Tuna Casserole

When the phone rang last week, I almost didn't answer. The long vacation was weighing on me, along with many pounds of pasta and a glutton's share of homemade cookies. I moved slowly but managed to answer before the machine kicked on.

A friend was on the other line, jabbering, demanding that I turn on ESPN. "It's about Parcells."

Along the bottom of the set, the ticker was creeping like a sloth: Bill... Parcells... agrees... to... contract... with... Dallas... Cowboys...

An uneasy feeling hit me, a queasiness borne from what I figure to be a bleak next couple of years. Oh, it'll be fine for you if you're a Cowboys fan; I'm sure Bill Parcells will do here what he did with the Jets and the Patriots and the Giants--win. Right away and often. But for the rest of the league and its fans, for me, a Cowboys renaissance feels like impending doom. The rebirth of a long-dead monster.

Yet there's something oddly right about this. Parity in the NFL is all well and good, but wasn't it fun when there were a handful of proper villains to battle the heroes? Because when the 'Boys can play, really play instead of fake the funk, there's no middle ground, no indifference--you love 'em or you don't. If nothing else, taking sides, rooting for or against them, makes things much more exciting. Better for the bettors, too.

To help nurture the competitive spirit, I commit the rest of this space to humble suggestions and notes, a sort of field guide for the new coach. I figure Parcells can use all the advice he can get. He'll make things right in Dallas, but it won't be easy going.

Be the boss: This has to happen up front or the situation will eventually deteriorate. Bill, if you haven't heard, The General--that's Mr. Jones to you--likes the spotlight. Fancies himself a bit of a leader. It's his sideline and all that...or it was. Now it has to be yours. I saw you in various interviews smiling and chumming with Jerry, and bully for that. But you seemed a bit too submissive with the "I'm an employee of the Dallas Cowboys" line. Bullshit. You're the head coach who's been paid a fantastic sum to fix this ungodly mess. Act like it. Swagger a bit. Control the situation. Make sure church and state get separated, lest everyone involved repeat old mistakes. (I suggest getting hold of Jimmy Johnson for another telling of his ugly story, but you'd better prepare by ingesting some pain killers. Get the strong stuff. Percocet, not that girly Advil junk.) Let Jones go off and play front-office deity if he wants; you coach and tend to the troops. Try to get him off the sidelines for games and limit his access and everyone else's for practice. This will accomplish two things: 1.) It will keep him away from you and let you do your job, and 2.) It will keep me away from you and him, thereby greatly increasing my nap time.

Run a meritocracy: No more trading on reputations. The Cowboys have too often fallen in love with the idea of a player rather than his production. It's bad management, the kind of suspect thinking that's led to the likes of Dwayne Goodrich and Darnay Scott securing work in football instead of crab fishing or dealing pig futures. Make the lot of them win their jobs or go and put your big Tuna foot in their slacker asses. I'll help. Start with oft-injured Rocket Ismail and Joey Galloway. Those two have been on TV halftime shows more than they've been on the field catching passes. Either they produce or they're out on the street. Same goes for the shaky cornerbacks and the midget linebackers and the shameful offensive linemen. And now that I think of it, everyone on that silly 5-11 team. No one should be safe. Remember: 5-11--that's only three better than those bunch of orange-and-black-clad clowns in Cincinnati.

Find a quarterback: Draft one, buy one, enlist one of the janitors, craft one from papier mâché and stale Fritos. Whatever. But you're going to have to do something. (Those two were so terrible this year....I just can't even....ugh...hey, whaddya do with those pain pills?)

Trust your staff: You've already announced your main coordinators: Mike Zimmer stays on to run the defense while Maurice Carthon--one of your former players--has been enlisted to head up the offense. Good choices, both, especially since neither of them is named Bruce Coslet. (A bulletin to all readers: the Dallas Observer is offering a handsome reward for anyone who snaps a photo of Coslet digging in the trash or sleeping under a cardboard box in some dank back alley.) But at other stops, you tended to be overly involved with the small stuff, with the details of punt returns and pass blocking. Your drive is commendable, but micromanaging is for assistants. You brought them in, now allow them to help. It'll save you time and keep you sane. And when you decide on the position coaches--special teams coach Joe Avezzano, for example--make sure the "meritocracy rule" applies. Either he produces or he hits the curb. Hell, he'll be lucky to have a job at all after wasting the return gigs on a bunch of Marys instead of taking a shot with Woody Dantzler.

Remember your words this time: I heard you say that the Cowboys' "most recent history isn't acceptable to Jerry, and losing, certainly, isn't acceptable to me." I also heard you say after leaving the Jets that it was your "last job" and that there wouldn't be any more coaching rumors about Bill Parcells. (By the way, you should never again refer to yourself in the third person. Too lordly.) You see where I'm going with this? Enough promises already. Stick around, see what you can do. Unless you win another couple of Super Bowls, feel free to immediately retire and rescuttle the ship. There's only so much I can take.

A final note on civility: We've all seen you snarl. That footage of you from your past gigs screaming at East Coast reporters is foreboding. When you don't get your way, you tend to pout or lash out. This time, don't. Suck it up; be a man, not a fish. You won't have much trouble with most of the local media--unless you have a particular distaste for warm puppy-dog slobber--but I can't promise the same for myself. I have a bit of a temper, and I've been known to strike back. So before you go and pick a fight with me, be advised that I'm 6-4, 240 pounds of steroid-fueled muscles. I have bad teeth and wild hair and I'm able to crush small autos and fat, surly coaches with my bare hands.

Also, you should know that I'm a devotee of pro wrasslin', a man who's well-versed in the art of the atomic elbow and who isn't afraid to drop one on rude bastards.

Beware and good luck.