Kraft wins Parcells battle Tagliabue rules Pats retain rights to coach; Jets preparing offer

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Bill Parcells found out yesterday that the path to the New York Jets goes through Bob Kraft's office.

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue ruled that the option clause in Parcells' contract with the New England Patriots is valid, which means that he can't coach any other team in 1997 without the Patriots' permission.

In effect, this means that if the Jets want to hire Parcells, they must give the Patriots enough compensation to persuade Kraft, the Patriots' owner, to let him out of the contract.

Tagliabue ruled that Parcells' contention that he was free to buy out the final year of the deal was "contrary to common sense, as well as to Massachusetts law."

Kraft is expected to demand the first pick in the draft from the Jets, who are expected to counter with a package of picks, including their second-round choice this season (31st overall) and possibly next, as well as more than $1 million cash.

Tagliabue said Parcells is free "to pursue other business opportunities, such as broadcasting or other non-coaching positions." He is free to coach any team in 1998.

A league spokesman said other "non-coaching positions" did not include becoming a general manager of another team in 1997. Parcells even could coach the Patriots again for one more year, but that appears to be a remote possibility because his rift with Kraft has grown so wide.

Neither Kraft nor Parcells commented yesterday, although a law firm representing Parcells issued a statement saying the coach "is considering the various options available to him. He will make a statement as soon as possible."

The Patriots issued a statement saying the club was pleased the validity of the contract was upheld and, "it is now time for the Patriots to move ahead and build on the success of the 1996-97 season."

Jets president Steve Gutman said he wouldn't comment "until the entire process is completed," an indication that his team is part of the process. The Jets haven't interviewed any other coaching candidates since Rich Kotite announced the last week of the season that he wouldn't be returning in 1997.

Bolstering his claim to the No. 1 pick in the draft, Kraft reportedly told colleagues inside the organization, "You tell me what someone with three Super Bowls is worth on the open market."

He then mentioned the last three No. 1 picks and said, "Who's worth more? Keyshawn Johnson? Ki-Jana Carter? Dan Wilkinson?"

Parcells' original five-year contract signed in 1993 with former owner James Orthwein included a $1.2 million penalty clause if he didn't coach all five years unless he had severe health problems.

He had fulfilled three years of the deal when he came to Kraft on Jan. 12, 1996, after a 6-10 season and asked him to eliminate the penalty clause if he retired after the 1996 season.

"He said he was exhausted and drained and that the kids were different these days," Kraft said earlier this week.

Kraft agreed, as long as Parcells agreed to the option clause that said if he decided he wanted to coach in 1997, it had to be with the Patriots.

At that point, Parcells was thinking of simply quitting after the 1996 season. But he apparently was energized by the Patriots' success in 1996 and decided he wanted to coach again.

His relationship with Kraft was strained when Kraft stripped him of the authority to make the final decision on draft picks and gave it to Bobby Grier, the team's player personnel director. Kraft backed Grier's decision to take wide receiver Terry Glenn with this year's top pick, against Parcells' wishes.

The result is that Parcells wanted to leave for a team that will give him total control. The Jets appear willing to do that.

Pub Date: 1/30/97

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