Even after butting heads with Coach Bill Parcells over his conditioning habits since last season, guard Larry Allen was with the Dallas Cowboys as they labored through practice on a picturesque Southern California morning Friday at their training-camp home alongside a golf course. Wide receiver Antonio Bryant still was around, even after a heated on-the-field confrontation with Parcells during an offseason practice in which he yanked off his jersey and threw it into the coach's face.
But Quincy Carter, the Cowboys' incumbent starting quarterback entering camp, wasn't here. He was released by the club Wednesday, reportedly after a recent violation of the NFL's substance-abuse policy. Parcells's explanation for the discrepancy is straightforward: He treats all of his players fairly, but he doesn't treat them all the same.
"I have no interest in being consistent," Parcells said between Thursday's two practices. "That's not what my objective is. My objective is to be right, and to have it turn out right -- first for the Dallas Cowboys and secondly sometimes, hopefully, for the individual involved."
Parcells worked his coaching magic in Dallas last season after being lured back to an NFL sideline by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, turning a group that was coming off three straight 5-11 seasons under Dave Campo into a 10-6 playoff team without many significant roster upgrades. Now as Parcells tries to craft his usual second-year jump -- no team he has coached ever has failed to improve by at least three victories in his second season -- the abrupt ouster of Carter reminded everyone that he is large and in charge.
"The veteran players understand that at any moment's notice, there can be change," said Vinny Testaverde, the Cowboys' new starter at quarterback who played for Parcells with the New York Jets. "We were all surprised. But I know that if you believe in Coach Parcells and what he has done over the years, then you don't have a problem with his decision-making. . . . I know Bill treats every situation differently, but he treats you fairly. I know that from experience."
Parcells's success has come through a tough-guy approach: He demands that his players go about their work in a disciplined, professional manner. His teams play mistake-free, fundamentally sound football and squeeze everything they can out of whatever talent they have. Yet during his New York Giants days, he put up with the hard living done off the field by his star linebacker, Lawrence Taylor.
"They [players] don't want to be treated like cattle," Parcells said. "They want to be treated as individuals. So I try to evaluate things on an individual basis. . . . You look at it and you assess it and you do what you think is best. I've always done that. I'll continue to do it. . . . You might find this ironic, but in all of those [cases] . . . I did what I thought was in the best interests of the player at the time that I had to decide. . . . Most of the sporting media is going to generalize and say, 'Well, if he's a good player, he'll do this, and if he's a bad player, he'll do that.' And that's not true."
He and Jones said they made the Carter decision together, and Parcells said the two operate as a "joint venture." They have made their relationship work so far, something that many observers doubted would happen when the two strong-willed men with five Super Bowl titles between them joined forces. Jones said Friday that the pairing "has gone better than I could have imagined, and I had high expectations."
Jones added: "We visit daily and at times extensively. When I made the decision to bring him in, I was very committed to make this work. The respect that I have for his work ethic and his energy gives me a can-do mentality. We're contemporaries. We both appreciate football and the NFL in similar ways. And the number one thing is, we're both ready to do anything it takes to win."
Parcells still has his edge, as when he implored rookie tailback Julius Jones to hit the hole faster during Friday morning's practice by yelling: "Get your high heels off! Let's go!" A guard warned a visitor at Thursday's practice to stay away from certain areas around the field or else "he gets pretty upset"; the guard didn't have to identify who "he" was. But Parcells said he has mellowed, and that was evident Thursday when he regularly yelled encouragement to his players on the field and stayed late to offer quiet, attentive, almost fatherly instruction to a few linemen.
"I'm a lot more patient now than I used to be," Parcells said. "I really am. I'm a lot more secure in that I'm not trying to establish myself with some two-year veteran or some rookie player at the Dallas Cowboys. I'm not even worried about that. I think that allows me to be more analytical and to assess the situations differently. . . . Now, I never lose sight of what my responsibility is here, either. I'm not Mother Teresa. I know that."
Parcells and Jerry Jones said they discussed Carter's standing with the team at length over a long period and concluded they no longer could keep him in the plans. Jones said the decision wasn't difficult to make. Parcells said his rules about who stays and who goes are not necessarily different for a quarterback. It's more about having a sense, he said, of how things are going to turn out.
The NFL Players Association likely will file a grievance on Carter's behalf because the collective bargaining agreement prohibits a team from cutting a player because of a failed drug test. But Jones said he's confident the move will withstand any scrutiny by the league or the union.
Parcells gave his players what sounded like a stern warning after the Carter move, reminding them that they were in "the replacement business" and any of them could go at any time. But he made his point and quickly moved on.
"His biggest thing is, you've got to take the situation and move forward," said young quarterback Drew Henson, now in position to be Testaverde's primary backup unless Parcells brings in a veteran free agent. "That's what he said to us. That's what we're trying to do."
The Cowboys have a defense that ranked first in the league last season. But there are questions about the offense, which must rely upon a trio of veteran players -- the 40-year-old Testaverde, 32-year-old wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson and 30-year-old tailback Eddie George -- who may or may not have enough good football left in them. At best, the unit will be seasoned; at worst, it will be old and slow and Parcells will have to turn to youngsters such as Henson and Julius Jones. The offensive line is in flux.
With the NFC East having spent the offseason bulking up for a possible return to its glory days, it's possible that the Cowboys could improve and still have a worse record. But Testaverde, who had a career-best season playing for Parcells with the Jets in 1998, warns not to dismiss the Parcells factor, and said he sees a team around him that is beginning to resemble a typical year-two Parcells club.
"People understand his philosophy better, the way he wants to get things done," Testaverde said. "You get another offseason in his program. His players get stronger. They get quicker and faster, and better at being football players. That all of a sudden turns up on the field.''