- The Washington Times - Monday, July 28, 2003

SAN ANTONIO — The hair is different, a weird mix of natural white and a blond dye job gone bad.

The home-on-the-range locale is different, too — especially for a New Jersey native who had spent all 19 of his NFL seasons along the short stretch of Interstate 95 between Newark and Boston.

But Bill Parcells still is the same, and he isn’t about to change for even the Dallas Cowboys.

Despite Parcells’ 3-year absence from the NFL, his customary old-school ways were immediately in evidence with the Cowboys.

Parcells cut safety Keith Davis on the eve of the first practice of training camp in the Alamodome. Davis had been shot last month outside a Dallas strip club — just the kind of place the new coach warned his players to avoid.

If that didn’t plainly send the message that the era of nice-guy coach Dave Campo was over, there was more.

Safety Darren Woodson, the franchise’s all-time leading tackler, found his surname taped on his helmet as if he was just an undrafted free agent long shot — a clear, public statement of the Parcells show-me philosophy that says no player can take a roster spot for granted.

Top draft choice Terence Newman is the coach’s personal water boy. Newman and the other rookies wear plain silver helmets; they won’t receive the team’s trademark blue star until Parcells determines they’ve earned one.

“No matter what you’ve done, at some point during training camp you have to show me that you can still do it,” Parcells said. “That doesn’t mean you have to prove it to me every day if you’re a Darren Woodson. But I still have to see that you can still do it.

“If you’re a young player, I’m more interested in your staying power. Can you hang in there? Can you withstand the rigors of a pro football camp and mentally and physically keep up?”

Jerry Jones, the Cowboys’ owner and general manager, had wondered the same things about Parcells.

Parcells had been out of the NFL since he retired — for the second time — after the 1999 season. He left behind an impeccable record: He had resurrected the New York Giants, New England Patriots and New York Jets within his first full three seasons on each job. His teams won two Super Bowls and played in another.

Parcells made it known last fall he wanted back on the sideline. But, for Jones, an important question needed to be answered: Was that powerful drive to win still there?

“Bill needed to assuage my concerns about whether he still had the passion, the interest and the aggressiveness,” Jones said. “The last six months have certainly confirmed that he did. Bill demanded accountability in the offseason. He lived in the strength and conditioning area [at the Cowboys’ Valley Ranch complex.]”

Parcells instituted a tough, no-nonsense regimen.

Televisions were removed from the training room and the thermostat turned down to discourage players from lingering. Players no longer were permitted to use the phone or computer in the equipment room. Cards and dominoes were banned from the locker room, as was loud music.

The results were immediate. Only two Cowboys didn’t make their assigned weights, and the players handled Friday’s grueling conditioning test well enough to escape the famous ire of the coach.

“Bill is as driven as anyone I’ve ever met, but I don’t think he would take on a task that he didn’t think he could conquer,” said former Giants linebacker Carl Banks, who played and worked for Parcells. “Love them or hate them, the Cowboys are still one of the NFL’s great institutions. Bill sees it as a challenge to restore the luster to the Cowboys.”

Parcells was not completely removed from the NFL during retirement, working as an ESPN analyst and a Sporting News radio host last year. He doesn’t need the money he will earn as coach of the Cowboys, despite going through an expensive divorce. He doesn’t have anything to prove after two Super Bowl victories and eight playoff berths.

Parcells says the notion of joining the Cowboys appealed so strongly to him — even though the club has a 50-66 record and just one playoff victory since its Super Bowl victory in the 1995 season — that he agreed to cede player personnel duties to Jones.

That was no small compromise. Parcells has not shared control of the roster since he left the Giants in 1991, the result of a power struggle with general manager George Young after their second Super Bowl title in five years.

“I’m only the head coach here … but my mentality still is that of a general manager in the respect that I’m always thinking about the next thing I can do to get the team better, both coaching it and in talent acquisition,” Parcells said.

The strong-willed, hands-on Jones didn’t enter into this relationship — “a marriage of convenience,” Banks said — for a quick fix to three straight 5-11 seasons but to set the stage for a return to glory in 2004.

The Cowboys are marketing Parcells, not such Pro Bowl veterans as Larry Allen, Dexter Coakley, Terry Glenn, La’Roi Glover and Woodson. At a camp kickoff party in the Alamodome on Thursday night, the 20,000 fans in attendance chanted “Tuna, Tuna, Tuna,” a nickname Parcells dislikes but can’t shake.

“Jerry needs Bill more than Bill needs Jerry,” said former Green Bay Packers general manager Ron Wolf, a Parcells confidant who was on hand for the first practice. “That’s why this is going to work. Jerry will let Bill run the team. He’ll listen to Bill when it comes to football.”

Parcells has had enough influence on Jones to convince the usually free-spending owner to let backups Troy Hambrick and Michael Wiley fight to replace superstar halfback Emmitt Smith. He also has persuaded Jones to eschew signing a veteran quarterback and let youngsters Chad Hutchinson and Quincy Carter battle for the job a second straight summer.

“Bill’s here to instill a winning philosophy, an attitude,” Jones said. “He’s done that before, not once, not twice, but three times. … Most years [I] focused on now. This is a significant philosophical change. We didn’t enter this partnership for a quick fix.

“This season will set a tone. We’re moving into a new era in the history of the Cowboys.”

Parcells’ players don’t waste time traveling back and forth to their hotel between workouts. They eat, lift weights, meet and even cat-nap in the dome, giving Parcells more time to practice such seemingly trivial stuff as the center-quarterback exchange, how to take a safety and how to run out the clock with a deep drop and a long pass out of bounds.

“Coach Parcells didn’t come here for the party,” Hambrick said. “He came here to take care of business, to get the Cowboys back to where they’re used to being.”

Half of the team’s 22 projected starters have been NFL regulars for at least five years, but Allen and Woodson are the only ones to have celebrated a playoff victory with the Cowboys.

“None of us are proven in Coach Parcells’ eyes, so it’s like starting all over again,” said defensive end Greg Ellis, a five-year starter for the club. “I can’t say I’ve made the team. Keeping everybody on their toes like that should make us play better.”

That fear factor is even true for the new sheriff in town.

“Fear motivates all of us,” Parcells said. “[For me] it’s not a fear of losing. It’s a fear of failure. There’s a difference. It’s not doing a good job, not exercising every opportunity to improve, not paying attention to the detail that I know needs paying attention to, not maximizing the potential of my team.”

In that respect, Parcells has never failed.

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