That changed with the hiring of Bill Parcells, the man friends and players affectionately call "Tuna."
In the market glut of big-name NFL coaches, none comes with the credentials Parcells has -- two Super Bowl championships.
The announcement Parcells will be coming to New England was made at a news conference at the upscale Westin Hotel-Copley Place by team owner James B. Orthwein, the St. Louis multimillionaire who purchased the Patriots in May.
"In Bill Parcells we have a man whose track record and commitment to winning are without question," Orthwein said. "This is the beginning of a new and exciting chapter in the history of the New England Patriots."
Parcells agreed to become the Patriots' new leader -- he has sweeping powers in all personnel areas, including the draft and the broadening spectrum of the free-agent marketplace -- for a contract, according to a source, worth $1.5 million a season for four years. He made about $1 million his final year with the New York Giants.
According to the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula will make $1.4 million in 1993, $1.6 million in '94.
Parcells, who ended a self-imposed two-year hiatus from coaching, said he simply had a strong desire to return -- and his health will permit him to. Beginning in December 1991, he had three procedures to remove coronary artery blockages.
"You are what you are," he said. "And Bill Parcells is a football coach.I don't envision myself as anything else."
Parcells is the first coach the Patriots (2-14 last season) have had who had previous success as an NFL head coach. The 11 previous coaches were either former college coaches or NFL assistants.
Parcells, who was Patriots linebackers coach under Ron Erhardt in 1980, replaced Dick MacPherson, who lasted only two years and was 8-24. MacPherson was fired Jan. 8 and chief executive officer Sam Jankovich resigned the next day. The Patriots' last winning season was 1988, when Raymond Berry was coach and the team was 9-7.
Parcells was not given the title of general manager, which had been speculated. And although Parcells kept saying New England would only be successful if it were a team operation "from top to bottom," Orthwein made it perfectly clear that Parcells would be the one leading the way.
"We wouldn't have gone to the expense or the commitment or any of the other things if we weren't going to listen to Bill Parcells," Orthwein said. "If we weren't going to take that seriously, I've been wasting my time getting into this. It's going to be a team exercise, but he's one hell of a team member and we're going to cooperate to the fullest."
That may not mean he has carte blanche, but there is no one in the organization close to Parcells' magnitude, in strict football expertise and experience. Parcells did not mention anything about hiring assistants and did not rule out keeping some of the Patriots assistants.
Patrick Forte, who is a member of the Jankovich regime, will assist Parcells as vice president of football operations, and James Hausmann will serve as vice president of business
operations. Forte's work will be mostly in the area of contracts, while Hausmann will oversee finances.
The Patriots also interviewed former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka and former Philadelphia Eagles coach Buddy Ryan. Forte, who was part of the search committee, said Parcells was the best man the team could have gotten, "bar none."
"He was the guy," said Forte. "He is the guy. He is the right man for this situation. There is no one else I could think of that could fit the bill more so than him. He's a winner.
"How many coaches have you had here that won a Super Bowl before? This guy's won two."
Parcells, 51, recognizes he is returning at a good time -- the Patriots have the top pick in the 1993 draft and free agency is about to change dramatically with the NFL's new collective bargaining agreement. But he said he didn't think a championship can be bought.
"The way you do it is you methodically acquire, develop an coach players," Parcells said.
Parcells, who left the Giants after winning Super Bowl XXV ending his eight-year tenure as coach (85-52-1), had been working as an analyst for NBC. He had previously rejected coaching opportunities with Tampa Bay and Green Bay, and had been the choice of Giants fans the past two seasons.
Parcells, who said the Patriots job would be his last, represents major commitment by the team that has struggled mightily on the field and at the box office the last three seasons or more.
"I think he automatically gives this organization a credibility tha it lost a long time ago," said former Giants player Beasley Reece. "I see him fitting in perfectly."