- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 26, 2004

For Bill Parcells, life is a constant test of wills with opponents, the media, his players and his bosses. This is a coach who threatened to leave his team after each of his three Super Bowls and twice made good on the threat. This is a coach who has been known to get into physical altercations with athletes half his age. Even at 63, there are few more intimidating people in the NFL than Parcells.

“If you miss a kick, you’re going to get that cold stare where Bill watches you for about 10 seconds,” said Washington Redskins kicker John Hall, who played his first three seasons for Parcells’ New York Jets. “You keep looking back to see if he’s looking at you. It gets to the point where you can feel him looking at you.

“In practice, Bill would walk in front of you right before the snapper would snap the ball. He would move [to block the sun] so you could barely see the ball, and then when you were kicking, he would shout something. I was a rookie free agent, and he was trying to see what I was made out of.”

Even now that he’s a proven eight-year veteran, Hall knows his old coach will stroll over and “try to outpsych me” before Dallas faces the Redskins on Monday night at FedEx Field.

Redskins guard Randy Thomas, who broke in with the 1999 Jets, credits Parcells for helping frame his work ethic “by being so tough on me that he made me never be comfortable in my position.”

Comfortable is not a word normally associated with Parcells. Cowboys quarterback Vinny Testaverde, who led the 1998 Jets within one victory of Parcells’ fourth Super Bowl, threw for 322 yards last week (becoming the first player over 40 to surpass 300 yards in consecutive games), but the coach wouldn’t let him forget three late interceptions that forced Dallas to sweat out the victory.

“Bill makes all the players on his team better because he holds them accountable and gives them the information they need to become better players,” said Testaverde, one of seven Cowboys on a second tour of duty with Parcells. “I know how Bill coaches. Sometimes he gets in your face a little bit, but if I couldn’t handle it, I wouldn’t be doing it.”

Parcells is still “doing it” after three retirements, 17 seasons and 160 victories and a sure spot in the Hall of Fame because he loves the money, the camaraderie and the challenge. Beginning with the New York Giants in 1983 and moving on to New England in 1993, the Jets in 1997 and Dallas last year, Parcells has prodded, taught and goaded each previously faltering team into the playoffs by the end of his second season.

“Hall of Fame coaches can take the same guys who think they’re worthless and make them believe they can do anything,” said Hall, along with Thomas the only active players to have suited up for both Parcells and Washington legend Joe Gibbs.

As amazing as it was to take the 1-15 Jets of 1996 and mold them into an AFC runner-up two years later, Parcells quickened the pace in Dallas, directing the Cowboys, 5-11 the three previous years, into a 10-6 wild-card qualifier in his first season. This year’s challenge for Parcells is making his customary second-season four-game improvement.

Parcells could have been talking about himself when he identified what makes Gibbs a Hall of Famer: “He has a philosophy, he doesn’t deviate and he tries to get players that fit into that philosophy.”

The 2004 Cowboys are no match for Parcells’ 1986 Super Bowl champion Giants or even his lesser 1990 champion Giants or 1996 AFC champion Patriots, but each team relied on its ferocious defense and a veteran quarterback who had the coach’s trust.

“I have confidence in Vinny based on my history with him,” Parcells said. “He can deal with Parcells when Parcells gets off that reservation. That’s important. That’s what Phil [Simms of the Giants] could do. That’s what [Patriots quarterback] Drew Bledsoe could do. I get that way once in a while with quarterbacks, and they deal with it well.”

When Antonio Bryant tossed his jersey in Parcells’ face during minicamp in June because he was unhappy with the number of snaps he was getting, the coach dealt with it instead of cutting the talented third-year receiver loose, as many would have expected.

“A couple of my ex-players who I used to have fights with said, ‘You must really like that [expletive] if you’re wasting your time fighting with him,’” Parcells said.

Parcells, who likes to say, “I don’t try to be consistent — I try to be right and fair” — figured Bryant’s burning desire to succeed would be better served with the Cowboys rather than another team. Two games into the season, Bryant, although not a starter, is on pace for 88 catches and 1,328 yards, figures no Cowboy has reached in nine years.

“Bill wants guys that are fiery, that know how to play the game and give our team a chance to win,” Testaverde said. “That’s why Antonio is still with us. Bill hasn’t mellowed a bit. He was on me from day one when I got here, and this morning he was still riding me a little bit. But I know at the end of the day that he’s going to have a successful team, and I want to be part of it.”

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