OXNARD, California--He's obstinate, irrational, contentious, egomaniacal and, sometimes above all else, brilliant. To borrow the personality profile voiced by WFAA-Channel 8 sports anchor Dale Hansen:
"He's a dick."
In other words, Bill Parcells is the perfect and perhaps the only coach capable of harnessing Terrell Owens.
"I don't care how many lemons you got," Parcells says in assessing his team as Dallas Cowboys training camp commences, "still gotta make the lemonade."
For the Cowboys to be legit Super Bowl contenders this season, Parcells will have to be at his Hall of Fame best. Considering Owens boasts the team's best talent and most of Parcells' tumultuous traits, the coach's latest legacy hinges on two challenges:
How to use T.O. How to treat T.O.
"I'm pretty certain he'll do his job," Parcells says. "I hope he responds to challenges and competition. It would not be good if he didn't."
One of Parcells' professional assets--and personal liabilities--is that he is unflappably dismissive of anyone or anything that can't help him win. At training camp he meanders, head down, feet shuffling, past the chainlinked throng of 10-deep Cowboys fans screaming for an autograph, a wave, any sort of acknowledgment. Parcells never raises his gaze, much less his hand. In fact, while owner Jerry Jones and players spend time every day pacifying the crowd, the Cowboys designate a solitary, secret gate for Parcells to circumvent the frenzy.
Parcells' blinders are so constricting that after a year and a half doing weekly TV shows with KTVT-Channel 11 sports anchor Babe Laufenberg, he asked a Cowboys' staffer, "What station is he on?" Oblivious to Hansen's press conference insult in which he purposely directs football-specific questions to the owner instead of the head coach, Parcells recently asked, "Who's that guy that looks like Brian Dennehy?"
Even with T.O., Parcells is employing the cunning approach of "Who?" and "Huh?"
During one media session the soon-to-be 65-year-old with no noticeable symptoms of Alzheimer's feigns ignorance about the superstar receiver's past, present and future. "I don't know anything about him other people don't know," Parcells says. "Is he compatible here? I don't know. But seriously, you think I'm worried about that?"
Apparently everyone except the coach is intrigued by Parcells vs. T.O., sports' biggest ego union since Cassius Clay met Muhammad Ali.
Integrating Owens into last year's 13th-ranked offense will be the painless part. On the field, Parcells needs T.O. much more than T.O. needs Parcells.
While Vanilla Billa has never produced a receiver with more than 1,200 yards in a season, Owens has surpassed that total four times in the last six years. But none of Owens' talent will matter if Parcells can't control his temperament. And handling T.O. is as dangerous as flirting with Brooke Hogan.
Owens claims what's best for T.O. and what's best for the Cowboys "go hand in hand." But a similarly sappy start in Philadelphia two summers ago ended with him suspended the final nine games of 2005 and an arbitrator's investigation concluding that Owens was "a destructive and continuing threat" to quarterback Donovan Mc-Nabb and the Eagles.
"You'd have to be living in a closet to not know some of the things," Parcells says in defending Owens. "But maybe those guys are the guys with the problems. Who knows?"
Truth is, Parcells is covering his ample ass. By knowing everything and nothing about T.O., he can be the coach who finally lassoed the troublemaker when T.O. leads Dallas to the Super Bowl. Or simply shrug his shoulders when T.O. implodes another locker room.
Parcells' advice to quarterback Drew Bledsoe about handling T.O.: "Get a haircut. You'll look younger."
"Look, I'm going to respect him and coach him," Parcells says. "There's no secret formula."
So far, so smooth.
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"I went in with preconceived notions about Bill, but I was wrong," Owens says during one of his daily post-practice sermons. "From not being here and just hearing about him, I thought he was a guy that I'd never want to play for. But now I see that as long as I'm doing my job, we'll have no problems."
So how will the Cowboys approach T.O.? With the same sensitive strategy that has, shockingly, kept the owner and coach from publicly butting heads for three years.
"Bill and I haven't been careless with each other," Jones says the first Sunday night of camp. "I believe Terrell's relationship here will be the same way."
Says Parcells, "Sometimes these things work, sometimes they don't. Hopefully this one will. "