Parcells vs. Coughlin, Minute by Minute

If there is any coach in the NFL who is by reputation more Pattonesque than the Cowboys' Bill Parcells, it is the Giants' Tom Coughlin. So it is fitting that the NFC East battle will likely be won, game-by-game, play-by-play, minute-by-minute, by either The Teacher or The Pupil.

Almost immediately after Dallas' 24-21 OT loss to Denver on Thanksgiving, Parcells ordered everyone to "get ready for the Giants.''

I don't have to have watched Coughlin's comments following New York's 24-21 OT loss at Seattle yesterday -- yes, the Giants and Cowboys are both 7-4 after having lost similar-type games to similarily quality opponents by identical fifth-period scores -- to know that he almost certainly ordered everyone to "get ready for the Cowboys.''

Last year's Cowboys finished 6-10, and there was grousing about Parcells' bullying style. Last year's Giants started 5-2 and then collapsed late, finishing 6-10. And yes, there was grousing about Coughlin, who requires players to be at meetings five minutes early to avoid being fined for being late. Does Coughlin, who learned his trade as a Parcells assistant, get tight in tight games? Is that how a team accumulates a franchise-record for penalties, as the Giants did Sunday? Is that how a team misses three potential game-winning kicks? Is that the Giants team -- tight, afraid to make a mistake, losers of eight of the final nine games a year ago -- the Cowboys will host this Sunday?

Parcells said recently that the NFC East will be won or lost by "the quarterback position.'' It is a natural twist for Coach Contrarian, who had previously said he simply wanted bus-driver play from the QB position. (I still can't figure out how a first-half-of-the-season bus driver is supposed to shift into A.J. Foyt mode once the second half starts.)

No, coach, the NFC East position will be won or lost by "the head coach position.'' The quarterbacks in question, after all, have similar pedigrees but warts to go with them. Dallas' Drew Bledoe is a former No. 1 overall pick, but he is a discard. New York's Eli Manning is a former No. 1 overall pick, but he is an infant.

Parcells and Coughlin are the surer bets.

Not that the coaches don't have their ups and downs. I mean, when Dallas and New York were 6-10 teams a year ago, what were Parcells and Coughlin?

Go 6-10 and each of them is nothing but a "bully.''

It's a year later. They co-lead the NFC East with 7-4 records. And each of them is "a leader of men.''

For coaches, the NFC East is supposed to be a week-in/week-out resume-heavy coaching clinic.

Washington's Joe Gibbs is a Hall-of-Famer.

Philadelphia's Andy Reid is The Next Big Thing, entry in four straight conference title games.

Coughlin is the architect of the expansion Jaguars, and the reviver of the Giants.

But after a troubling OT loss to San Diego on Sunday, Gibbs' record during his second term in D.C. is Norv Turner-like. Reid is serving his penance for having sold his soul to the devilish Terrell Owens -- and is now reduced to whining about the Cowboys' supposed "tampering'' with their deranged-but-estranged receiver.

And Coughlin's team, to me, seems constantly on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Or was that just another "false start'' penalty?

In this NFL, I'm not much for looking ahead for "Strength-of-Schedule'' advantages. It's a Slot Machine League now. So how do you know if it's good or bad that the Giants have to go to Oakland, good or bad that the Cowboys get the Rams, fair or not fair that Dallas and New York each have a home game against KC and a road game against DC?

How do you know?

I'm sticking with the most measurable thing: The Strength-of-Coaches. The NFC East battle can be all about Parcells-vs.-Coughlin.

I'm betting for Tom Coughlin that next week is about five minutes. That's how much earlier than usual he'll show up.

I'm betting for Bill Parcells that next week is about five million. That's the annual salary he'll continue earning in December.

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