Week 6: Pittsburgh at Dallas (the battle of Bill)

A certain faction of Pittsburgh Steeler fans suffers from coach envy. Some fans live to complain about the quarterback situation, but these folks are obsessed with running Bill Cowher out of town on a rail. These are the anti-fans and you can spot them during Week 6, wearing black and gold but gazing admiringly at the sideline of the Dallas Cowboys and at head coach Bill Parcells.

You might call him the Miracle Worker, particularly after waltzing into Big D and turning around a struggling franchise in what seemed like just one off-season. The Dallas Cowboys, recently one of the dominant teams in the NFL, had cultivated a tradition of losing.

"But now Parcells comes in and he really gets it going and things start turning around," said safety Darren Woodson. "We really missed a winning coach around here. We've had this losing atmosphere and guys didn't really care about winning games. He's changed all that. The guys he doesn't like, he gets rid of them and I'm sure he's not done with that. Next year, it will be another turnaround around here."

And so the legend of Bill Parcells grows, leaving success in his wake wherever he goes.

How does he do it?

Woodson and other Cowboys tapped Parcells' talent as a teacher, but other players noted a certain something that may sound all too familiar to fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"We've created a buzz in this town," said defensive tackle La'Roi Glover, "and Bill Parcells has created a vision. We're well prepared, and it's his motivational tactics that separate him from the rest of the coaches in this league."

There are essentially two kinds of coaches in the NFL, the tacticians and the motivators. Parcells and Bill Cowher are cut from the same cloth.

Cowher generated a similar buzz during his first few years as head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"First two years I was here under [Chuck] Noll, there was really no team unity, no team enthusiasm, a lot of players not believing what we were doing offensively and defensively," said RB Barry Foster towards the end of Cowher's inaugural season. "Therefore, we lost a lot of games. This year, we believe in our coaches, we believe in ourselves; therefore, we're just out there having fun and winning games."

Linebacker David Little concurred, "It's a breath of fresh air to get a new system, new coach."

But one of Cowher's successful gambits as a new coach may now be a handicap, "What was interesting is that we did it [replacing the coaches and front office personnel sitting in first class on flights with players] by seniority, and to kind of show the age of our team, one of the guys who's only been in the league for five years was sitting in first class. You can see we're not real deep with a lot of old players. But I've always been taught to respect your elders, and that's what we attempted to do."

Through the years, Cowher's team has aged and he may ‘respect the elders' a bit too much, particularly in the age of the salary cap, an age that demands you get youth on the field as soon as possible.

Cowher's strength, like Parcells', is turning around a struggling organization staffed with mostly young players. The inexperienced players make up for their mistakes with effort and enthusiasm.

"We do have a couple of great players, Rod and Foster, but the majority of this team," said OT Tunch Ilkin in 1992, "the heart and soul of this team, are just lunch-bucket types, guys that come and work hard. Blue-collar guys, if you will."

The tactician prefers veteran players at as many positions possible, guys who can execute complex game plans. Unfortunately for Cowher, his act has grown stale in Pittsburgh and his personnel no longer matches his strength as a coach.

Parcells' act can also grow old and his window for success, winning the Big Game, may be somewhat small. Cowher let his own opportunity slip through his fingers early on in his career, perhaps only realizing Super Bowl greatness by coaching another team searching for direction, searching for an identity.

For Parcells, what was old is now new again, his wisdom finally trumping the arrogance of his own success. Cowher might learn a thing or two from Parcells, seeing (perhaps for the first time) his own strengths and weaknesses as a head coach.

The battle between Dallas and Pittsburgh, Parcells and Cowher, will not be about ability. This game will be about desire, "want-to." Cowher did appear to reinvent himself for the 2001 season, but that season of success seems now all too ephemeral. Can he remake himself and his team after a disappointing 6-10 campaign?

If the anti-fans are quiet after this game, Cowher may have an answer for his growing legion of detractors after all.

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