When Parcells came to Dallas, most of his longtime assistant coaches were unavailable. Nor does Parcells have many friends or family here. He rents an apartment near the Cowboys complex, suggesting impermanence.
Not long ago, back East, he built his dream house at the Jersey shore. That house and another in Florida now belong to Judy Parcells, the coach's wife of 39 years until their divorce in January 2002.
Friends say Parcells, like many driven coaches, regrets the personal costs of the job, the divorce, the time spent away from his children as they grew up. But there have been many more losses in his life that he couldn't have controlled.
A week after he took the Dallas job, his buddy Will McDonough, a Boston Globe sports columnist and co-author of Parcells' last book, The Final Season, died of a heart attack. In 1999, a plane crash killed his agent and friend, Robert Fraley. Those deaths are particularly painful, because Parcells' inner circle has always been small. It's hard to earn his trust.
Setting ground rules
On a coaching level, he makes it clear what players must do to earn his trust: be punctual, attentive and smart. Do nothing stupid, do not lose focus. There are tales about what happens to players who don't live up to that.
When he saw a New York Jets player throwing up from exhaustion, he said: "Throw up on your own time." A New England Patriots player had been lax in workouts and passed out during a training camp test; Parcells barked at trainers, "When he wakes up, tell him I just cut him."
"They were afraid of him before he even got there," says Knight, himself a master of the technique. "They already know what to expect."
At the end of February, this memorandum mysteriously showed up on the Cowboys' team bulletin board:
"To: Players. Subject: 2003 Rules and Regulations. Players' parking lot: Each car will be towed if not parked properly. All cell phones must be turned off when entering the locker room area. No outsiders in the locker room area at any time. Update your address and telephone number (must be able to be contacted 24 hours). NO FOOD. In the locker room. Meeting rooms. Training room. Weight room."
Suddenly, players showed up more often for offseason workouts. The locker room was neater, quieter. No players kicking back, playing dominoes. No longer does Reggie Swinton's boom box blare from his locker.
"Hey, I don't want to do anything to get him mad before the season even starts," says Swinton, a wide receiver. Then he leans toward a pile of clothes in his locker and whispers. "If I want to play my music, I hide it in there and play it real low."
The aura of discipline and control and winning has pervaded every corner of the franchise, yet Parcells seems baffled. The players got the message without his even lifting a finger.
"I said no cell phones in the locker room, but this domino stuff, I've never heard of," he says. "I never told that to the players."
Says Knight: "I've always felt that the best coaches I've ever known or ever seen are intolerant people. When you see a coach like Bill that has been really good over a period of time, he has been intelligently demanding of all his players. His expectations have been high; his toleration has been low."
Coaching bug bites
When a great coach is away from his game, there's a hole in his life.
Some fill it happily. Jimmy Johnson wakes up at 5 each morning in the Florida Keys. If the water is flat, he goes fishing. If there's a wind up, he fiddles around his property, enjoying the sun.
Knight, without basketball, goes hunting in Colorado and fishing in Russia.
Parcells couldn't fill the hole.
Even after resigning from the New York Giants and having bypass surgery in 1991, he was drawn back to football. Even after leaving the Jets, saying he was retired for good, he just couldn't stay away.
On his days as an ESPN pre-game football analyst, he drove from New York to Connecticut for breakfast with his colleagues, grabbing a bagel and scolding Tom Jackson for clogging up his arteries with fried eggs and bacon. His co-analysts call him a flawless performer.
But afterward, when everyone headed to a conference room to watch the games, Parcells drove back home.
"I always thought that was a way to put in Sunday afternoon, that he didn't have anything else to do," Knight says. "He was really good at it, but I don't think he'd ever cared for it."
By nature, Parcells is a teacher, a builder, a leader - all ways to say what he says, which is that he's a coach.
"It's what I am," he says. "There's nothing else to it."