Transition Period Takes Time

Don't hold your breath if you are expecting quick answers on Emmitt Smith's future or any of the other major personnel questions facing the Cowboys this off-season. Bill Parcells plans to take his time, saying serious personnel evaluation might not begin until the end of the month.

"It's kind of like 'first things first' for me," Parcells said. "I am so caught up in the coaching staff. I can't have peace of mind until I get that squared away. Hopefully, I can start on player evaluation pretty much in time for free agency."

Parcells has made three coaching decisions, bringing in Maurice Carthon from Detroit to be offensive coordinator, while retaining defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and defensive ends coach Jim Jeffcoat.

Carthon, 41, who played under Parcells with the New York Giants and coached under him with the New England Patriots and New York Jets, will be the Cowboys' new offensive coordinator.

Carthon was the offensive coordinator with Detroit in 2002 and the Lions' running backs coach in 2001. Carthon, who said the Cowboys would have a multiple offense, replaces Bruce Coslet and his West Coast approach.

Carthon's not here so much for the success he had in Detroit -- head coach Marty Mornhinweg actually called plays for a Detroit offense that finished 28th in the league in 2002 -- but rather his strong relationship with Parcells.

Detroit knew as much, which is why they granted Parcells permission to talk to Carthon and then let him out of his contract.

"I am really happy to get him," said Parcells said. "He is a special guy to me. He was a good player. He is a good coach and I love him. That's the best way I can put it. I will say this: If I ever needed to get back-to-back with somebody and I needed somebody to protect me, he would be one of the guys I asked."

Carthon, who was at Cowboys headquarters Monday, said he didn't expect Parcells to be coaching again after retiring from the Jets in 1999, though he's not surprised to be joining the man he looks at like a father figure.

"What are you going to do? When he says come, you come," Carthon said. "He has a lot to do with the success I had. I am in coaching because of Bill. The Lions understood that. It's exciting to be back with Bill."

Carthon also will serve as running backs coach, meaning that his addition ended the Cowboys careers of Coslet and former running backs coach Galen Hall. Whether Carthon will call plays, however, is not certain.

Parcells, who promises to bring in another "heavy hitter" on offense, possibly Panthers offensive coordinator Dan Henning, former Jaguars head coach Tom Coughlin or retired coach Ray Perkins -- says he might call plays as he did the last few years with the Jets.

Next season, the Cowboys will have their third offense in as many years and fourth in six years.

"I've been in the West Coast offense for two years and I'm quite sure I've learned some things that I like," Carthon said. "But I would never say that we're running the West Coast offense because that's not Bill and that's not me. We will be a lot of things. We'll be three wide receivers. We'll be three wide receivers and two backs. Three receivers and one back. We'll be a multiple offense."

Carthon's presence should not be taken lightly, as he potentially could be Parcells' successor in Dallas. Parcells, 61, signed a four-year deal. He said he's not necessarily grooming Carthon but says he respects his ability as a coach and the path he's taken. It's a path not coincidentally guided by Parcells.

"I think he's got head coaching potential at some point," Parcells said. "He has the ideal background. It was slow. It was meticulous. He has seen three different rebuilding jobs firsthand. The experience in Detroit was good for him because he got another look at it."

It didn't take long for Parcells to get on the same page with the equally passionate Zimmer.

"I didn't know him," Parcells said. "He has a good reputation with people that do know him. I know he likes football and has a passion for football. I think it's going to be a good fit."

It's also a good fit because the Cowboys' personnel doesn't fit the style of defense Parcells normally likes to play. Parcells, who used the 3-4 for much of his career, said the Cowboys would stay, for now, with the current 4-3 scheme used the past few seasons under Zimmer.

"I have been an odd-front guy for a long time, but I don't think I can try to change over philosophically," Parcells said.

Simply put, the Cowboys, who have thrived with small and speedy players on defense, will have to get bigger to play football the Parcells way -- especially at linebacker. He will be hard-pressed to remove both weak-side linebacker Dexter Coakley (5-foot-10, 236 pounds) and middle linebacker Dat Nguyen (5-11, 243) for cap reasons. However, he said it is a position that will be addressed in the draft and free agency.

Parcells has plenty of evaluating to do, too.

Not only does Parcells have to decide on obvious questions, like whether to bring back Smith for his 14th NFL season, but he has less obvious decisions, like what to do with his linebacking corps. Parcells is attempting to blend players on the Cowboys roster with the kind of players he desires.

The Cowboys linebackers are small. Parcells likes big. The Cowboys offensive linemen are young. Parcells like veterans. The Cowboys quarterbacks are inexperienced, with 25 starts between them. Parcells likes experience.

"I'm not opposed to going young at all," Parcells said Monday as he provided a little insight into what type of roster people can expect from him. "I have used the term 'hold the fort,' and I have to get some of those guys."

"Hold the fort" guys are Parcells players, such as Carl Banks, Leonard Marshall, Curtis Martin and Bryan Cox. They are players who know Parcells, would jump through a wall for him and are capable of getting other, less convinced players to jump, too.

Maybe not the fastest or the most talented, "hold the fort" guys are "old school." And, if he can find a couple who play quarterback, offensive line or linebacker, even better.

"I think it's a position that will be altered a little bit, and we will try to alter it," Parcells said of the linebacking corps. "I don't want to say that's a top priority, because I don't know it is. I don't know what the top priorities are right now."

Parcells said that each season he makes a list of things the team must do, things it needs to do and things it wishes it could do.

After he gets his coaching staff in place, he will finish compiling the "must" list.

Parcells said he would rely on the people already in place to help him evaluate whether players on the current roster fit with what he is trying to do. "I am not saying the guys we have here aren't good players. I don't know that yet," Parcells said. "I am sure some will fit in a role. But at the end of the day, if you want to change the philosophy, you are going to have a lot more different-looking kind of guys."

As for Smith, whose status qualifies as the biggest off-season question, Parcells said it is out of his hands a little bit.

"At some point in time we know Emmitt is not going to be the future," Parcells said. "Whether that's this year or next year, I don't know that right now. I'm not trying to avoid the issue, but until Emmitt and [owner] Jerry [Jones] talk, anything else is preliminary."

Dealing with players, however, will come later.

Parcells said filling out his coaching staff is his first order of business.

Zimmer, who likely will also coach the defensive backs next season, and Jeffcoat might not be the only coaches retained from Campo's staff. Parcells has talked to assistant special teams coach Bill Bates, linebackers coach Gary Gibbs and special teams coach Joe Avezzano and could talk to a few more. However, how many more he keeps depends on who he might hire from other coaching staffs.

"There are guys I am interested in talking to that are still in the playoffs," Parcells said. "There will be guys I coached with before. We are still in a vague area on a few people."

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