By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Anyone who knows football, or who's even vaguely familiar with what this coach has accomplished in his career (his 149 wins is third-best among active coaches), is loath to predict that he won't conquer this challenge, mighty as it may seem. That's what this man does--he rights the unaligned. He did it with the Jets and the Patriots and the Giants. He took those tattered clubs and remade them to his liking, elevating them from the dregs of the league to the postseason and more than a few Super Bowls. It should be noted, though, that he is no hokey medicine man--he offers no quick-fix, mumbo-jumbo potion. At each of his previous stops a cure took time (it took two years for all three of those teams to make the playoffs, and longer still to reach the Super Bowl with the Giants and Pats). These Dallas Cowboys will prove no different. He must rid them of any recidivism. If anything, it's going to be more arduous here than in New York or New England, because those teams had quarterbacks and running backs and real players, and this team has...mostly it has fantastic jerseys. So there's that, and then there's the ominous schedule that begins with five playoff teams in seven games.
"Oh, I don't know that," Parcells says. "I wouldn't say it's going to be tougher here. This organization is so much sounder than the one in New England. The support structure here is in place, and the talent level is better here than it was in New England. I'd say appreciably better."
That could be, but we're still talking gradations here. Everything is relative in football. If these Cowboys are better off than those early Patriot clubs, it should be understood that both are/were closer to the skeletal-infrastructure end of the development than the world-championship end.
"It's not going to be an overnight fixer," one former NFC East scout says. "He's got a lot working against him--no quarterback, no line...he doesn't really have much to work with, except a few pieces here and there. But if anyone can do it, Parcells can. He's as good a coach as there is. But it's not just about coaching in Dallas. He's got to deal with Jerry."
That would be owner and general manager Jerry Jones. The General has at the top of his credits the very public executions of other high-profile head coaches, namely Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson. In both instances, he showed those accredited coaches the door and then explained their dismissals away by saying it had to be done "for the good of the Dallas Cowboys." The reality is that he did it for the good health of his enormous ego. That's partly why this union between Jones and Parcells seems so damn unholy; who's the alpha male here, and who's the bitch? Although that hasn't yet proven a problem, it very well could by season's end. Even Sports Illustrated's Peter King, who thinks this is a fine marriage of convenience, says in his online column: "I imagine there will be brushfires, lots of them."
At least for now, Jones appears content to let Parcells bask in the spotlight he commanded for the past 10 years. Three straight seasons of winning only five games will do that.
"Do you think that I wanted to hire Bill Parcells and then have to read from all you guys that I was admitting to failure in everything I had been doing?" the General asks rhetorically. "Once I got honest with myself, I had to admit I had failed."
Make no mistake, if the Cowboys are going to stop monopolizing the bad football market, it's going to have everything to do with Parcells and very little to do with Jones. If, or more likely when, the Boys get good again, the prediction here is that history will repeat itself and Jones will erect an ornate stage from which to proclaim his magnificence--and from which he can hang his doughy coach. But that's for later. Before Parcells can join the other Cowboys expatriate coaches, he first has an ungodly amount of ball-busting, head-splitting work to do.
"I can't convince them they can win," Parcells says, sounding less Zen-like than you generally want from your savior types. "There's no way a coach could ever do that. No coach in this league could convince them that they can win. I've said this a hundred times in my coaching career: Confidence is only born in demonstrated ability. That's all. You have to demonstrate that you can win. A team teaches itself whether it wins or not or what it is. A coach can't do that. It's got to be the players."
After watching HBO--a graphic Sopranos rerun--and self-medicating with various party favors, I reluctantly went out for some food. Reluctantly because, though I was suddenly hungry, leaving the media hotel during training camp is always risky. That is, leaving the room usually means seeing someone I know. Which is all right, so long as everything is normal, so long as I'm not feeling...uh... paranoid. Otherwise, things can go all to pieces on me awfully quick. Isolation becomes my friend--nay, my lifeline. Leaving the room is strictly verboten. Unless there's an emergency. Like needing a cheeseburger.