- The Washington Times - Friday, December 16, 2005

This is the toughest job Bill Parcells has had.

In the 1980s, Parcells turned around a New York Giants team that managed one winning season in a decade.

He quickly did the same in the early 1990s for a New England Patriots team that had won 14 games in the previous four years.

Four years later, Parcells inherited a New York Jets team that had gone 4-28 the two previous seasons and put it in the playoffs his second year.

The Dallas Cowboys, however, have been something else for the 64-year-old reclamation master.

“This was the hardest job because there was a lot of uncertainty during the first year about quarterbacks,” said Parcells, who came out of retirement in 2003 to lift the Cowboys from three consecutive 5-11 seasons under Dave Campo into the playoffs. “It took us a full year and a summer training camp before we knew that [young quarterbacks Quincy Carter and Chad Hutchinson weren’t] going to work. At the other places during the second year, I had a quarterback in place.”

Ex-Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde proved too old to keep the Cowboys on the right track last season, so Parcells turned to Drew Bledsoe, the passer he made the No.1 pick in the 1993 draft for the Patriots.

Thirteen games into 2005, Bledsoe ranks fourth in the NFC in passer rating and has three more touchdowns and nine fewer interceptions than Testaverde for all of last season.

“Drew’s obviously had a good season, [but] I wouldn’t say that we’re the most prolific offense in the NFL,” receiver Keyshawn Johnson said. “We have a long way to go.”

The offense had a big day in Sunday’s 31-28 comeback victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, but defense is where the Cowboys really have improved.

Five-time Pro Bowl nose tackle La’Roi Glover, safety Roy Williams and cornerback Terence Newman, the Cowboys’ top draft picks in 2002 and 2003, are the only starters who were regulars last season, too.

Rookies Marcus Spears, DeMarcus Ware and Chris Canty all are starting in a front seven that survived season-ending injuries to linebackers Dat Nguyen and Al Singleton to help the Cowboys allow 122 points fewer than they had at this point in 2004.

More important, Dallas (8-5) has won two more games than it did last season and leads the fight for the NFC’s last playoff spot heading into Sunday’s showdown at NFC East rival Washington (7-6).

“We have a better team,” Parcells said. “I have a lot of young players, but I have a good mix of some veterans that know me well. That helps with the young players. I enjoy being around the players and coaching them because they’re willing to work with [me].

“Now, we’re a little less than perfect in several areas. We just have to improve the talent a little bit more, and hopefully some of these young players continue to come along like they are now. Then, maybe things will get better.”

They already have. The Cowboys were beaten badly in 2004, suffering seven defeats by at least 14 points. This year’s five losses have come by a total of just 20 points.

Parcells, who took a step back in a second season for the first time with last year’s 6-10 reversal of the 2003 rise, continues to tinker with his roster.

Glover, Williams and perennial Pro Bowl guard Larry Allen are the only starters who predate Parcells’ arrival. Glover, Bledsoe, Johnson, receiver Terry Glenn, guard Marco Rivera and blocking tight end Dan Campbell are the only starters who will be at least 30 when next season opens. And Campbell is the only starter eligible for unrestricted free agency.

So whereas last December, Parcells seemed to be mulling a third and final retirement if he couldn’t get the Cowboys back in their 10-6 form of 2003, the ninth-winningest coach in NFL history has no plans to ride off into the sunset anytime soon.

“It’s fun,” Parcells said of his job. “Win or lose, it’s exciting. I’ve told my players a bunch of times that I hope when they’re 64 years old, they’ll have something that gets them as excited as this gets me.”

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