Deconstructing a Conflict

IRVING, TX -- We take time to Deconstruct T.O. vs. Todd, and do it -- because of coach Bill Parcells' on-the-record ban and because of our Valley Ranch history -- as only TheRanchReport.com can.

First, quickly, some chronological background: On Oct. 11, passing-game coordinator Todd Haley berated Terrell Owens for arriving late to the practice field. Owens argued back, and the verbal battle continued into team meetings. "I was venting, he was venting," Owens said later. "I felt it stayed behind closed doors.'' By Thursday evening, news of the conflict had leaked, and the story made the papers on Friday morning. On Friday evening, Owens spoke coldly about his ruined relationship with his position coach, explaining that he'd tried to tell Haley, "'Dude, I was in the restroom.'' Then came a confounding ESPN report on Sunday morning that loudly insisted that the organization wouldn't punish Owens -- but would instead punish Haley.

And then, of course, came Owens' three-touchdown performance in Sunday afternoon's 34-6 drubbing of the Texans, complete with a sideline hug between Haley and Owens, a seemingly disapproving smirk from Parcells directed at the celebrating receiver and -- I swear, though somebody needs to re-check the TiVo on this -- T.O. playfully (defiantly?) slapping the head coach on his ample buttocks.

Now, let's fill in some blanks and get up to speed:

According to sources (yes, we still have 'em, but don't tell Coach!), Haley had conversations on Sunday evening with both Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Parcells. Parcells assured Haley that their relationship -- which is a close one -- is secure; one person described Haley flatteringly as "Bill's boy,'' partly because some people in the organization believe Haley has the potential to follow the career path of Sean Payton. Meanwhile, Jones assured Haley that he supports the assistant and understands that coaches conflicting with players is standard operating procedure (much more on this momentarily).

As one Valley Ranch insider told TheRanchReport.com, "If Todd wouldn't have yelled at T.O., Bill would've yelled at Todd.'' The same source added (and we can confirm): "Depending on a guy's personality, a position coach is going to yell at a player who is late, and it doesn't matter if he's late because he has diarrhea and it doesn't matter if he got shot five times. It's football; guys yell.''

One source would could be considered close to Owens adds this: "If T.O. is anything near a normal guy, he actually kind of respects (Haley) for standing up to him.''

One can hope that is true. Which leaves just one mystery before we further dissect the bumpy road frequently navigated in player-coach relationships:

Where did ESPN's Ed Werder come up with his "Cowboys To Fine Haley'' angle?

I've known Ed and been friends with Ed for a long time -- 25 years! I have jokingly said before that his passion for "the story'' sometimes motivates him to do the journalistic equivalent of killing a housefly with a bazooka. That may have been an issue here, but it's also quite likely that Jerry's infamous ability to mangle a sentence contributed to a misunderstanding.

Jerry is vehemently denying Werder's story, maybe because his twisted answer of "Yes, against Haley" may have been in response to an unclear question. I believe that because like you, I know Jerry as The King of the Malaprops. And because it simply makes no sense to fine an assistant coach for yelling at a tardy player -- especially an assistant coach who is modeling himself after the head coach, playing by the head coach's rules, doing everything he can to avoid violating the trust of Owens and Parcells by refusing to speak on the subject. (And no, the media did NOT find out about this conflict from Haley.)

Therefore, this story needs to be trash-canned. Yes, it qualifies as another chapter in T.O.I.A.S. (That is, "Terrell Owens -- It's Always Something.'') But otherwise, all it is is another chapter in the eventful but mostly unimportant history of Coach-Player Conflicts.

In my next column, I'll detail the last-decade-and-a-half history of conflicts at Valley Ranch, hoping to support a thesis. The thesis is this:

Some of these sorts of events do change the course of Cowboys history. Others are innocuous and not widely known. It is in the hands of Parcells, Owens and Haley to make certain this duel ends up in the latter category.

As Owens said after the three-TD effort, his relationship with Haley is a bit frigid but, "He's my coach and I respect him. That doesn't mean we have to go to lunch together or play cards together."

They do, however, have to create a way to continue to manufacture touchdowns together. And because of my knowledge of this situation and my perspective on Valley Ranch history (more on that next time), my bet is that they will.

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