IRVING, Texas - Beyond the entryway shrubbery shaped like a Dallas Cowboys star, through the lobby that's a shrine to Cowboys legend, past the portraits of square-jawed Cowboys greats on the walls of snaking corridors, there's the office that belongs to the main man.
Leather couches. Wooden shelves. A big, wide desk in front of a cushy executive chair.
In the chair, Bill Parcells. He is leaning back and telling a story. In his goodfella-gravelly voice, he's explaining how much he likes being Papa.
He points to a photograph atop a cabinet. It's a portrait of his three daughters as kids, grinning and gussied up in cute dresses and cuter pigtails. The coach smiles sweetly and says, "I call them my three little piggies."
Alongside the daughters are photos of his grandkids, a girl, Kendall, and a boy, Kyle, who is 13.
"Man, he can hit a golf ball a mile," Parcells says. "He's a good little point guard in basketball, too." He sighs wistfully. "Aah, we had a great time last summer."
Mr. Tough Guy is melting.
"You want to hear about the whole day?" he asks. Leaning forward, hands together, he slides into the soft-focus world of a day spent with his grandson in upstate New York near Saratoga Race Course.
At 6 a.m., the two crawl out of bed and roll to a nearby store. Kyle has a bagel and orange juice. Parcells has his Daily Racing Form and newspaper.
Then, as the sun rises, they're off to the barns to watch the horses train. Kyle says hi to everyone, everyone says hi back. "How ya doin', how ya doin'."
About 8:30 a.m., they head for the golf course. There they do whatever such twosomes do, hit a few balls, play a few holes, yuk it up. At about 1, they rush home, change clothes and return to the racetrack for low-stakes betting.
"I drive his mother crazy," Parcells says, talking about his oldest daughter, Suzy. "She says, `You're teaching him your bad habits.' All I can say is, `Aah, Suzy.' Yeah, that's Suzy."
The races over, Parcells and Kyle go to dinner. Then it's home for a baseball game on television, after which, and Parcells insists this is a true story, Kyle tells his mother he wants to move in with his granddad and be with him all the time.
The boy looks up at his grandfather and says: "Papa, it doesn't get any better than this."
The lure of tradition
Papa Parcells may be fine for a day, maybe a week. But for a lifetime, it's Coach Parcells.
On Jan. 2, the coach ended two years of retirement to move to Dallas, 1,400 miles away from his grandson in Pennsylvania.
It's true many people find retirement seductive. It's just as true that Parcells doesn't.
"How can you resist this?" Parcells says, slapping his desk with both hands. "Going into this, I knew that this could be it for me. My last stop. You can either do this or pass this by and know that it's over. Then you're going the other way. The rest of your life is going to be comprised of something other than what you're made to do."
Parcells, a likely Pro Football Hall of Famer, could make $1 million a year just to talk about football for ESPN. He could play golf every day.
No way. At 61, Parcells is restless and impatient. He wants to grab at life before it slips away. "It's almost a physical thing," says a close friend, Bob Green, a physical therapist in New York. "He's actually depleted if he's not coaching. He's down and depressed. Not his usual perky self. If he stays away from it too long, it drives him crazy."
To Parcells, the Cowboys job sparkled with possibility. He told friends: "It's like the ... Yankees!"
For a guy who grew up about 10 miles from Yankee Stadium, that means a lot. Like the Yankees, the Cowboys are symbols of conspicuous success. Parcells could not say no to that.
"This isn't the typical job, and Bill finds that intriguing," says Bob Knight, the Texas Tech basketball coach and Parcells' friend since their days nearly 40 years ago as young coaches at West Point. "The tradition of the franchise is atypical. The owner is atypical. He finds Jerry Jones intriguing because some guys haven't been able to do it; they haven't been able to work with him."
Longtime sportscaster Pat Summerall, Parcells' closest friend in Dallas, says: "Ultimately, if he's successful, people will say the Cowboys have only had three coaches: Landry, Jimmy [Johnson] and Bill.
"The other guys were just passing time."
Parcells has resurrected teams before, and this is the ultimate job. This time, everyone is watching.
When Johnson heard that Parcells might go to Dallas, he called to ask, "Are you thinking about doing this?"
"Yes, I am," Parcells answered.
Johnson paused. "Well, I think it will be good. Right now, I think Jerry's ready for somebody like you."
Jones, who will pay Parcells about $17 million over four years, says as much: "I regretted that people felt that our coach was a puppet. ... The one thing I could do to stop some of that criticism was to get a respected and strong coach like Bill Parcells."