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Peter King
August 18, 2003
Class is in session for the Dallas Cowboys, and no-nonsense Bill Parcells is doing more teaching than he ever has as he embarks on his fourth, and perhaps toughest, reclamation project
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August 18, 2003

Summer School

Class is in session for the Dallas Cowboys, and no-nonsense Bill Parcells is doing more teaching than he ever has as he embarks on his fourth, and perhaps toughest, reclamation project

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It is a hot morning in late July, and coach Bill Parcells has gathered the Dallas Cowboys' offensive players in an end zone of the San Antonio high school field the team uses for outdoor training-camp practices. "Let's go to work, fellas," he says sternly. All of his offensive assistants come around to watch. � Each day Parcells takes one game situation and teaches every player and coach who might be involved how to handle it. This morning's situation: coming out, the term for avoiding disaster when you have the ball inside your five. "We just want to make two first downs here, so we'll be in good position to punt," Parcells says. "We're not going to do anything stupid." � In this 12-minute block of practice Parcells will show you everything you need to know about the command he has over his fourth—and you can write it on your little chalkboard that we're not sure it's his last—NFL team. You will see him emphasizing the little things. You will see his disdain for injuries. You will see his intolerance of mistakes. You will see his attentiveness to special teams. You will see absolute control. In other words, you will see classic Parcells, at 61, with perhaps one difference: a focus on teaching. Only four of the Cowboys' 116 players, coaches, scouts and front-office executives had ever worked with Parcells before he came to the team last January. That's why he's spending more time teaching his way of doing things than he ever did when he was coaching the New York Giants, the New England Patriots and the New York Jets deep into the playoffs. "I had no idea I was hiring someone so intimately involved in every single thing that is taught to the players—and the coaches," says owner Jerry Jones. "That's been a pleasant surprise."

All Parcells, all the time.


"Four rules," Parcells says, as the ball is placed at the one-yard line. "No penalties. No sacks. No interceptions. No fumbles. Got it?" He steps into the crowd of 39 offensive players and outlines the job of every position group. What he has to say might seem trivial now, but it won't be if someone's mistake costs the Cowboys a safety in November. "Hey, you tight ends, listen to me," Parcells says, looking directly at returning starter Tony McGee. "We get on our one or two, don't make me come look for you [on the sideline], understand? Tony, you got that?" McGee nods.

Just before Chad Hutchinson takes die first snap in this drill, Parcells tells his quarterbacks, "If I send in a play like a pitch or a sweep, you'll know I'm delusional. I've gone crazy. Don't run it. Understand?" They nod. The pop quiz comes five minutes later. Parcells calls for a pitch to the running back, and rookie free agent Tony Romo dutifully calls the play in the huddle and walks to the line. "Time out!" Parcells yells, staring daggers at Romo. "Are you insane? What did I tell you? You've got to think! You've got to do the little things right!"

"We're all getting taught that it's the little things that win football games," a sheepish Romo would say later. "I don't mind him getting on me. I'm being taught by the Lombardi of my era."

In other practices Parcells spends 15 minutes with underachieving defensive end Ebenezer Ekuban, instructing him on how to mix up his pass-rush moves. He tutors punt returners on how to catch the ball and be in position to run. He gets down in a cornerback's crouch to demonstrate to second-year man Pete Hunter how staying lower will allow him to break quicker off the snap. "I'm breaking on the ball better since he showed me that," says Hunter.

Watching all of this is Calvin Hill, the former Cowboys running back who is a player development consultant for the team. "The planning, the purpose for everything, the instruction—he reminds me of Tom Landry, who commanded this kind of respect," says Hill, who also played for the Cleveland Browns and the Washington Redskins. "But I see a lot of George Allen in him, too, with the devotion to special teams and the minute details."


On one of the first plays in the coming out situation drill, left tackle Flozell Adams steps awkwardly and a defensive player crashes into the back of his legs. Adams lies on his stomach, five yards behind the line of scrimmage, not moving. Parcells glances at him and walks on. Next play.

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