11-4-04, 6:30 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Marvin Lewis and Bill Parcells have chatted a few times since each took over their teams in January of 2003, and each time from Dallas Parcells reminded Lewis, "If you ever need anything, just call."
Parcells has come away clearly impressed with Lewis ("I do like his approach very much,"), but Lewis may be looking for some advice before this traveling Hall-of-Fame exhibit ends in a Dec. 26 game against Tom Coughlin's Giants.
Starting Sunday here against the Cowboys, Lewis matches wits with four of the game's elite coaches:
Then comes Coughlin into PBS for the first time since he led the Jaguars to two AFC titles games in their first five years of existence.
Lewis, 46, meets Parcells, 63, in just his 24th game as a head coach. It is Parcells' 263rd regular- season game in a my-way-or-the-highway career that has grown into legend. But maybe Parcells, a white guy born in Jersey a few weeks before Pearl Harbor, has a lot more in common with Lewis, an African-American Baby Boomer from Pittsburgh.
"I see more similarities than most people realize," said Cowboys quarterback Vinny Testaverde, who quarterbacked the Ravens during the first two seasons Lewis was their defensive coordinator. "Both are very competitive. Obviously both have great minds for the game. It's two guys that are able to communicate with their players and get a lot out of their players."
Lewis, who tries to rub against success whether it's a book, a Stanley Cup championship celebration video off the internet, or a phone call with a two-time Super Bowl champion, has been taking notes on Parcells.
"I love his approach. Who wouldn't?" Lewis asked. "He's got a great ability to get through to his players and to make it work."
Lewis has taken a page out of the Parcells book and added role players he knows that will do what's asked. He has signed only one of his old starters in former Ravens safety Kim Herring, but he hasn't been shy about going after role players that have been on teams he's coached in Baltimore and Washington:
Defensive lineman Carl Powell (Washington), safety Anthony Mitchell (Baltimore), cornerback Rashad Bauman (Washington), wide receiver Cliff Russell (Washington), center Larry Moore (Washington), running back Kenny Watson (Washington).
The familiarity has extended to his coaching staff. He grew up with the Hayes brothers, worked with linebackers coach Ricky Hunley and wide receivers coach Hue Jackson in Washington, special teams coach Darrin Simmons in Baltimore, and strength and conditioning coach Chip Morton in Baltimore and Washington.
"The ability to place the right people around you," said Lewis of what he admires about Parcells. "I think this is the one thing that is the aura of Bill. The fact that he is going to bring his people around. People he can count on in stressful situations. He can count on his players and coaches in stressful situations. He's able to surround himself with people he needs to be successful."
Parcells himself will you that those famous "Parcells' Guys," could probably be Lewis' Guys, or Coughlin Guys, or whomever.
"Anybody's guy. Any coaches' guy," Parcells said. "I just say a reliable, dependable, professional guy that maximizes their ability and are not problematic in any way. That doesn't mean they're not high maintenance, now. Not just problematic."
Which is how a no-nonsense guy like Parcells can tolerate guys that have worn out their welcome elsewhere, such as Keyshawn Johnson and Terry Glenn. And how a serious sort like Lewis can take the MTV of Chad Johnson.
"High maintenance is just somebody every once in a while (who) annoys you," Parcells said. "Problematic is a guy that's undependable in lot of respects."
"Listen, I like him," Parcells said. "He can play on my team. He really can. Every once in a while he has his moments, but we do understand each other."
Here's another thing Parcells and Lewis have in common when it comes to problematic and high maintenance players. Parcells was supposedly interested in Corey Dillon and Lewis was supposedly ready to work with Dillon. But Lewis traded him, and it wasn't to Parcells.
And besides, word is Parcells really wanted Rudi Johnson before the 2003 season. He loves physical running backs that slam into the middle, that really "honks it up in there," which he says is what Eddie George is doing this year. George is getting heat for being washed up, but Parcells rushed to defend a guy he says is a consummate team player who "you'd really be impressed with him that way. He's a great kid.
"Eddie's OK. Don't worry about him, he's all right," Parcells said.
Lewis has been saying the same thing about some of his struggling veterans.
The one thing that Parcells understands and likes about Lewis is his resume. Like Parcells, it has a few stops.
"Something that I respect, he did pay his dues," Parcells said. "He was up there in Idaho coaching. I was at Hastings College in Nebraska. I look at guys that didn't inherit anything, but they kind of earned their way into it and that's what he did, so I have respect for guys like that."
It sounds as if the phone calls came during the offseason as both coaches put together their rosters.
"I don't know him well. I like his approach," Parcells said. "I do like his approach very much. He's thought about his job seriously. He seems like a good football guy to me."
They also have this in common. Both are getting strafed for slow starts after turning around poor teams in their first season. Lewis took the 2-14 Bengals to 8-8 while Parcells took the 5-11 Cowboys to 10-6 and the playoffs. Now they are 2-5 and 3-4, respectively.
"It's tedious. It's very, very difficult when you lose two or three in a row like we did, in particular the way we lost a couple of them," Parcells said. "The psychology of those results is very important. It's difficult to deal with. It takes all my experience as a coach to try and keep my team hopeful and believing and mentally alert and mentally sharp. (The Bengals) had the ball in their hands quite a few times at the end of the game with a chance to win. I'm sure he's trying to do the same with his team."
Like Lewis, Parcells has set the bar high. He's just not saying if he's going to be around at the end to lift it.
"My idea of turning it around is going to the playoffs two or three years in a row," Parcells said. "At that point, call it what you want, but when you're contending for a championship. I recognize the improvement in the Bengals last year. Anyone would. But when you don't win in this league, you get criticism. I asked for that.
"I haven't got that much time," Parcells said. "But that's what my idea of turning a team around is."
Asked if he'd give Lewis any advice, Parcells made it easy.
"Just be yourself. That's the most important thing. And don't try to be a player's coach. That doesn't work. Just be yourself. I'm sure he's doing that."
Lewis heartily agrees with Parcells on that one. He thinks that's a reason you don't see many interim coaches make it on their own, except for Tennessee's Jeff Fisher. The coach the players want eventually can't put the hammer down.
Although Lewis is close to his players and you can often find him talking to them at their lockers and in his office, he thinks he's able to keep enough distance to remain tough.
"Yeah, I'm sure if you asked them they'd tell you I'm not a player's coach," Lewis said. "I think they feel like they can come to me and talk to me because they know whatever I do, it's to make them a better player and us a better team."
Here is more Parcells from Wednesday's conference call with the Bengals media. **
On the Bengals:"I haven't really coached against a lot of the Bengals' players first hand. It's quite obvious looking at the film that there are a couple of really outstanding guys. I've been impressed with several of their guys and the way they've performed."
On the importance of Sunday's game:** " A very important game for both teams. We're in this part of the year now where the picture is not clear for anyone. My experience tells me the picture is not really going to formulate and take shape until after Thanksgiving. That's something I always relate to my players. That a lot can happen in a short time. Teams that are able to do a few things here in these uncertain weeks, where the media is anointing people to the crown and, quite frankly, some of those teams being anointed might not even be in the mix when it's over.
" All you have to do is look what has happened to teams that were starting real well, and now they're starting to back up a little bit, and there are a lot of teams like the Packers that are starting to do a little bit better. My experience tells me the prognosticators who come out before Thanksgiving usually aren't too accurate."
On his unhappiness at his team's high number of penalties (The Cowboys have four more penalties than the Bengals): "Until about two weeks ago. I chart the officials, so I know every official in the league and what they call. I've gone to making tapes of the crews and their games. I show the players about 10- or 12-play tapes. 'This is how this crew interprets this.' That's how far I've gone to try and do something about it. The last two weeks we've been pretty good. Before that? I tell you where I come from in New Jersey, it was a nightmare."
On his return to coaching that delayed his imminent election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame:"There's no concrete passageway there. I don't think about it. It's out of my control."
On the differences in building a team now compared to when he first became a head coach in 1983:Attrition. Every year, it so much greater. If we had four guys make the teams as rookies, 10 percent out of 45, I was ecstatic. 'Look at this. What a great draft we had. Four guys.' Now you're looking at the majority making it. Over 30 percent. Every year, 15, 16, 17, 18 guys change. Some years more. That's a difference. Obviously you don't get the same continuity. The economic considerations are just different. You can't just indiscriminately do things."
Is Vinny Testaverde a different quarterback than when you had him last? (In his best season, Testaverde led the Jets to the 1998 AFC title game):** "Not much. He's a very diligent trainer. I'm not really big on passing stats, but with an average NFL passing day, he's going to have more than 2,000 yards halfway through the season. That's not bad for a guy everyone says is washed up. He's over 60 percent. 62 percent. Last week he threw two interceptions that weren't his fault at all. He got double crossed."