By Les Carpenter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 14, 2006
All these years later and he still doesn't handle the losing well. Early Sunday evening, Dallas Cowboys Coach Bill Parcells walked into a tiny room beneath Jacksonville's Alltel Stadium and scowled into a row of television lights.
His team, hailed by many as an NFC East contender, had slogged its way to a 24-17 defeat in the season's first game. It had been a sloppy performance riddled with penalties, turnovers and careless passes. The coach who thrives on perfection was not pleased. His face was red, his jowls drooped. He looked tired. He was curt.
"Too many mistakes today, fellas," he said.
It was vintage Parcells -- short, competitive and ever in control. It's an act that has been playing over the better parts of three decades now, and with every suggestion that the coach has tired in the month after his 65th birthday, there comes a moment like Sunday afternoon when it becomes clear the fire is still there.
How was Terrell Owens?
He gave the Cowboys a chance to do things.
How was quarterback Drew Bledsoe, who had three interceptions?
He'll have to watch the film. Next!
"Penalties were a problem for your team last year" started a question.
Parcells glared. Penalties? The Cowboys were one of the least-penalized teams in the league last season. The coach was fuming now.
"Get your information right," he snapped.
A few moments later, he finished his end-of-the-first-game address, shoved away from the podium and stepped off a makeshift dais, storming into the locker room. The whole thing hadn't lasted five minutes.
As the years go on, the feistiness has lingered. Parcells, always famous for power plays, continues to make them even if his points are more subtle. When owner Jerry Jones signed high-maintenance wide receiver Owens in the winter, it was reported in Dallas that Parcells was not happy with the move. His way has always been one of control and Owens -- with his repeated outbursts and acts of defiance -- threatened Parcells's omnipotence.
And Owens did not disappoint, spending much of training camp in California on an exercise bicycle, going as far as to show up one day in a Lance Armstrong jersey and a bike helmet, calling it his "Tour de Oxnard" comeback. Parcells's response was to forget Owens's name altogether and, save for two recent slips, has referred to Owens simply as "the player."
For now there is an uneasy detente. Parcells seems to recognize Owens can help the Cowboys' offense and Owens seems to show just enough respect for Parcells to keep going. But there are issues with this Dallas team that are unique to Parcells.
Parcells has always said he wants players who are smart enough to understand the plays and figure out the concepts he is trying to accomplish, but not so smart as to challenge his authority. Owens, who bickered openly with his last coach, Andy Reid, has always been credited with a cleverness that makes him difficult to manage.
Parcells also must work with an owner who insists on controlling the team. Even when Parcells coached the Patriots and owner Bob Kraft refused to give him final say over the roster, Parcells did not face situations like he did this year when Jones pursued Owens. Those disputes were with general managers.
He may also be stepping into a quarterback quandary. In Parcells's previous stops, these have been rare. His quarterback for much of his time with the Giants was Phil Simms, in New England it was Drew Bledsoe and with the Jets he won with Vinny Testaverde until Testaverde got hurt at the start of the 1999 season. Bledsoe was supposed to be his answer in Dallas, but Bledsoe's shaky performances at the end of last season and in training camp seemed to open a door for backup Tony Romo, and Parcells has given Romo greater chances to perhaps replace Bledsoe.
And while he snarls at questions about benching Bledsoe, he also says things like, "I told you I was getting Romo ready to play," as he did Monday after returning to Dallas.
Still, the patriarch of one of the two coaching trees that dominate football, Parcells looms large over his team. After his news conference was over on Sunday, Bledsoe replaced him in the room and talked for five minutes. Then Owens appeared and conducted his own 10-minute news conference. When that was over, reporters stepped out of the interview room and into the locker room only to discover it was empty. This, too, is a Parcells trademark. Nobody hangs around after a loss. Defeats are not to be savored. The team must be dressed, out of the locker room and onto the bus as soon as possible.
Some things never change.
"I think he engenders unbelievable loyalty. Look now at all the people who are still with him 25 years later," said Jets General Manager Mike Tannenbaum, who managed Parcells's salary cap in New York and almost went to Tampa with him a few years ago. "And it's not easy to work for him, but it's very simple: Work hard, do your best and help us win.
"I've seen him have a scout that's been on the job for three days and come back from a school visit and his opinion counts because he works at it and he can legitimize his position and he's going to have a voice in the decision-making process. There's a scout who's been doing it for 25 years and has been short-cutting it, then he won't have a say. And Bill always says: 'I'm selfish. I care about winning football games. That's the point of the exercise and that's what I care about first.' And that's the mantra I learned that it takes to be successful in this league."
His Cowboys looked lost at times against the Jaguars and must now face the Washington defense this week. There is a real chance his team could be 0-2, which is not a place with which Parcells is accustomed. Sooner or later, the selfish decisions might have to come -- with Owens, with Bledsoe.
He might have just turned 65, but he doesn't seem to act like someone who wants to retire anytime soon.