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In Big D, Parcells Gets an A-Plus

Well-Traveled, Well-Respected Coach Has Cowboys Moving in Right Direction

By William Gildea

Washington Post Staff Writer

Wednesday, October 29, 2003; Page D01

IRVING, Tex., Oct. 28 -- At 11:30 a.m. on Mondays, as precisely as though he were still a coach at West Point, Bill Parcells walks into a spacious area at the Dallas Cowboys' headquarters to begin his daily purgatory.

It's time to meet the media, and he believes in being on time no matter the occasion.

Parcells, 62, would rather do almost anything than answer questions from the media, maybe even suffer through a 16-0 loss as his Cowboys did Sunday at Tampa Bay or take on the Washington Redskins this coming Sunday without a lick of preparation -- and the best part of life for him is preparing for a game. On this Monday, he winced at some questions, as if he had just seen his team commit a turnover. He laughed at one question. Other times, he looked exasperated. Occasionally, he lashed out.

"I'm not going to give you day-to-day on any players. It's not a good day for that," he said sharply when asked his plans for 10-year guard Larry Allen, whom he benched during the loss to the Bucs.

"When you play the way we played on offense -- I have to choose my words pretty carefully because I'd be hard-pressed to find more than a couple of guys who played well. I'm not happy with this one, I'll tell you that. . . .

"This isn't Psychology 101. We need to get back to playing better."

Parcells summarized his feelings: "I'm most disappointed in the opportunity that's gone [beating the Super Bowl champions on the road]. That was a chance to really get ourselves established."

Still, Parcells has managed to get the Cowboys more established in seven games than most people expected him to do in a whole season -- or more. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones lured Parcells out of a three-year retirement with $17.1 million over four years to install his proven, football-enlightened dictatorship on a team that finished 5-11 three straight seasons. The Cowboys are 5-2, first in the NFC East.

"The NFC East was tough enough," said Ernie Accorsi, the New York Giants general manager. "Bill Parcells makes it even tougher. In the whole pantheon of coaches, he'll go down as one of the best of all time. He had the two Super Bowl victories with us. At New England, he gets into the Super Bowl. With the Jets, he's 30 minutes from the Super Bowl. . . . You can't give an inch, but you have to give credit to a great coach."

Seated behind a table, facing some 50 reporters gathered in a semicircle, Parcells clearly was enduring an interruption to his immediate coaching mission: beat the Redskins and prevent a losing streak. He's a big man whose bulky appearance suggests he battles his weight less successfully than the wordsmiths. His face is pink from the sun. He has a shock of blond/white hair. He wore a long-sleeve Cowboys jersey and tan shorts with the team's lone star on the side and spotless white shoes, looking less like a coach than a weekend hacker at a public golf course.

But, of course, he not only is a coach, he is the coach in Dallas, just the sixth in Cowboys history, one whose early work suggests a return to the better days of Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson and whose name is often mentioned with the most successful coaches. These include Dick Vermeil, who also couldn't stay away from the game and is enjoying great success at Kansas City; Vince Lombardi, of whom his defensive tackle Henry Jordan said, "He treats us all the same -- like dogs"; George Allen, because Parcells also believes in the importance of special teams, defense and minuscule details; and Bob Knight, who was the young basketball coach at Army when Parcells was a football assistant -- they're both demanding and hot-tempered.

"He's a lot like Coach Landry," said Calvin Hill, who played for the Cowboys under Landry and who is a Cowboys consultant. "In a way, he's a lot like George Allen -- he has the ability to motivate. He's like Coach K at Duke" -- Mike Krzyzewski, whom Hill got to know when his son Grant Hill played for the Blue Devils. "Coach K was coached by Coach Knight. Bill Parcells also was at Army and is close to Coach Knight. They all know the importance of discipline."

The discipline began when Parcells turned Cowboys training camp into boot camp. Players pushed on with repetitions of drills when they didn't think they could. Some were cut from the team faster than they could do another pushup. He established a business-like atmosphere that continues: There is no music or ringing cell phones in the locker room.

Divorced from his wife of almost 40 years, Parcells has nothing to do but concentrate on Jones's -- and now his -- desire to revive a team in trouble. He did it at all three previous NFL stops. And after almost taking over the Bucs before the 2002 season, he decided finally that he was ready to get back to coaching, this time, in part, because he equated the Cowboys with the Yankees and Celtics and Dodgers as a glamour franchise. In retrospect, the title of his autobiography was not to be taken seriously: "The Final Season: My Last Year as Head Coach in the NFL."

"I'm looking for big, fast guys who can play football, are aggressive and have a passion for the game," Parcells said when he was introduced at Valley Ranch in January. "I really don't like guys who don't like football and aren't willing to do what it takes."

Jones, that day, called Parcells "the most qualified coach in our sport that you could draw up if you were drawing your own Rembrandt."

It did not seem to matter to Jones that the endings to Parcells's relationships with his previous NFL teams were less than congenial. Jones was so tired of losing, he wanted Parcells for as long as their relationship lasted. To that end, he journeyed to New Jersey, close to Parcells's home, to make his first pitch. They met in Jones's jet at the Teterboro airport. Eventually, they put their gigantic egos aside just enough to close a deal in which Jones promised far more authority than he has given previous coaches.

Enticingly, Parcells offered something not even Landry could: He would be the first Cowboys coach with previous NFL head coaching experience.

Striving for perfection, Parcells has had his physical setbacks, including at least five heart procedures. But as he once said of football when profiled by "60 Minutes": "It's my life. It's my blood. It's how I'm measured. . . . My entire life has been spent thinking about this game."

Parcells appeals to each player individually -- and that, say those who have played for him, may be his best strength.

"He has a tremendous feel for who he can beat on and who he can't," said Phil Simms, who played quarterback for him with the Giants. "If he can't, he can use kid gloves."

With quarterbacks, such as the Cowboys' youthful Quincy Carter, Simms said that Parcells tries to build not just confidence, but a sense of understanding of the quarterback's importance and responsibilities.

"Without a doubt, I think quarterbacks years ago willed their personalities on the team more," said Simms, an analyst on NFL telecasts. "So many quarterbacks don't have the personality to use the power of the position to bring up the level of the other players."

Carter said just that this week, that Parcells "communicates well because he knows something about every player" and he expected more "communication" shortly; he and his teammates were about to meet with Parcells for the first time since the 16-0 loss.

"It's probably going to be a little worse than normal," said tight end Dan Campbell. "When mistakes are made, he's going to point 'em out."

It didn't seem to matter to Campbell, though. He sounded sold on the Parcells program. "We've got to make the corrections," Campbell said. "We couldn't run, we couldn't throw, we couldn't catch, we couldn't block. Everything you have to do to move the ball we couldn't do. The bar's been raised quite a bit since the beginning of the season. When you lose a game, it should hurt, it should eat you up. We need to dissect it. We need to throw some salt in the wounds."

"He'd be fun to play for," said former Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach. "He wants to win. He's relentless. He gets players to feel responsibility to each other. If you foul up, you feel you let down your teammate. This is how you have a team."

No one in Dallas doubts that the Cowboys are back to being a team. Most expect them to prove that once again Sunday when the Redskins visit. Parcells, one gets the feeling, will demand it. Near the end of his news conference, at a moment when he was thinking ahead to the Redskins rather than behind to the Bucs, Parcells sat up a little straighter in his chair and looked around at his audience. "I know know we can do better," he said.

© 2003 The Washington Post Company

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