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A Hard Man for a Hard Job
December 14, 1998
The New York Jets' Bill Parcells, resurrector of three NFL teams, is nasty, stubborn and domineering. Those are only some of the reasons he may be the best coach in the league
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December 14, 1998

A Hard Man For A Hard Job

The New York Jets' Bill Parcells, resurrector of three NFL teams, is nasty, stubborn and domineering. Those are only some of the reasons he may be the best coach in the league

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•He goes after his kind of player with single-mindedness. That sounds elementary, but the judgments of coaches are sometimes blinded by the football version of the miniskirt, the cornerback with 4.2 speed who can't tackle, for example, or the quarterback who can throw 90 yards off the wrong foot but can't locate a secondary receiver. Parcells doesn't stray from collecting Parcells-type players. "If you don't fit his mold," says Philadelphia defensive end Hugh Douglas, who didn't and was traded from the Jets after last season, "then he'll find somebody who does."

Running back Keith Byars is someone who does. "There are Bill Parcells requirements for every position," says Byars. "The wide receivers have to be guys who don't wear gloves and mittens on cold days. The running backs are the old down-and-dirty warhorses who could have played in any era." Parcells picks it up: "My quarterbacks are battlers, players who pick themselves up and get back in the action. If there's one thing I can't stand, it's a quarterback who thinks playing quarterback is just about passing." Offensive linemen have to be proven veterans with mental toughness. They have the hardest time gaining Parcells's confidence. "It takes a lot of time to prove you can play that position," says Parcells. "A lot of offensive linemen don't have it, and I want to see, over time, who does."

So Parcells's primary running backs on the Jets are Byars and Curtis Martin, both of whom he brought from New England, canny and gutty, move-the-chain types. His quarterback, once he ran veteran Neil O'Donnell out of town and gave up on young Glenn Foley, is the resurrected Vinny Testaverde, a quiet, sturdy leader with undeniable arm strength but a guy who doesn't chafe at throwing the shorter routes, which are common in the Jets' offense. His most reliable receivers are the underrated Wayne Chrebet and...Keyshawn Johnson? Yes, Johnson, the young L.A. trash-talker and celebrated author of Just Give Me the Damn Ball! More than a streaky, big-play guy, Johnson is a tough, durable athlete, a possession receiver who will run the dangerous routes over the middle.

Another thing about a Parcells player: He can't be too dumb or too smart. Dumb players make dumb plays, and Parcells has no tolerance for those. But smart players question his motivational gimmicks and techniques, and Parcells doesn't brook too much questioning. "Bill treats players as if they've got an IQ of about 95," says one observer who has watched Parcells up close but who doesn't want to be identified in any other way. "You can't have a 70 IQ, and you can't have a 120. Of course, there are smart guys who figure it out and go the blue-collar, don't-question-me route, like Simms." Hostetler, who is known as a smart guy, says, "I'd say that's an accurate perception."

•In going after "his guys" Parcells is smart enough to evaluate what a player has done in another system and not so egotistical as to demand that the player prove himself again. That plugs into another part of the system that Parcells watchers invariably mention: He puts players into situations where they can succeed. The prime example on this year's Jets is linebacker Bryan Cox. After five controversial seasons with the Dolphins and then two mediocre ones with the Chicago Bears and burdened with a reputation as an erratic character who had amassed $146,000 in fines, Cox was out of football when Parcells called him before the start of this season's training camp.

"Coach, I'm discouraged, I'm out of shape, and I don't know whether I want to play," Cox said.

"You do want to play," Parcells said. "I want you in a contributing role, not as a special-teamer. Think about it, and I'll call you back tonight."

"Coach, I don't know how soon I can be ready."

"I don't care if you're ready on August 1," Parcells answered. "I want you ready on September 1."

So Cox came to camp, played himself into shape and is now something more than a contributor, flying around the field like an ornery—sometimes rule-bending—bronco to contain the run and then dutifully trotting off the field (alongside linebacker Pepper Johnson, a longtime Parcells warhorse) on passing downs. "Could you imagine any other coach in the league taking on a guy like me, a guy with my reputation, under those terms?" asks Cox.

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