Bill Parcells says Richie Incognito was "a model citizen" when the Hall of Famer brought him to Miami, questions whether Jonathan Martin really wanted to play football and cautions that outsiders can’t understand the NFL locker room environment but "it works."
Incognito was suspended by the Dolphins last Sunday for conduct detrimental to the team amid accusations he bullied and threatened Martin, his offensive linemate who has since left the team.
The situation has set off a firestorm across the country as fans, team executives, coaches and players have taken sides in the debate over the culture in an NFL locker room.
Incognito has had a history of controversial incidents dating to his college days. He was kicked off the team at Nebraska and similar issues followed him into the NFL, as Incognito got into fights with teammates in St. Louis, which drafted him in 2005, on at least two occasions.
But Parcells says Incognito turned it around when he got to Miami in 2010.
“We had a good visit with him, told him the way it was going to be. He was a model citizen for the year that I was there with him," Parcells told the New York Daily News. "I thought the kid was kind of at a crossroads where you might, could save him. It turned out they were pretty much right about that. I believe he’s played pretty well for them.”
The 30-year-old Incognito has long had a reputation as one of the NFL’s dirtiest players. But he has been praised by teammates this week.
”Does he like to give guys a hard time? Yes. Does he like to pester guys and have fun? Yes,” Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill said this week. ”But he brought a lot of laughter to this locker room, he brought a lot of cohesiveness to this locker room and he was the best teammate that I could ask for.”
“If you are a racist or a bigot, you are not going to survive in that environment. It will not be tolerated,” Parcells said. “That’s why you see so much support for (Incognito). There’s nobody who thinks that’s what he is. I haven’t heard anything from Martin that ever indicated there was something contentious between those two. Maybe something in the future will come out.”
Parcells chided the critics who have questioned how Incognito could get away with the things that have been alleged.
“I take strong exception to people intimating they know what goes on in those rooms,” he said. “I was in those rooms for 52 years. I know what goes on in there. The players have their own justice system. And it works. They don’t write the rules and regulations down, but everybody knows what they are. Some things you don’t do.”
Asked if the locker-room justice system is fair, Parcells replied “It’s fair.”
“It’s a lot fairer than most of the justice systems that exist," he continued. "If a player does mean-spirited things to somebody, and I’m not saying that is what happened, the players regulate it. They don’t put up with stuff like that. The locker room is its own world. If a player is for the greater good, if he can help, ‘Come in, we want you. If you can’t, get the hell out of here.’ That’s what it is. Is it fair? I don’t know. That’s the law of that jungle.”
Incognito, speaking publicly for the first time since his suspension Sunday, was interviewed briefly this week by a reporter for WSVN-TV.
"I’m just trying to weather the storm right now," Incognito said before getting into his car. "This will pass."
The case leaves Incognito’s career in doubt, and an associate professor at the University of Miami School of Law said he could face criminal charges.
"This can be pursued as an extortion case," Tamara Lave said. "It could also be pursued as making some kind of threat against the other player’s life. … This particular cultural moment is one in which people are very upset about bullying and hazing. … I think that prosecutors may think it’s important for them to do something. And the fact that you have a 300-pound man who feels so threatened and uncomfortable that he leaves, that’s an indication of how serious it was."
No criminal investigation has been disclosed. Meanwhile, the NFL must decide whether the Dolphins failed to enforce the guidelines for workplace conduct included in the league’s player policy manual.