How the Belichick-Parcells relationship mirrors Coach K and Knight’s

Mentor teaches pupil. Pupil bests mentor. Mentor and pupil grow apart. Mentor and pupil become close again. It’s a narrative that describes two of the greatest coaching pairings — Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells, along with Bobby Knight and Mike Krzyzewski — in the modern era, and it’s just one of the ties that bind the four legends. Belichick coached on the defensive side of the ball under Parcells from 1983-1990 with the New York Giants, 1996 with the New England Patriots and 1997-1999 with the New York Jets. The two were so tied at the hip that Belichick was called “Little Bill,” and Parcells was called “Big Bill.” Little Bill, though, has now surpassed Parcells. As head coach he has more Super Bowl titles (four to two), more Super Bowl appearances (six to three), and more regular-season victories (211 to 172). Coach K played under Knight from 1966-1969 at Army and coached under him at Indiana from 1974-1975. When Krzyzewski’s father died near the end of his senior year, Knight flew to Chicago to mourn with the family and he attended Krzyzewski’s wedding four days after his player graduated from college. Like Belichick, Krzyzewski similarly exceeded his confidante and former boss. He now has more NCAA championships (five to three), Final Four appearances (12 to five), and total victories (1,018 to 902) than Knight. The striking parallels, though, go beyond a student gaining more acclaim than his teacher. The falling out and reconciliation The plan all along was for Belichick to succeed Parcells as head coach with the Jets. However, Belichick, who saw a more stable ownership with the Patriots and a chance to spread his wings, resigned from that position to become the Patriots’ head coach. “At that point in time, in that situation, I did what I felt I needed to do and I don’t have any regrets about that,” Belichick said in Parcells: A Football Life. “Certainly a lot of things could have been handled differently.” Belichick’s move to New England not only added more fuel to the Patriots-Jets rivalry, but also created acrimony between the coaches. The two remained estranged for about six years. But after Parcells watched Belichick win Super Bowl XXXIX and get doused with Gatorade while his father, Steve, was at his side, Parcells was moved. He sent a note describing his joy in seeing them enjoy that father-son moment. More than a year after that, Belichick invited Parcells, the then-Cowboys coach, to play golf at Nantucket Golf Club, a gracious act that Scott Pioli, Parcells’ son-in-law and former Belichick right-hand man, is presumed to have played a role in. Shortly thereafter, the coaches regularly called each other. Belichick, whose girlfriend was living in Florida, even purchased a condominium unit two floors above Parcells’ Miami-area place in 2009. “We just had a difference of opinion on some things,” Parcells said in his book. “I wasn’t happy that we were kind of at different ends of the spectrum for a while. I wouldn’t say we’re buddy buddies, but we get along.” The ultimate gesture came when Belichick left Patriots training camp to attend Parcells’ 2013 induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. When Coach K went to his first Final Four in 1986, a beaming Knight supported him by wearing a Duke button in Dallas. For his sixth Final Four, Coach K’s defending champion faced Knight’s Indiana team in the semifinal. Duke won 81-78, and the coaching legends brushed past each other after the game, barely shaking hands. It was never revealed what led to the frostiness in the relationship. John Feinstein, a Duke alum and author of the Knight tell-all book, A Season on the Brink, conjectured that Knight felt Krzyzewski had not publicly credited him enough for his success. Like it did for Parcells and Belichick, the Hall of Fame helped mend fences for the basketball coaches. Krzyzewski asked Knight to introduce him during his induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001, and the two became close once again. During a 2006 holiday tournament, Krzyzewski told me he always roots for Knight, who was then coaching Texas Tech, to win, equating it to cheering for a family member. When Krzyzewski surpassed Knight in 2011 as the all-time winningest men’s basketball coach in Division I history, Knight was there announcing the game for ESPN. The two warmly embraced. “I just told Coach I love him,” Krzyzewski said. “I wouldn’t be in this position without him. It’s a moment shared. I know he’s very proud and I’m very proud to have been somebody who’s worked under him and studied him and tried to be like him.” Military ties All four have deep connections to the military. Bill Belichick’s father, Steve, coached at Navy from 1956-1989. The Midshipmen coach helped indoctrinate his son, who learned how to scout at the age of 10, into the football world. Steve coached against Parcells, the Army head coach from 1966 to 1969, in the famed Army-Navy rivalry clashes. Parcells became the head coach at another service academy, the Air Force, in 1978. It was his first head coaching job at any level. Knight, who was nicknamed the “General” in part because he coached at Army from 1965 to 1971, recruited Krzyzewski. Coach K then served as Army head coach from 1975 to 1980 before becoming Duke head coach. To further complete this coaching quadrangle, Parcells and Knight were the respective head coaches of football and basketball at Army at the same time. They became great friends, playing heated basketball games against each other and regularly hanging out in Knight’s basement or Parcells’ living room. Knight would counsel Parcells on prospective jobs, once telling him the Indiana head coaching job had opened, though Parcells would accept the Giants’ head coaching position. Three years before, Knight recommended Duke hire an under-the-radar coach with a last name that was difficult to pronounce. He would go on to become the NCAA’s all-time winningest men’s basketball coach. Follow Jeff on Twitter @Jfedotin

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