For the fourth time in his storied career, Bill Parcells seems to be working a resurrection miracle, this time with the Dallas Cowboys, who are an NFC-leading 8-3 after winning only five games each of the past three years. And, as usual, he is doing it with a generously applied mixture of induced fear and psychological manipulation. Today, the Writers' Bloc attempts to pin the right rep on the Tuna: Is he a great coach, Bobby Knight with a bad dye job but without the psycho-social baggage ... or a combination of both? And would you want your kid to play for him?

By Robert Lipsyte
The Writers' Bloc

I'm not surprised that Bill Parcells has whipped the Cowboys into winners for the first time in four years, but I am certainly not happy about it. Parcells is exactly that species of egotistical bully whose use of fear, shame and humiliation wins games in the short term but burns out souls. I feel sorry for his players, although as professionals the rewards of winning may be worth the psychic abuse they will suffer. As macho jocks, they will simply suck it up and pass on the hurt to opponents, strangers in bars and the mothers of their children.

But what about the rest of us? There is no upside for the victims of the jerks who revere Parcells as a role model of masculine leadership, those smug browbeaters in corporate management and the loud-mouthed intimidators of youth coaching. These baby Bills do far more direct damage than the porky Jersey boy himself.

Let's give him his props. The man is no dope. He has the emotional intelligence to manipulate other men and the intellectual intelligence to play a football game like a chess match. He approaches player personnel issues with the cool unsentimental hand of the hedge fund manager. But it's not that hard. Jocks are trained to respond to authority, become working pieces of the team machine.

One way to judge the human worth of coaches is imagining yourself playing for them. I would have wanted to play for Vince Lombardi; I sensed a decency and fairness under that crust. He yelled at me, on several occasions, for what he clearly considered annoying questions. But he never tried to shut me down. He had the character to push me to be better, I thought.

Parcells, his pal from assistant coach days at West Point, Bob Knight, and their political alter-ego, Rudy Giuiliani, all liked to control the media with the same whip they used on their teams. Brusque, sneering, dismissive, it is the style of dictators who use favoritism and fear. It works best, I think, in football where you can create and command competing cliques, keeping up a creative tension. If the dogs in the backyard are kept busy fighting for a bone, they will never think of banding together to come into the kitchen.

Sometimes, this approach is attempted out of sports. But it doesn't work. But for Tuna or the General or the Bear, because of the intrinsic authoritarianism of the coaching system, athletes are conditioned from childhood to roll over for the alpha dog.

Eric Adelson
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: Ambition fuels ambition

Bill Parcells waited for Curtis Martin after the Cowboys dismissed the Jets earlier this season. The coach pulled aside the running back in the Meadowlands tunnel and looked him in the eye. "Keep going," Parcells told Martin. "You're running hard. I love you." I have a feeling Mr. Knight never gave any of his charges that kind of affection. Neither did Mr. Giuliani. Nor any egomaniac tyrant. Bill Parcells is not like them. He is the rare leader who expects the most out of his best players. He is the rare coach who is not concerned with being popular with too-popular athletes. He is the rare individual who understands that ambition fuels ambition, and softness fuels softness. Those who confuse his edge with a lack of compassion probably couldn't handle the type of criticism that makes the difference between mediocrity and greatness. Even Keyshawn Johnson knows that.

Peter Keating
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: Legend intact, future mortgaged

When Bill Parcells took over the Jets, an angry young man called a New York sports radio station for the first time in his life. Sure, he told Jet fans that day, your team will improve under Parcells. After all, the Tuna waits until franchises hit absolute bottom (two years of Rich Kotite in the Jets' case) to emerge from his periodic exiles. And he understands better than any coach in the game how to improve clubs at the margins -- for example, by consistently finding players who give maniacal effort on special teams -- which can lead to huge turnarounds in the Land of Parity.

But watch out, the caller warned. Parcells had already demonstrated he would do anything to win quickly. He would betray allies, toss away draft choices, max out the salary cap -- verily, the caller warned of all this. And you'd have to say he turned out to be right. The Jets surrendered draft picks to nab Parcells from the Patriots, gave up more picks to get Curtis Martin, gave gigantic, back-loaded contracts to Martin and Vinny Testaverde, and then threw millions more at veterans who couldn't even make the team, like Steve Atwater and Eric Green. Parcells took his shot at a title. Then he rode out of town, his legend intact but the Jets' future mortgaged.

Same thing happened with the Patriots, and will happen again with the Cowboys. Parcells squeezes a team for all it's worth for three years or so, turning its players into joyless basket cases along the way. And then he makes a graceless exit. He's the NFL's Billy Martin.

Yes, my friends, the caller could see all this coming. Because he was a die-hard Giants fan betrayed by Parcells back in 1991, when the Tuna "retired" and left his beloved Super Bowl champs in the arms of an oaf named Ray Handley. A prophet indeed, and from what I understand, good-looking as well, he identified himself that day only as Pete from Brooklyn.

David Schoenfield
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: Future mortgaged and overrated ...

The Cowboys' resurgence this season has not been fueled by Parcells' emotional manipulation or Kasparov-like genius, but by this simple fact: The Cowboys have played a schedule apparently drawn up by the ghost of Tex Schramm. Dallas has played just three teams with a winning record. The only genius of Parcells is his constant ability to fool the media and fans into thinking he's smarter than your typical overrated and overexposed NFL coach.

Otherwise, Bob, you're right on.

Steve Wulf
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: It's simple: Parcells makes you a winner

There is almost nothing I like about Bill Parcells. He's everything B-Lip says he is. I still can't forgive him for bailing on the Patriots in the middle of Super Bowl Week -- and I don't even care that much about the Patriots.

But he's someone you want to play for -- at least for a short time. You see, there are four basic subsets of coaches in this world: Winner/Empath; Winner/Sociopath; Loser/Empath; Loser/Sociopath. In the first category, you have a sadly short list: Joe Torre, Dick Vermeil and Russell Crowe -- or at least the guy he plays in "Master and Commander." In the second, more populated category, you have Parcells, Phil Jackson, George Steinbrenner, Bobby Knight, Pat Quinn. The list of Nice Guys Who Finish Last is a mile long, mainly because they can't hold onto a job. As for the Jerks Who Can't Win, two words: Jim Fassel. (What special teams member will he blame last night's loss on?)

No matter how many times we say character counts most, no matter how many times we quote Grantland Rice ("It's not whether you win or lose "), we can't escape this truth: Winning is generally better than losing. It brings more smiles, more sleep, more money. We're not talking about coaches who out-and-out cheat and lie here (Dave Bliss, Jim Harrick, et al). We're just talking about coaches who make you hate them -- and make you winners.

So who would you rather play for, Bill Parcells or Marty Mornhinweg?

Jim Caple
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: Another approach that works

John Gagliardi just broke the record for most wins in college football history. To keep players healthy, he doesn't allow hitting or tackling in practice (he figures they already know how by the time they get to college). To maintain perspective, he doesn't allow them to call him coach, only John. To keep the game fun, he has them do goofy warmup drills that make them laugh. He's been coaching and winning since WWII.

My question: why doesn't anybody copy this successful formula?

Patrick Hruby
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: C'mon, people!

I'd let my son play for Bill Parcells. Hell, it's not like he's inviting kids to sleepovers or anything.

That said, I would never -- under any circumstances -- allow my daughter to have her hair colored by the guy. Some lines just shouldn't be crossed.

Lipsyte's final word
Of course, you'll run into guys who claim that Parcells or Knight or one of their disciples made men out of them, which makes me remember basic-training sergeants I have hated. It was surviving them that made me feel better about myself, although I know guys in my company who felt somehow diminished. I've also run into guys who have complex feelings about Idi Amin and Saddam Hussein.


Writer's Bloc: Kidney punch

Writer's Bloc: Born under a bad sign

Writer's Bloc: Conspiracy Theory 101

Writer's Bloc: Most Overrated NFL player

Writer's Bloc: A-Rod's MVP

Email story
Most sent
Print story

espn Page 2 index