Fish Adding Tuna? I’ll Bite.

It appears the Miami Dolphins will be adding a well-credentialed expert to their excavation project. So?

Last I checked, Bill Parcells was, yes, a good coach, and a good-to-great evaluator of talent. But in recent years, his record hasn’t been so stellar. Though some Cowboys diehards are quick to credit him with the team’s success this year, others point to his 0-2 playoff record and merely average 34-30 regular season mark and question his coaching acumen. Obviously, message boards are split, too.

But I can drink the Tuna-flavored Kool-Aid.

Parcells stepped into a wasteland in Dallas; three straight 5-11 seasons under Dave Campo will depress even the most loyal of fan bases and leave no shortage of demoralized players. And his cupboards were pretty bare, too, with such scraps as Troy Hambrick, Chad Hutchinson, and Antonio Bryant the best talents on a cellar-dweller.

Parcells changed the culture of losing immediately, even though he had to restock bit by bit; adding Terence Newman and Jason Witten via the draft in 2003, as well as a then-unknown undrafted free agent named Tony Romo, the Cowboys went 10-6 largely on smoke and mirrors, and crashed out with a loss to Carolina, an eventual Super Bowl team, in the first round of the playoffs.

Quincy Carter’s drug problems helped torpedo the 2004 season, which featured Vinny Testaverde at quarterback among a slew of ex-Parcells players, including Terry Glenn and Keyshawn Johnson, reunited with their ex-coach for the 6-10 campaign. And the 2004 draft, the least successful of Parcells’ tenure, brought in Julius Jones.

2005 saw the return of Drew Bledsoe, who spent the year either throwing touchdowns, interceptions, or “I’m OK!” thumbs up signs to the sidelines while on the turf. The additions of 2007 Pro Bowlers Marion Barber and Demarcus Ware were the highlights of a fantastic draft class that also netted Chris Canty, who has become a disruptive pass rusher. The ‘Pokes went 9-7 and missed the playoffs.

So 2006 was a make-or-break year, and, when one temperamental Keyshawn walks out one door after old scabs in his relationship with Parcells were reopened, a temperamental T.O. hops in the other window. Terrell Owens never got to be on a first-name basis with Parcells; the coach referred to the wideout who spent much of training camp channeling Lance Armstrong on a stationary bike as “The Player,” and nothing more.

Owens’ strong play, and the emergence of Romo, and the drafting of a handful of solid role players, like Bobby Carpenter and Pat Watkins, all helped the Cowboys make a midseason surge and put themselves in excellent playoff position at 9-5. But they limped to the tape, losing to both the Eagles and the lowly Lions; they earned the NFC’s #5 seed. Then came the extra-point debacle that remains Tony Romo’s defining lowlight, the 21-20 loss to Seattle in the first round, and the ignominious end to the Parcells Era in Big D.

Throughout his career, Parcells has been known as a particularly grating coach, and he apparently wore out his welcome in Dallas. His inability to get his impressive talent to rise above mediocrity is certainly one of his great failings, especially as the lesser-regarded Wade Phillips has piloted this year’s edition of the Cowboys, little changed from the 2006 iteration, to a 12-2 mark. But that may also be attributible to the play-calling of Jason Garrett, the Princeton-educated, former quarterback offensive coordiator, who has opened up the Cowboys’ arsenal, producing the most plays of 20 or more yards in the league this year; Parcells, a traditionalist, was oft-criticized for his conservative offense.

The situation in Miami could mirror the rise of the Cowboys nicely. The ‘Fins have a supposed franchise back in Ronnie Brown, but he seems injury-prone, having been dinged up for portions of the last two years, the Dolphins are much further removed from respectability than the Cowboys were, and have the added hurdle of competing in the more rugged AFC. Some things named Cleo Lemon and John Beck are currently fighting to not start for the Fish, and the defense is old and decrepit, with the exception of Pro Bowler and ageless wonder Jason Taylor.

But Parcells will be able to “shop for the groceries” more than at any position since his time with the Jets, and the young, offensive-minded coach, Cam Cameron, could revive the system that helped make his Chargers the lions of the AFC West for the last few years. With the #1 pick in next year’s draft four days and an inevitable loss to the Patriots away, Parcells, presumably in charge of personnel decisions, could shop Brown for a quarterback, wide receivers, or defensive help and select Darren McFadden, or vice versa.

I began writing this piece with the intent to blast the Dolphins for bringing in someone I remembered as an ineffective coach and above-average GM with the Cowboys; what I found, upon further review, was that Parcells might be the man who could bring the Dolphins out of their decade-long malaise.

Expect nothing immediate; Miami’s every bit as bad as their record indicates. But Parcells could make this team into a .500 squad in 2008, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all.

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Filed under Columns, NFL

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