Last update: September 11, 2004 at 12:08 AM
'It' works for Parcells
Mark Craig, Star Tribune
September 11, 2004 VIKE0911
Fans and headline writers love to call him "Tuna" or "Big Tuna," but people inside the NFL often label Bill Parcells with words more fitting for one of the more fascinating and successful personalities in league history.
"He is," Vikings coach Mike Tice said, "the Master Motivator."
Tice's sentiments were echoed repeatedly this week at Valley Ranch, where the Cowboys prepared to face the Vikings in Sunday's season opener at the Metrodome. The words Master Motivator mean Parcells, for a lot of reasons that start with the credibility of two Super Bowl titles, is able to push buttons inside a player's psyche for which most coaches could not, would not or should not even reach.
"Bill just has it, whatever it is," said Larry Lacewell, Cowboys director of college and pro scouting. "I coached under Bear Bryant 40-some years ago, and it was the same thing. People always talk about 'today's player,' but the it that guys like Bear, Jimmy Johnson, Bill and even Barry Switzer have would work 30 years before them and 30 years after them."
Lacewell tried to describe it .
"It's a style," Lacewell said. "It's fear. It's credibility. It's a lot of things. He earns the right to kick players' butts because he pays attention to them. He gives them all nicknames, and about the time a guy thinks he really likes him, Bill's likely to cut him."
Parcells, 63, constantly is coaching his players, assistants and "even the director of college and pro scouting," Lacewell said, laughing. The prodding can get personal, and the handling of any two players rarely is the same.
"One of the things Bill does better than anyone is spend time with players in the offseason," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "He's always in the training room with them, working on a diet with them or just talking to them.
"Then, once he establishes with them that he has their best interests in mind, he is unyielding in his demands on them. He can criticize them and say things that are harsh, but it does not come across as embarrassing for the player."
Or, as backup running back ReShard Lee told reporters last month, Parcells "can make you believe anything he wants you to believe."
The ultimate goal Parcells sets for players has been consistent since he became a head coach with the Giants in 1983.
"It's elementary stuff," Parcells said. "What do you have to do to win. What do you have to do to be a player in this league. What will not work here in this organization with me. What will work. What am I looking for. That's the whole essence of it."
Players have bucked the Parcells Way with different results. Receiver Antonio Bryant still is on the team despite throwing a sweaty jersey in Parcells' face during a practice-field argument last year. Cornerback Derek Ross, who was with the Vikings briefly this summer, was jettisoned last season after skipping a conditioning run and a team charity function.
"I have no interest in being consistent," Parcells said. "My objective is to be right, and to have it turn out right, first for the Dallas Cowboys, and, secondly, sometimes hopefully, for the individual."
Most players understand. Some don't, at their own risk.
"Some guys can't stand the dude," said receiver Keyshawn Johnson, who was reunited with Parcells this offseason after clashing mightily with Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay. "But the players who can't stand him haven't had success under him. When people don't flourish and don't do well, they don't like a person of his attitude. Personally, I believe in what he's selling. With other coaches, it's just talk."
Parcells led the Giants, New England, the New York Jets and the Cowboys from losing records to the playoffs. He took the Giants to two Super Bowls, winning both, and the Patriots to one, which they lost.
The rebound from losing team to the playoffs took two years with the Giants, Patriots and Jets. After three seasons of "retirement," Parcells returned to the league last season and took basically the same Cowboys team that went 5-11 under Dave Campo in 2002 and made the playoffs at 10-6.
"He's the Vince Lombardi of today's game," Cowboys quarterback Vinny Testaverde said. "He's the Master Motivator who knows which guys need a pat on the back and which guys need something stronger."
Testaverde will start against the Vikings because Parcells was especially hard on Quincy Carter, last year's starter. Parcells released him six days into training camp amid allegations Carter failed drug tests.
"Sure, some guys will test him," defensive tackle La'Roi Glover said. "But for the most part not too many guys are going to call him on what he's saying."
Last season, Parcells told overweight defensive tackle Willie Blade he wouldn't have any "fat guys" playing for him. So every Tuesday, Parcells weighed Blade in front of the entire team. It continued until Blade lost 30 pounds to reach his target weight of 315. Blade didn't make the final roster this season.
Some of Parcells' motivational barbs are visual. He once called overweight Patriots backup quarterback Scott Zolak a "stuffed kumquat."
Some of his comments require homework.
"I don't know how he gets his information on guys, but he'll get some dirt on you and ride you with it every single day," Glover said.
Other comments would be considered a duck hook way out of bounds if it came from most other coaches. One of the best examples came in New England years ago when Parcells referred to receiver Terry Glenn as "she." Glenn will start for Parcells on Sunday.
The Parcells Way stretches far beyond Valley Ranch. Parcells protegé Bill Belichick has won two of the past three Super Bowls with New England. And even coaches with no direct ties to Parcells have asked for and received guidance from him. Tice is one of them.
"I like Mike," Parcells said. "I don't know him well, but I can tell he's kind of my kind of guy. He's a very forthright guy. When he called me last year some for straight-out questions on how to do this or that, the kinds of things he was asking ... it's me 20 years ago asking Coach Landry the same questions."
Parcells said his Master Motivator reputation is "overrated."
"I don't know how any of this stuff really started," Parcells said. "Tuna, [Master Motivator], anything. It just takes on a life of its own. All I try to do is tell players the truth, period. Some may like it, some may not like it. But it's the truth. It's simple."
Cowboys safety Tony Dixon agrees. Sort of.
"It's simple to play for Coach Parcells," Dixon said, "but it's not easy."
Cornerback Terence Newman used another paradox to described life with Parcells.
"He'll attack you," Newman said. "You're thinking he's tearing you down, but he's really building you up. That's a Master Motivator."
Mark Craig is at firstname.lastname@example.org