Cleaning up the Cowboys

The Cowboys got their first hint of what life would be like under new, but definitely old-school, coach Bill Parcells in his first meeting with the team last month. He advised anybody who looked at themselves as "gang-bangers, thugs or rednecks" to leave because he only wanted football players.

According to a source, it was a direct swipe at several players whose reputation as party boys was stoked by the fact that four players broke curfew the night before last year's season-ending loss to the Washington Redskins.

When players returned en masse March 24 for the beginning of the mandatory offseason workout program, they noticed two televisions missing from the training room, and found that Parcells ordered the temperature lowered to discourage any lounging in the sick bay.

In the equipment room, talking on the phone and surfing the Web have been outlawed.

In the locker room, it's goodbye to cards, dominoes or loud music.

The weight room has less equipment, forcing players to work together in an effort to build camaraderie and unity.

It's all part of Parcells' grand plan to instill discipline and a businesslike approach to the Cowboys.

He might not be able to immediately revamp the Cowboys, who are coming off three consecutive 5-11 seasons under Dave Campo, but Parcells believes he can inject a new attitude, one he feels is necessary to return America's Team to prominence.

That is the feeling of many in the organization, who welcome the change in culture at Valley Ranch, even if it means chilly temperatures in the training room.

"He is stern guy and stern in his ways," said safety Darren Woodson, who instituted a brief dominoes ban in the locker room last season. "It's about control. He's like Bush. Either you are with us or you are against us. It's his way. This is what we need. We needed a disciplinarian. It's about having rules and consequences. I welcome that."

According to sources, Parcells doesn't want players in the training room because he doesn't want them comfortable with being injured or using it as a hideaway. He wants them to use their time in the locker room to improve themselves rather than to play games.

They certainly won't have as many opportunities to engage in such activities, because there will be less free time in their schedules.

Owner Jerry Jones, who signed off on all the changes when he made Parcells the richest coach in Cowboys history, bristles at the suggestion that things were lax in the organization before Parcells. He says there were consequences in the past for players not adhering to the rules, and suggests that Parcells' mandate to cut down on the fun and banter in the locker room is just a different way to achieve the goal rather than the necessarily "right" way.

Jones points out that Tom Landry, Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer all won Super Bowls -- and all had different attitudes toward the locker room.

"When I got here in 1989, the lockers had computer desks," Jones said. "Each locker was a small office. Players were encouraged to do their work and other things around their lockers under Landry.

"Jimmy encouraged players to hang around the lockers and be gym rats at the facility. They played dominoes when Jimmy was here. Things were more relaxed when Barry got here.

"I'm not taking anything away from what Bill is doing because that makes him comfortable. It's style and message. They all work."

But as the talent began to erode, signs began to show that the relaxed style that started under Switzer and continued to an extent under Chan Gailey, then Campo, was no longer working.

The Cowboys haven't won a playoff game in six years. Their record is 39-57 during that time, and their play has been marked by poor efforts away from home, poor efforts in close games and a litany of mental miscues and blown assignments.

All are signs of an erosion in discipline and attention to detail -- things that Jones acknowledges Parcells has a better chance of correcting than his two predecessors, not just because of his style but also because of his reputation.

You might just call it a fear factor.

There is a general feeling that Parcells' bite is worse than his bark. That belief has gone beyond the locker room to the rest of the Cowboys facility.

In the past, employees in other departments routinely walked in and out of the locker room, giving impromptu tours to friends and clients. The doors to the locker room have been closed since Parcells' arrival.

There has been no memo prohibiting entry, but many employees are reluctant to take their chances.

Jones disputes such a feeling and says locker room access hasn't changed. However, a team employee said no one is willing to take a chance of being called out.

Real or imagined, for the first time since Johnson left in 1993, that's the feeling inside the locker room as well.

Many players are hesitant to talk to the media about the changes at the ranch out of fear of saying anything that would get them on Parcells' bad side.

Similarly, many didn't wait until the official start of the offseason program to begin daily workouts at team facilities.

Are they trying to get on Parcells' good side or stay off his bad side?

Whichever, Jones calls it a byproduct of the respect and credibility that Parcells brought with him as a two-time Super Bowl winner.

"We are trying to win more games, so we are not going to be afraid to make changes," Jones said. "Changes are necessary. Bill is creating expectations. But I don't sense fear. I sense respect and appreciation for the way Bill puts a team together and his approach to getting ready for the season. There is an understanding that his way works. There is not a question mark of whether it works or not.

"Players realize if you don't perform or don't get ready, you are not going to make the team. But I see a positive approach. I see a clear approach. There is no misunderstanding about what is expected. That is more than fear."

Starting with the offseason program, the Cowboys will get a little help in finding out about life with Parcells from three new players who have history with their coach. Two free-agent signees, tackle Ryan Young and fullback Richie Anderson, played for the New York Jets when Parcells coached there. Receiver Terry Glenn, acquired in a trade with Green Bay, played for Parcells with the New England Patriots.

All are in Dallas because of their on-field abilities. However, they will all serve an important role in the locker room, spreading the gospel of how Parcells wants things done.

Woodson said he has already picked Young's brain about what to expect. However, Woodson said Young's actions have spoken the loudest.

"He has been up here every day since he signed," Woodson said. "He got signed, got his family out here the next Saturday and got his kids in schools. He has been here. He told us some things that are beneficial.

"But his actions are something that people can follow."

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