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On a recent evening in the television studio near the New York Jets' training complex, coach and general manager Bill Parcells is doing what he does best: sticking his needle squarely into someone's carcass. The victim on this occasion is a familiar one, Phil Simms, who as a New York Giants quarterback endured eight years of Parcells's shoe-breaking and now takes abuse as host of the Jets' weekly TV show. When Parcells announced that he was quitting as Giants coach in May 1991, four months after he had led New York to a second Super Bowl title in five years, Simms knew that he was losing the best coach he would ever have, that the Giants wouldn't be as good without Parcells and that he might not be the No. 1 quarterback under the next coach. But Simms says that he couldn't help feeling relieved, that he would catch "my first breath in eight years."

Parcells has been wearing out Simms ("You've been riding on my back for so long, Simms," says Parcells, "they should call me Ol' Paint") as they tape the segment that concludes the show, and now Parcells moves in for the kill. He suggests that they end the proceedings by wishing each other a happy Thanksgiving.

"Well, we have another show to tape before Thanksgiving, right?" asks Simms.

"No, we don't, Simms," says Parcells. "This is the night we'd have to do it, Simms. Unless there's a different calendar for you than for everybody else." Parcells is right, of course. One of the things Simms has always hated about Parcells is that he's usually right.

They do the Thanksgiving ending, and it's nice, an acknowledgment that they have much to be thankful for. The moment the cameras are off, Parcells turns to the small group of technicians and the fans in the studio audience and, with a wide smile, delivers the final zinger. "I almost said, 'And the thing I have to be most thankful for is that you're not playing quarterback for the New York Jets.'"

It was a snapshot of Parcells at the top of his game, a game that is about control. He believes, as Washington Irving wrote in "Rip Van Winkle," that "a sharp tongue is the only edged tool that grows keener with constant use," and so, with much constancy, he uses his tongue like a whip, on his team, on his assistant coaches, on the media and on his friends, of whom Simms is one of the closest. It's a tongue that remains au courant. "The thing about Bill Parcells is that he's not one of these over-the-hill coaches who keeps getting recycled," says Keyshawn Johnson, New York's brash third-year receiver who published his memoirs after one season in the NFL. "He still seems like he's, you know, right there."

Parcells has his Jets--an assemblage of creaky old parts, questionable young ones and a few certified stars that's as good as or better than any of the other contenders in the AFC East--right there, too, tied for first place in their division, with a 9-4 record after Sunday's controversial 32-31 victory over the Seattle Seahawks at Giants Stadium. New York won nine games last season, Parcells's first with the Jets, and is in position to win 10 or 11 this year and make the playoffs for the first time since 1991. In the three seasons before Parcells's arrival, New York's victory totals were six, three and one, but, then, tongue-whipping football franchises into shape is what the man does. The New England Patriots were arguably the NFL's most moribund franchise ("the most down-and-out, despondent, negative atmosphere you could imagine" says Parcells) when he took over in '93. In two seasons he had them in the playoffs; in four he had them in the Super Bowl. The Giants had endured nine losing seasons out of 10 before Parcells became their coach in '83, and, after a 3-12-1 stumble that almost got him fired, he led them to Super Bowl wins in '87 and '91 and left with a .610 winning percentage.

All you need to know about the monumental task Parcells faced when he took over the Jets is that he was sweeping up after two seasons of Rich Kotite's ineptitude. Parcells is, as former Giants general manager George Young says, "a Hall of Fame coach." More to the point, he deserves the ultimate accolade that former coach Bum Phillips famously bestowed upon Don Shula: "He can take his'n and beat your'n, or he can take your'n and beat his'n."

But Parcells is a hard man, "sometimes the nastiest person you ever met," as Bob Kratch, who was an offensive lineman under Parcells on the Giants and the Patriots, told The New York Times last year. The word manipulative is used often (and usually without attribution) to describe Parcells, but it's not quite right. Rather than an Iago scheming in a corner of the palace, Parcells is a Henry V ruling from a bully pulpit, the man-in-control in the most regimented of the major sports, one who builds on that control every day, bulldozing this person and that situation until all around him is Parcells Land. "He's like a Bobby Knight or, maybe a better way to put it, like a general," says Joe Morris, the Giants' leading rusher for four seasons before being waived in 1990. "He has to be in control."

The Jets' players, their assistant coaches, their public relations staff, the beat writers covering the team, the saps from national publications--they all have to abide by the laws of Parcells Land. Especially the players. Playing for Parcells is an exercise in athletic Darwinism. Only the strongest (or the most willing to play in the Parcells system) survive, and the weakest (and the most recalcitrant) wind up on the waiver wire.

Even the strongest know this: Though the journey with Parcells will probably lead to victory, you'd better bring earplugs. "I have nothing but great things to say about the man as a coach," says quarterback Jeff Hostetler, who backed up Simms for three seasons under Parcells and led the Giants to victory in Super Bowl XXV, "but I didn't enjoy one minute of my time with him. I know that sounds strange, but that's how it is when you're around Bill Parcells."

Parcells is at an age, 57, when some men, even some coaches, start to mellow. Not him. He says he's less tolerant of mistakes now than he was a decade ago. After New York lost to the lowly Indianapolis Colts 24-23 on Nov. 15, one Jet marveled, "I'd never seen a coach even close to being that mad." Thinking of Parcells's health, someone close to him frets that "he could never tolerate losing, and it's getting worse." In the early 1990s Parcells had four heart procedures, the last a bypass, and cardiac concerns were at least part of the reason he left the Giants after the second Super Bowl season. He still gets palpitations on the sidelines from time to time, and one can't help thinking about something he said after a playoff loss eight years ago: "This game is going to kill me yet."

Still, Parcells looks good. After his heart ailments he kicked cigarettes cold turkey (and is now messianic in spreading the nonsmoking gospel), rarely drinks, works out almost daily on a treadmill and no longer eats peanut butter by the bowl, as he used to at the Giants training table. The close-cropped hair that stays in place even during tantrums (he may mousse, but unlike Miami Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson, he doesn't lacquer) is mostly gray but, in certain light, seems to have a little blond in it. At 6'3" and about 230 pounds, he's a big man--those unflattering coaching shorts seem to have been manufactured with Parcells in mind--but more formidable than fleshy. (It's worth recalling that Parcells's nickname, Tuna, doesn't refer to his bulk. He was so dubbed when he was linebackers coach for New England in 1980 and thought a player was trying to pull something over on him. "Who do you think I am, Charlie the Tuna?" he said. Though the nickname appears regularly in New York newspapers, almost no one outside of the media refers to him as Tuna.) His playing resume lists quarterback (at River Dell High in Oradell, N.J.) and linebacker (at Colgate for one season and Wichita State for three), not defensive tackle or center, and he was an excellent baseball player (pitcher, catcher and first baseman) and basketball player (power forward) in high school too.

Peel 40 years off his face and 40 pounds off the rest of him, and there's the kid who stares out at you from photos in the albums of Mickey Corcoran, Parcells's basketball coach at River Dell High. That kid looks like a Biff, a jock in a letter sweater who leans confidently, arms folded, against a 1956 Ford, his first car. When you approach Biff, he might throw a big paw around your neck or he might kick your ass, but you want Biff to like you. Parcells is Biff on the back nine of his life. As intimidating as he can be, there's something in his regular-Joe, Jersey-guy nature that draws people to him. From time to time he flashes a wide smile, disarming in its unexpectedness, that lights up the room. Look at some photos of Vince Lombardi (Corcoran's basketball coach at St. Cecilia High in Englewood, N.J., by the way), and you'll see the same over-the-top, 500-watt grin.

Yes, Parcells is a big man who casts a big shadow--Giants and Patriots coaches who have succeeded him are doomed to shiver under it until they win a Super Bowl--and has big flaws. He asks eternal fealty from those around him but doesn't always give that himself. With one year left on his contract with the Patriots, he bolted to the Jets a month after losing to the Green Bay Packers in the 1997 Super Bowl. The Patriots protested to the league office, and commissioner Paul Tagliabue ruled that Parcells could go to New York but that the Jets owed New England four compensatory draft choices over the next three seasons. Years earlier, after his first Super Bowl win, Parcells had considered bolting to the Atlanta Falcons, but the league refused to let him break his contract with the Giants. He will admit to being "restless, but that's not necessarily a bad thing." Unless you're trying to figure out if he's going to coach your football team. One of his Giants players said that, if Parcells "was named king of the world on Sunday, he'd be unhappy by Tuesday."

Happily or not, Parcells will probably finish his career with the Jets. He has a six-year, $14.4 million deal, and a much-talked-about scenario has him working the sidelines for another couple of seasons and then handing the coaching job to Bill Belichick, the Jets' assistant head coach, and retreating to the front office. (Could there be any more stomach-gurgling job in sports than coaching with Parcells looking over your shoulder?) After a couple of years of that, Parcells would turn out the lights and spend his days playing golf at his club (Due Process in Colts Neck, N.J.), hanging around the racetrack with buddies like nationally renowned trainer Shug McGaughey and maybe being involved with a team in minor league baseball, another of his passions. Although he has no hobbies outside sports and no discernible domestic skills ("I can't change a lightbulb"), Parcells claims he will have no trouble walking away. Maurice Carthon, a former Giants running back who's now the Jets' running backs coach, thinks that would be a mistake. "Shoot," says Carthon, "if I was as good as that man, I'd coach football forever."

After much parrying and jousting, Parcells agrees to a 20-minute interview--"and 20 minutes only"--at his office in the Jets' complex at Hofstra. It's important for Parcells to get out the message that he does not court publicity. Consider it sent. One of his closest friends is Mike Francesa, a talk-show host on WFAN, New York's all-sports radio station, and Parcells has been a guest on Francesa's program four times. As a successful coach in the Big Apple, Parcells is by definition in the spotlight, and though he would never admit it, he enjoys the attention, to an extent. He even likes the give-and-take (mostly give) with the New York press that during the season goes on four times a week at Jets headquarters, and his antipathy toward journalists never reaches the one-step-from-the-nuthouse level of Knight's, another one of his close friends. But Parcells meets the press the same way he meets everything: on his terms. To one question during the 20-minute session he provides the memorable answer, "Well, if you were to ask my wife, and you won't be, by the way...." Indeed, quotes from Judy, Bill's wife of 36 years, come around with the regularity of comets. One of his three daughters, 29-year-old Jill, is SI's events marketing manager, and, for this story she spoke only sparingly and not for the record. Dallas, 33, is in the marketing department of an electronics firm and Suzy, 36, is a mother and part-time dental hygienist.

It's suggested at the outset of this clock-is-running session that the main reason Parcells has been successful (he has won 58% of the 220 NFL games he has coached in 14 seasons with three franchises) is that, to a greater degree than any other coach, he's comfortable joking with his players and just as comfortable questioning their manhood 15 minutes later. In other words, he's both a player's coach and a toe-the-line disciplinarian.

Parcells waves off this premise as soon as it is presented. "Look, coaching is about human interaction and trying to know your players," he says. "Any coach would tell you that. I'm no different." He's wrong about that. He's better at it than most. Brad Benson, who played tackle for Parcells on the Giants, has said it best: "The unique thing about Coach Parcells is that he has a self-security. He can be a player's coach, yet when we get back in that locker room and he has to regain control of the team, he can do that."

Parcells agrees that there's a connection between the way he relates to players and the way he rants at them. Endless streams of words. Cutting words, delivered with a smile and a pat on the back on the one hand, with a red face and a jabbing finger on the other. He steadfastly refuses to offer any of his coaching tenets save for this one: "If you're sensitive, you will have a hard time with me."

Parcells was brought up in an environment in which coaches got in athletes' faces. "Everybody who ever coached me was on me, coaching me hard," he says. "But, see, if you respect a player and he respects you, then you have a relationship, and in a relationship all commentary is allowed. I can say anything to Pepper Johnson, and he will understand where I'm coming from. Man, the things coaches used to say to me...."

Parcells is usually sparing in talking about his past. Questions about his days with the Giants or the Patriots or about any of his college jobs (there were seven between 1964 and '78) will often be met with a contemptuous, "That's ancient history." To an inquiry about Thanksgiving Day football memories at a press conference that morning, Parcells snapped, "It doesn't matter." But, as coaches often do, he enjoys talking about his coaches, the men who shaped his life, the unflinching discipline he got in basketball from Corcoran, the inspired tongue-lashings he got in football from the late Tom Cahill, his high school coach, who later hired Parcells to be linebackers coach at Army. With an almost childlike delight--and with laundered language--he remembers the day that one of his coaches yelled to him during football practice, "Parcells, I wish you were a piece of crap out there because then at least somebody might slip on you." He conjures up the Thanksgiving Day game in his senior year at River Dell during which, after an audible he called near the goal line didn't produce a touchdown, Cahill turned him toward the field, put his arm around him and said, "Parcells, you s.o.b., the next time you make a call like that, your fat ass is going to be on the bench for the rest of your career, which fortunately isn't too much longer." After the game, which River Dell won, Bill's mother, Ida, who rarely saw him play, said to him, "Wasn't that nice of Coach Cahill to console you like that."

"See, whatever I give as a coach, I took as a player," Parcells says. "It happened to me, and if it happened to me and I turned out all right, then my players can take it too." He got the same lessons at home. His father, Charles, known as Chubby, was an outstanding athlete but did not stage-father his son's sports career. Chubby turned Duane--young Parcells picked up "Bill" in his teenage years after he was continually mistaken for another boy named Bill, and he liked that moniker better than Duane--over to the coaches and told them to keep him in line. "Don't be afraid to give him a kick in the backside," Chubby told Corcoran.

Parcells deconstructs himself according to the grand cliches of sport: He was the kid who shoveled snow off the neighborhood courts so he could shoot hoops in the dead of winter; he had no-nonsense coaches with hearts of gold who taught him discipline; he learned perseverance from a father who sent him back out to fight after he took a licking (from Danny Astrella, who's still a friend) because "you gotta go back out there, son, you always gotta go back out there." But there's no reason to believe that these experiences weren't real, no reason to believe they aren't the foundation of this hard man who coaches with so much confidence.

"The only players I hurt with my words are the ones who have an inflated opinion of their ability," says Parcells. "I can't worry about that. I'll call somebody 'dumb' or 'stupid' if they make a dumb or stupid play. I don't know any other word for it, and if they don't like the word, that's too bad.

"Mind games? Look, I don't think about them. The ability I have as a coach is to see the end picture. I've been around enough to know what it takes to get a team to reach its potential, and I want players who want to reach their potential. Because I feel I can see the end picture, I'm less tolerant than I used to be, less tolerant of mistakes and players who aren't giving everything. I'll tell you when I knew that was the way I had to be: right after I almost got fired [following his rookie season with the Giants]."

Twenty minutes has become 50, and Parcells is starting to watch the clock. The afternoon is slipping away, and there are game films to analyze. A question: Is there a player whom he regrets getting on too much? He thinks about it for a good 15 seconds and mentions Mark Collins, a safety who was a defensive standout in the Giants' 1991 Super Bowl win and is now with the Seahawks. "Maybe I got on him a little too much, went a little too hard," says Parcells. "Maybe I never let him know what a good player I thought he was. But, you know, I ran into him recently and he said to me, 'Thank you for being the way you were. You made me a better player.'"

As regrets go, that isn't much.

It's simplistic to suggest that Parcells has a .580 winning percentage solely because he's a control freak whose players work hard for him. He has an approach that has proved successful and from which he won't be deterred, and woe to the owner or front-office type who stands in his way. It's revealing that a coach of whom Parcells speaks highly is his former Philadelphia Eagles rival, Buddy Ryan, a man of bluntness and bluster who's out of football. "Buddy had a philosophy, and he pursued it without fear," says Parcells. "No fear!"

As elucidated by several of his current and former players, other Parcells watchers around the league and Parcells himself (sort of), here are the keys to the Parcells approach.

--He goes after his kind of player with single-mindedness. That sounds elementary, but the judgments of coaches are sometimes blinded by the football version of the miniskirt, the cornerback with 4.2 speed who can't tackle, for example, or the quarterback who can throw 90 yards off the wrong foot but can't locate a secondary receiver. Parcells doesn't stray from collecting Parcells-type players. "If you don't fit his mold," says Philadelphia defensive end Hugh Douglas, who didn't and was traded from the Jets after last season, "then he'll find somebody who does."

Running back Keith Byars is someone who does. "There are Bill Parcells requirements for every position," says Byars. "The wide receivers have to be guys who don't wear gloves and mittens on cold days. The running backs are the old down-and-dirty warhorses who could have played in any era." Parcells picks it up: "My quarterbacks are battlers, players who pick themselves up and get back in the action. If there's one thing I can't stand, it's a quarterback who thinks playing quarterback is just about passing." Offensive linemen have to be proven veterans with mental toughness. They have the hardest time gaining Parcells's confidence. "It takes a lot of time to prove you can play that position," says Parcells. "A lot of offensive linemen don't have it, and I want to see, over time, who does."

So Parcells's primary running backs on the Jets are Byars and Curtis Martin, both of whom he brought from New England, canny and gutty, move-the-chain types. His quarterback, once he ran veteran Neil O'Donnell out of town and gave up on young Glenn Foley, is the resurrected Vinny Testaverde, a quiet, sturdy leader with undeniable arm strength but a guy who doesn't chafe at throwing the shorter routes, which are common in the Jets' offense. His most reliable receivers are the underrated Wayne Chrebet and...Keyshawn Johnson? Yes, Johnson, the young L.A. trash-talker and celebrated author of Just Give Me the Damn Ball! More than a streaky, big-play guy, Johnson is a tough, durable athlete, a possession receiver who will run the dangerous routes over the middle.

Another thing about a Parcells player: He can't be too dumb or too smart. Dumb players make dumb plays, and Parcells has no tolerance for those. But smart players question his motivational gimmicks and techniques, and Parcells doesn't brook too much questioning. "Bill treats players as if they've got an IQ of about 95," says one observer who has watched Parcells up close but who doesn't want to be identified in any other way. "You can't have a 70 IQ, and you can't have a 120. Of course, there are smart guys who figure it out and go the blue-collar, don't-question-me route, like Simms." Hostetler, who is known as a smart guy, says, "I'd say that's an accurate perception."

--In going after "his guys," Parcells is smart enough to evaluate what a player has done in another system and not so egotistical as to demand that the player prove himself again. That plugs into another part of the system that Parcells watchers invariably mention: He puts players into situations where they can succeed. The prime example on this year's Jets is linebacker Bryan Cox. After five controversial seasons with the Dolphins and then two mediocre ones with the Chicago Bears and burdened with a reputation as an erratic character who had amassed $146,000 in fines, Cox was out of football when Parcells called him before the start of this season's training camp.

"Coach, I'm discouraged, I'm out of shape, and I don't know whether I want to play," Cox said.

"You do want to play," Parcells said. "I want you in a contributing role, not as a special-teamer. Think about it, and I'll call you back tonight."

"Coach, I don't know how soon I can be ready."

"I don't care if you're ready on August 1," Parcells answered. "I want you ready on September 1."

So Cox came to camp, played himself into shape and is now something more than a contributor, flying around the field like an ornery--sometimes rule-bending--bronco to contain the run and then dutifully trotting off the field (alongside linebacker Pepper Johnson, a longtime Parcells warhorse) on passing downs. "Could you imagine any other coach in the league taking on a guy like me, a guy with my reputation, under those terms?" asks Cox.

--Parcells makes sure that he has enough of "his guys" to control the locker room. If he has those players in place, he doesn't have to be paranoid (or appear so), as many other coaches are. "Bill knows it's impossible to control every element of the locker room," says the aforementioned observer, "so he gets five or six players who speak the message for him and who are his eyes and ears and completely devoted to him."

Indeed, Parcells has a reputation for being a Svengali in sweats. Seahawks quarterback Warren Moon, who has never played for Parcells, says he hears some former Giants and former Patriots "speak of him in almost reverential fashion." You can see that in Byars, who says of Parcells, "If the man tells you there's cheese on the mountain, you better bring crackers."

Former Giants nosetackle Jim Burt says Parcells calls his devotees "circle-the-wagon guys." If things are going badly, then Parcells goes out and gets a circle-the-wagon guy. A classic example on the Giants was Joe Fields, a backup center. Byars, Cox, Pepper Johnson and tackle Jumbo Elliott are all circle-the-wagon guys on the Jets, and Keyshawn Johnson is one in waiting. Look at the sideline during a game, and you'll see Johnson next to Parcells, lobbying not only to get his number called but also for the enduring affection of his coach.

--Parcells is a genius at motivating on an individual level. Speaking independently, Morris and Burt say almost the same thing in describing Parcells's locker room talks. Morris: "When Bill would say something in general terms, I would literally think he was talking only to me." Burt: "Bill made me feel personally responsible for every win and loss."

Parcells has always worked his mind-melding magic in many ways. He would challenge Morris directly: "If you don't get a hundred yards tomorrow, we lose." He would ask Burt for help: "I know you're ready, but you've got to get so-and-so ready, too." He would hold up Simms as an example that no one was safe from his wrath: "Phil, you're playing great, and I couldn't ask more out of you," he told Simms during one preseason, "but on that field in about 15 minutes I'm going to give you holy hell."

Parcells has never fallen into the deadly coaching trap known as democracy. He doesn't treat every player the same. He plays some of his most creative mind games in the off-season when he drops by the weight room to talk to players individually. "That's when he finds out what buttons to push during the season," says Carthon. Buttons to push and mind games are the two phrases most commonly uttered about Parcells.

The player who best illustrates the Parcells philosophy is linebacker Lawrence Taylor, his Giant for the ages. Parcells, who began his college coaching career as a defensive specialist, put Taylor into situations where he could succeed, turning him into a fierce quarterback-hunting machine whose unpredictability--blockers not only had to worry about whether he was rushing but also about from where--was the key to New York's defense under Parcells. "Bill found a way to put my talents to use," Taylor said two weeks ago from a New Jersey drug rehabilitation center. (In October he was arrested on charges of purchasing crack cocaine and possession of drug paraphernalia. He pleaded not guilty.) "If I'd do something that wasn't in the playbook and it worked, Bill would say, 'Well, let's put it in then.'"

Parcells had his way of motivating Taylor--for example, he would constantly praise Hugh Green, a fast and mobile Tampa Bay Buccaneer linebacker in the mold of LT--but for the most part he stayed off his back. In fact, some Giants chafed about the special treatment given to Taylor. That's Parcells: special players, special treatment. Dealing with Taylor's off-the-field transgressions tested Parcells, but he says Taylor was easy to coach. "All you had to do was show him where the competition was," says Parcells. "I saw the man play when he was bleeding, when he was in severe pain with a shoulder injury, when he was dehydrated. When it came to laying it on the line, there was nobody better than Lawrence Taylor."

Taylor says Parcells has written him twice in rehab, and though neither man is warm and fuzzy, they remain close in their own way. "Bill Parcells will always be my coach," says Taylor. "Whenever I'm inducted into the Hall of Fame, Bill will stand right there with me."

--Parcells gets--and keeps--the kind of assistants he wants, men like Carthon, who as a player circled the wagons for Parcells. Tellingly, the bios for the assistant coaches in the Jets' media guide list not only their responsibilities and years of NFL experience but also "seasons with Bill Parcells."

Bill Belichick, Ass't. Head Coach and Secondary, 2nd Season with Jets, 24th Season in NFL, 13th season with Bill Parcells.

Romeo Crennel, Defensive Line, 2nd Season with Jets, 18th in NFL, 19th with Bill Parcells.

Al Groh, Linebackers Coach, 2nd Season with Jets, 11th Season in NFL, 12th season with Bill Parcells.

And so on.

A big misconception about Parcells is that he has his hand in every aspect of the football operation. More than many coaches, he delegates. Carthon says that he deals very little with Parcells on offensive matters and talks mostly to coordinator Charlie Weis, who has been with Parcells for six seasons. Parcells is secure about hiring talented coaches who will implement his system because they know who's in charge. Palace coups are unthinkable.

The assistants toe the party line and rarely, if ever, talk publicly about matters other than football. They are well paid and have on their resumes an association with a winning team. But Parcells is hard on them, and they sometimes have to swallow their pride to work for him. Hostetler, to whom Parcells offered the job of Jets quarterbacks coach before the 1997 season (he decided to stay active and is with the Washington Redskins), pondered whether he would accept a similar offer from him down the road. "It was one of the most flattering calls I ever got when he asked me to join his staff," says Hostetler, "because he had never given the slightest indication I had earned his respect when I was with the Giants. But I honestly don't know if I could work with him. He makes a lot of demands, and I don't know whether I could make that commitment." But if you do make the commitment, then you are a Parcells guy, probably for life.

There's something to be said for Parcells's bluntness. Players may not enjoy hearing it, but they don't like the double-talk they get on many other teams either. "When the man says your time is running out," says Cox, "then your time is running out."

There's a clarity about being on a Parcells team that a player can appreciate. You have to please the coach, not the owner or the general manager or the fans. If you do, you stick. If you don't, lace up your walking shoes. "More than other athletes, football players want to be led," says Simms, "and Bill Parcells leads. That's why players respond to him." If that sounds like old-school, Giants-of-the-1980s nonsense, well, Keyshawn Johnson says the same thing. "I don't have a problem with taking orders," says Johnson, "and I don't think any other real players do. We just want to take the right orders from the right person, and that's what you get from Bill Parcells."

Still, one wonders, Is there a way to achieve Parcellsian results without some of the extraneous nastiness, the relentless controlling dynamic? Morris considers the question, says yes and names a former Redskins coach who won three Super Bowls. "Joe Gibbs did it," says Morris. "He is a wonderful man and a wonderful coach. You can be both."

Burt considers the question and spits a quick no. "Why should he? It works for Parcells. It's the only way it could work."

The hold that Parcells has on the men who play for him is perhaps best told through Collins and Burt. Though Collins was generally considered one of those "too intelligent" types that Parcells doesn't like and though Parcells worked him over pretty good, Collins confirms the story that he thanked Parcells for making him a better player. "The reason I'm still in the league," says Collins, "is the things Bill Parcells taught me." Burt, meanwhile, has come back around recently. After six seasons as a Parcells guy, he was released in 1989 because Parcells thought that Burt's aching back was limiting his effectiveness, probably an accurate assessment. Harsh words were exchanged after Burt caught on with the San Francisco 49ers. "I don't think Burt's a student of coverage," Parcells cracked before a Giants-49ers game in '89.

Responded Burt, "He's much smarter than all of us. Tell the genius we are all trying to model ourselves after him."

But after he retired from the Niners, Burt couldn't stop thinking about Parcells, the endless gimmicks he used to stay in control, the pulse-racing, creative tension that was always in the air, the feeling of satisfaction after you had pleased him. Like Simms, Hostetler and especially Morris, players who respect Parcells but see the warts, Burt came to realize that his time in Parcells Land was special, a physical and mental boot camp from which only the strong emerge triumphant. From time to time Burt hauls out a diary that he began keeping in 1985 and reads passages about Parcells.

Burt is asked how often he speaks to Parcells. "I haven't said one word to him since I left the Giants," he answers.

"Why don't you call him?"

"Why doesn't Bill Parcells call me?" Burt shoots back.

Good question.