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Ride Them Cowboys
Peter King
March 31, 2003
Bill Parcells is cracking the whip—and a few heads—to make America's team his team
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March 31, 2003

Ride Them Cowboys

Bill Parcells is cracking the whip—and a few heads—to make America's team his team

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Two weeks ago Bill Parcells was patrolling the Cowboys' Valley Ranch training facility outside Dallas when he came upon safety Darren Woodson in the conditioning room. "Woodson," Parcells snapped at the 12-year veteran, "you've never met anyone like me. I'm not like Jimmy Johnson or Barry Switzer or those other guys you've played for."

As if Woodson didn't know. Not quite 100 days into the new regime, Parcells is well into his in-your-face-mask campaign to transform America's team into his own. He presides over the team's voluntary daily workouts—"The definition of voluntary has changed," Woodson says. "Now it's you-better-get-your-ass-in-there-if-you-want-to-be-on-this-team voluntary"—and he is a regular on the elliptical trainer and with free weights. "I'm gonna be the only fat guy around here," Parcells tells the players.

Last week, when he spotted a flabby-looking lineman, Parcells asked him what he weighed. The player gave a number, and Parcells said, "Let's get on the scale and see." Turned out the player weighed 20 pounds more than he'd said. "Is it me?" Parcells said. "Am I having trouble reading that scale?"

Yes, at 61, four years removed from the last time he horsewhipped a team into contention, Parcells is the same sarcastic, cantankerous detail-obsessive he has always been. Now when a Cowboy walks through the players' entrance to the training facility, he's greeted by a large blue-and-white sign: DUMB PLAYERS DO DUMB THINGS. SMART PLAYERS VERY SELDOM DO DUMB THINGS. It's a reminder that Parcells hates dumb players. He also hates players who nurse aches and injuries, which is why he has transformed the trainer's room from a sanctuary into a glorified jail cell, removing the two TVs and lowering the thermostat to 58�.

The party is definitely over. Players can no longer saunter into the locker room with a Big Mac and fries (Parcells's mandate: no food), and nonplayers can hardly get in at all. The gawking guests who used to amble through Valley Ranch on any given off-season Sunday are now shut out of the locker room and training area by heavy, usually closed double doors. And the players seem to like the crackdown. "There's a new aura in the building; you feel it when you walk in," cornerback Pete Hunter says. "There's a focus and intensity that hasn't been here."

The lack of grumbling may be partly because the new sheriff has made winners out of losers (Giants, Patriots, Jets) and partly because the Cowboys are coming off five awful seasons. Parcells's coaches—he has five holdovers from Dave Campo's staff—don't even chafe when he tells them that past disciples, such as defensive guru Bill Belichick, did things better. "He talks about Belichick all the time," says defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. "You think that doesn't motivate me?"

Parcells's motivation is to remake a team put together by a man with an ego and a will as oversized as his own, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. For example, Parcells loves big, bruising linebackers—after surveying Dallas's light, quick, Jones-assembled defense, he groused to Zimmer, "Our linebackers look like they could all fit in one of those circus Volkswagens."

The lone cloud over what the Cowboys might call Happy Valley Ranch is the same one that loomed when Parcells was brought in three months ago (SI, Jan. 13). Can he and Jones coexist? Jones's obsessiveness—he is the only NFL owner east of Al Davis to make all of his team's draft-day decisions—and his need for the spotlight made his coaches miserable. Yet Jones knows this team needs a radical makeover. He has applauded the changes made by Parcells and is a fixture at those "voluntary" workouts, often getting on an elliptical trainer near his coach. "The question I had about Bill coming in was how much fire he still had in his boiler," Jones said last week. "That question has disappeared. He's been very impressive."

Throw in Emmitt Smith's hugs-and-hankies departure last month, and it appears the unthinkable is here: Under Parcells, Dallas is leading the league in organizational harmony. Of course, it's only March.