NFL owners meeting today unanimously approved the sale of the New York Jets to Robert Wood Johnson IV for $635 million. For all that money, Johnson still doesn't know who will coach his football team.
Johnson, 52 and an heir to the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical fortune, met with the media under crystal chandeliers in a Waldorf Astoria ballroom for the first time since winning the bidding war over cable mogul Charles Dolan last Tuesday. It quickly became apparent that Johnson is still interested in having Bill Parcells return as head coach.
Parcells, 58, two weeks ago announced he was stepping down as head coach after the Jets finished the season 8-8. A day later, his heir apparent, defensive coordinator Bill Belichick, surprisingly renounced the head coaching job.
If Parcells does not return as head coach, he is expected to recommend Jets linebacker coach Al Groh, who has never been an NFL head coach. Johnson said Parcells's "recommendation certainly will be listened to, and may be determinative, because he knows this business."
Parcells, who is still in charge of the Jets' football operations, was unavailable to comment.
Belichick is now believed to be the first choice of the New England Patriots for their head coaching vacancy, with NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue expected to decide by the end of the week on Belichick's fate.
Johnson said today he has had two long meetings with Parcells, the last a three-hour session on Friday, and planned to speak with him again Wednesday in an attempt to convince him to coach the team. He insisted he had no idea which way Parcells was leaning.
"He's not easy to read. . . . If he doesn't want you to know, you don't know," Johnson said. "I'd love to have him coach. I'm optimistic we'll know by the end of the week. The kind of leader Bill Parcells is, I don't think he's going to desert the Jets, that's my impression. He already controls the team. . . . I don't think it's financial. I don't think he's motivated by money. This is something else. . . . We're going to try to find out what role he wants to play. The bigger the role, the better."
Johnson declined to reveal the specific nature of his discussions with Parcells, who had indicated two weeks ago he no longer felt he had the necessary energy to continue as head coach. Several New York newspapers have reported that Parcells has told Johnson his intention is not to coach. But Johnson said today that was news to him.
He also said he would not become involved in the Belichick situation until Tagliabue makes his final decision. The league already has ruled that Belichick has a valid contract with the Jets and Tagliabue held a hearing last week for Belichick to make his case to the contrary.
Tagliabue likely will allow the Patriots to hire Belichick, with the team compensating the Jets with draft choices. That was the solution when the Jets hired Parcells away from the Patriots with a year remaining on his contract after the 1996 season.
Johnson also will soon begin discussions with various government leaders about building a new stadium. The Jets are contractually obligated to play in Giants Stadium in the New Jersey Meadowlands for the next eight years, but Johnson said renewing the lease is not an option.
The owners approved the sale by a 29-0 margin. Two teams, Atlanta and St. Louis, were not in attendance for the vote taken shortly before noon. Johnson also announced that Steve Gutman, the team's long-time president, will stay on in that role.
In other developments, the owners had what was described as a spirited discussion on the need to better inform the entire membership on major decisions taken by the league office and various league committees. The issue came to a head in a lawsuit filed last year by the Oakland Raiders claiming that the league's executive compensation plan had not been approved by the full membership.
Finance committee chairman Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, said today that "I don't think we're doing anything to be embarrassed about." Kraft also said his committee voted last week to include the compensation of all top league executives in all future financial statements given to every owner.
"It will be full disclosure," Kraft said. "We're acting as if we're a public company. We're doing it so it becomes a non-issue."
Said Davis: "There's been a strong admission of wrongdoing. I've used other words in the past like fraud and corruption. But the idea is not to emasculate the commissioner. The idea is to see if changes will be made to correct the problems."
Davis also indicated he intends to pursue his lawsuit against the league over the executive compensation issue. "I'm not done yet," he said. "The lawsuit will progress."