It is hard to picture Bill Parcells in a white polo shirt with a blue star on the left breast, working the phones in the office once occupied by Tom Landry. But that's what the new coach of the Dallas Cowboys was doing last Friday. It's shocking to think that he has gone into business with one of the biggest micromanagers in sports, owner Jerry Jones. And for Parcells to be in Texas after two decades in his beloved haunts back East...well, even his best Mends never believed he'd stray this far from his roots, not at 61. � But Parcells hasn't changed that much. Sometime in the next month or so, letters will arrive at the homes of 70 Cowboys with orders from the new sheriff in town to gather for a meeting at the team's Valley Ranch headquarters. And as he did with the New York Giants in 1983, the New England Patriots in '93 and the New York Jets in '97, Parcells will tell the Cowboys there are no secrets to winning—it's all about work, particularly in the off-season.
Last Saturday, between meetings with Jones at the owner's Dallas mansion, Parcells said, "I'll tell these guys the same tiling I told the Giants: "The job's here, and you need to be here.' " From March through June there are 12 weeks of what one former Parcells player called "voluntary-mandatory" workouts. Four days a week, 2� hours a day. Voluntary because players don't have to participate. Mandatory because if they don't, they'll likely get whacked from the roster come July. "The biggest wake-up call for the Cowboys will be when they see how serious Bill makes it in the spring," says Jumbo Elliott, the Jets tackle who played for Parcells on both New York teams. "If football is not the most important thing in your life, he'll weed you out. I've seen it happen with good players like [Pro Bowl defensive end] Hugh Douglas. Bill doesn't care."
"That's just what we need," says Dallas safety Darren Woodson, an 11-year veteran who played on the Cowboys' three Super Bowl-winning teams of the '90s. "Since [coach] Jimmy Johnson left, the discipline and off-season program have been too relaxed. Eight or 10 key guys haven't paid enough attention to getting ready in the off-season. Now that'll change."
Almost nine years have passed since Jones and the autocratic Johnson parted ways, and it's been six years since Dallas last won a playoff game. The Cowboys have won a total of 23 games in four years. A team source said that Dave Campo, fired on Dec. 30 after three seasons as coach, wouldn't push players to attend organized off-season workouts because he feared they would complain to the NFL Players Association. (According to terms of the collective bargaining agreement, teams can schedule only one mandatory minicamp.) Parcells won't force players to attend these workouts, but they will all know the consequences if they don't participate—and they're undoubtedly familiar with Parcells' record. He took over a Giants team that had gone 4-5 in a strike-shortened 1982 season, a New England team that had gone 2-14 in '92 and a Jets team coming off a 1-15 season in '96. Those franchises all made the playoffs in his second season. The Giants won two Super Bowls. The Patriots got to one. The Jets reached an AFC Championship Game.
In a rare admission of failure, Jones talked last week like a man who will use his new $17 million coach to cure the ills that were created in part by the owner's own excesses—such as moving training camp to the air-conditioned Alamodome in San Antonio last summer, a film crew from the HBO Hard Knocks series in tow and music blaring so loud that it was hard for the players to hear the coaches. "I admit it: I've been too comfortable, this team's been too comfortable," Jones said. "When we've won, it's always been hard. There's been some pain. It's time to freshen up this organization and make some sacrifices to get to our goal of winning another Super Bowl."
After being introduced to the media last Thursday, Parcells spent several hours going over the roster with Jones and his son Stephen, the team's chief operating officer. It was odd, and could be troublesome down the road, that Parcells didn't negotiate final say over all of the organization's football decisions into his four-year contract, but at the press conference Parcells and Jerry Jones were saying all the right things. For this year, at least, Jones is likely to accede to Parcells' recommendations on all personnel matters.
Dallas could be anywhere from $10 million to $16 million under the salary cap when the free-agency signing period begins in February. Parcells is all but certain to sign a veteran free-agent quarterback, because Chad Hutchinson showed as a rookie this season that he wasn't ready to be a starter. Just as likely—and sure to get no resistance from the owner—will be Parcells' desire to cut loose alltime rushing leader Emmitt Smith, 33. Also Parcells will want to get bigger on defense, though he believes more than ever that middle linebackers must be able to run sideline to sideline.
Parcells will immediately make his presence felt in Dallas. He'll work the weight room every morning, bantering with players, getting to know them. He will not prop them up with false encouragement. After a tough loss in his first season with the Patriots, he chastised the players, telling them they should not be satisfied with merely trying to win. "You get paid to try," he told them. "Don't tell me you tried hard. You've got nothing to be proud of when you lose."
That's the kind of tough talk that Woodson wants to hear. Last week he was asked if he thought a majority of his teammates would be in favor of the new coach's my-way-or-the-highway approach. "In favor?" Woodson said, chuckling. "They're not going to have any choice."