to Foxboro to usher in a new brand of football to the region and he’d transform an entire program and also introduce Robert Kraft to current Head Coach Bill Belichick.  

Photo courtesy of patspulpit.com

In 1993, the Patriots lured Parcells out of retirement to become their new head football coach.  The struggling franchise needed a new identity and then owner James Orthwein brought "The Tuna" in to do just that.  In fact, Parcells was given a five-year deal worth $5.5 million.  Parcells was running the show in New England even though they had a general manager,  The Tuna ran the ship.  Parcells wrote a shopping list of groceries for General Manager Patrick Forte, who went out and acquired those players, while business partner James Hausmann assisted in ensuring the team could afford those players.  “Bill is going to tell us what he wants, Patrick is going to work hard at finding what he wants, and Jim is going to find out how to afford it and get it done” said Orthwein.

Before brining Parcells to the organization, the Patriots were mediocre and at the bottom of the league.  Orthwein didn’t have plans to operate the team in Foxboro and wanted to move the Patriots to St. Louis.  Orthwein, who bought the team in 1992 from Victor Kiam for $106 million, hired Parcells.  With his eyes on St. Louis and bringing football to the midwest, Kraft did what he could to prevent that from happening. 

Orthwein wanted to return an NFL team back to his hometown of St. Louis.  He had plans to call the team the St. Louis Stallions and was convinced he had all the tools and resources to bring the team home.  The obstacle was Kraft and Foxboro Stadium, formerly known as Sullivan Stadium.  Prior to the acquisition of the Patriots, Orthwein knew he would have to deal with Kraft in order to move the team from New England. Kraft had purchased Sullivan Stadium and its lease in 1988 and refused to let Orthwein break the lease.  Thus preventing him from moving the team and the repeated efforts to buy out the lease. 

The lease to the stadium ran through 2002, Orthwein went on to offer $75 million to Kraft, but he refused.  While Orthwein and Kraft battled off the field to keep the team in New England, Parcells had a job to do on the field.  The team was coming off of a dismal 2-14 season in 1992 and held the golden ticket.  The Patriots had the No. 1 selection in the 1993 NFL Draft and the debate was whether the team would draft Drew Bledsoe or Rick Mirer.  The debate of who the team would select dominated the sports news, especially in New England.  When a team has the number one selection and are in need of a quarterback, selecting the wrong player would set the team back at least another four or five years. 

Besides trying to find the franchise quarterback to lead the franchise, Parcells needed a coaching staff.  He fired every coach from the previous dismal season with the exception of Dante Scarnecchia and Bobby Grier.  Scarnecchia would work under Parcells as a special assistant while Grier would move to the front office.  Parcells brought in Charlie Weis to become his tight ends coach, and Al Groh was his defensive coordinator and Romeo Crennel was the defensive line coach.  Those coaches would all intertwine in New England lore in the future during the Belichick era. 

The roster underwent substantial changes during the first year under Parcells.  He had to begin building a roster that was younger while adding free agents he was familiar with that could help build a program similar to what he had built in New York as the head coach of the Giants years prior.  It was time to build a team that would go from the “Patsies” and be truly known as the Patriots. 

The unlikely marriage of the Patriots and Parcells felt like a weird union.  He was the right man to bring in.  Known for being one of the best coaches of his generation and two Super Bowl championships in New York, he had the cache a struggling franchise needed to quickly begin to change its identity.  Parcells would begin to lay the foundation and groundwork for a gritty football team, the same style of football team that won on the gridiron at the Meadowlands while he was there.  While he would debate Bledsoe or Mirer and what free agents he would need to bring in before the start of the season, the team off the field was more the focus than what was happening on the field.



Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisHenrique

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Boston Sports Syndicate: The Tuna: The Battle For Foxboro Begins
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