ASHBURN, Va. - Old school is back in session as Joe Gibbs prepares to take on Bill Parcells on Monday night in a matchup of coaching greats who couldn't have imagined their career paths would lead them to reprise their NFC East rivalry of the 1980s.
For fans, it's an early-season treat: a meeting of two 63-year-old men with plenty of shared history and records of achievement, but wildly different styles.
Gibbs is the Washington Redskins' offensive tactician with the born-again faith and the unruffled demeanor.
Parcells is the Dallas Cowboys' master motivator who doesn't mind a sneer, a scowl - even a tantrum - if that's what he determines his players need.
Both left coaching for extended periods - Parcells twice, Gibbs once - but neither has lost his edge.
Parcells is still feisty enough to have gotten in Vinny Testaverde's face last week after the quarterback threw interceptions on three late drives in a victory over the Cleveland Browns.
"He threw three interceptions in six passes," Parcells said yesterday. "I told him I need a fireman, not an arsonist."
Said Testaverde yesterday with a laugh: "He hasn't mellowed a bit. He was on me from Day 1 when I got here and this morning he was still riding me a little bit. Sometimes he gets in your face a little bit, but if I couldn't handle it I wouldn't be doing it."
Washington assistant coach Joe Bugel says of Parcells: "He's a legitimate tough guy. I've seen him fight. He doesn't mind calling a guy out."
Gibbs is far more restrained than Parcells in public. One of his rules is: "Never embarrass people in front of their peers."
But for all their differences, Gibbs and Parcells share more than just past success.
"Back in the old days, he [Gibbs] was the innovator of the one back and we were the two back. He was playing a 4-3, we were playing a 3-4," Parcells said. "But I think philosophically ... there are a very great number of similarities."
Gibbs and Parcells are both of the school that coaches need to have enough confidence in their systems not to abandon them when fans, the media, or even the front office, raise doubts.
Both coaches also believe in a rule that may seem almost quaint today: Don't fraternize with the enemy.
In his first news conference of training camp, Gibbs was asked whether he had spoken to Parcells about their respective comebacks. Gibbs was returning to football after an 11-year hiatus. Parcells dropped in and out of football during the 1990s but had successful tenures with the New York Giants, the New England Patriots and the New York Jets. He joined the Cowboys before last season.
Gibbs replied that he hadn't spoken to Parcells. "He's the enemy," Gibbs said with a laugh.
"I just don't think you hang out with other coaches very much," Gibbs said this week. "About the most time I spent with somebody was probably [former Atlanta and Denver coach] Dan Reeves. I think you're competing against each other and you'll be at the league meetings but it's not like you're going to hang out with somebody. "
Asked whether he was looking forward to the challenge of again coaching against Parcells, Gibbs said, "No. I'd rather have somebody easier."
Gibbs was then reminded that Parcells [as Giants coach] is 11-6 against Gibbs and won the last six games in a row. "Don't tell the players that," Gibbs said.
Kicker John Hall is among three Redskins - offensive guard Randy Thomas and punter Tom Tupa are the others - who have played for both coaches.
While each is intense in his own way, Parcells is more animated, said Hall. The kicker said he often wondered whether Parcells had really lost his cool or whether he was staging a fit to motivate his team.
"You can't tell what's a meltdown and what's not with Bill," Hall said. "I can remember walking out of practice and [him saying], `We're the worst team in the league, you guys are horrible.' I forgot who we played that week, but we thumped them pretty hard."
Some in the media wondered whether Parcells had mellowed after Dallas receiver Antonio Bryant remained on the team even after he flung his jersey in Parcells' face during a June minicamp.
Parcells said of the incident: "I got a couple phone calls from my ex-players that I used to have fights with - which I've had several - and they said you must really like that [guy] if you're wasting your time fighting with him."
Parcells said Monday night's meeting with Gibbs won't be quite like the old Redskins-Giants rivalry. "It's a different place with a different cast of characters. It's not the same; it'll never be the same," he said.
But Parcells sounded almost nostalgic when he spoke of those old NFC East games. "Those players Joe had were almost like my own players. I knew them so well, had played against them so many times, I could go through and name the whole lineup verbatim," he said.