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Parcells has still got it

By Albert R. Breer
Globe Staff / September 30, 2010

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Whether or not Bill Parcells has truly quit football is up for debate.

The day after he announced that he’d be moving from his vice president’s post to a consultant’s role with the Dolphins in early September, Parcells was in the team’s facility watching film. The Tuna is a football addict if there ever was one, nearly 20 years removed from his health-related departure from the Giants, and more than a decade beyond his “retirement’’ from the Jets.

What’s less in question is this: He has indeed been part of another franchise-turning effort, helping do in South Florida what he did so adeptly in New England, Dallas, and New York (twice). Thirty-three months after joining a franchise as dysfunctional as any of the aforementioned were, Parcells has teamed with old Dallas lieutenants Jeff Ireland and Tony Sparano to put this once-proud club back on solid ground.

That tough opponent the Patriots will see Monday night? That one, it seems, is here to stay, and if Parcells is truly stepping aside soon, he’ll have left another team in vastly better shape than he found it.

He has done it differently this time, handing much responsibility to Sparano as coach and Ireland as general manager, but the results haven’t varied. Just 35 games into the new regime’s tenure, the team has won as many games (20) as it did in the four previous years.

“The good news is we have enough people that were involved in putting that thing together in Dallas that are here with us now,’’ said Sparano on a steamy day in Miami a few weeks back. “The blueprint here might be a little bit different. We learned from some things that we looked at in Dallas, but I think you can look at our team and say, physically, we’re a big, strong, physical football team.

“Within the lines, we’re big and strong in that area, and I think our team speed has gotten better, so it’s starting to look that way. And I feel really good about the people we have here now.’’

But more than all that, the Dolphins have built something every franchise covets, and something this group built in Dallas, and that’s long-term viability.

The Cowboys roster, tattered when Parcells arrived in 2003, is now considered among the league’s most talented, and three years after the Tuna’s departure, and two years after Ireland, Sparano, and a small army of assistant coaches and scouts left, their fingerprints remain all over America’s Team. That’s a display not just of the talent procurement and development that went on, but also of the youth infused that has blossomed since.

Most people in Miami’s building will say the situation there in 2008 was far worse than things were in Dallas in 2003, yet the Dolphins now find themselves set up to ascend in a similar fashion.

Just four of the 53 players on Miami’s roster have turned 30, and only one (safety Yeremiah Bell) is starting. The other three are tailback Ricky Williams, backup quarterback Chad Pennington, and long snapper John Denney. And the next player on the roster to get to 30, right tackle Vernon Carey, won’t do so until next July.

Through all the turnover, certain hallmarks have come through. The Dolphins last year ranked fourth in the league in rushing offense. They came into this season with the league’s third-biggest roster by weight (Dallas was first) and second-tallest. That’s a nod to the “Planet Theory’’ on finding big and fast players hatched by Parcells and then-Giants GM George Young in the 1980s.

“The Dolphins look like they usually do,’’ said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. “Good schemes, good players, a strong team on both sides of the line of scrimmage to run the ball and stop the run. They’re big, they’re physical, and they do a good job. They’re well-coached. They’re sound — the least-penalized team in the league.

“They do a lot of things well and they force you to go out there and play a good football game to beat them. They don’t make it easy.’’

That description, provided by another ex-Parcells assistant, may best explain why the Tuna might feel comfortable backing away from the day-to-day operations.

See, while many great coaches are defined by the championships they won, Parcells’s legacy has taken on a different form. After what he’s done with the Patriots, Jets, Cowboys, and now Dolphins, Parcells has become the NFL’s ultimate reclamation artist.

The Jets and Patriots were sad-sack franchises when he arrived, and the Tuna changed the culture in those places to the point where they haven’t regressed for any extended period. The Cowboys and Dolphins were old powers fallen on hard times, and both are contenders again.

The places he has been are better for having had him. The people, too.

Consider that his chief rivals in the division are run by a general manager (Mike Tannenbaum) and coach (Belichick) he used to employ; last year’s Super Bowl champion staged an amazing four-year rags-to-riches story under another old assistant (Sean Payton); and this season’s big early turnaround story is headlined by two more guys, Kansas City’s Scott Pioli and Todd Haley, who used to work for him.

“The coaching tree — now with Sean Payton, Todd Haley, and myself and Coach Belichick and Eric Mangini — there’s a lot of similar styles in the way we approach our football teams,’’ Sparano said yesterday. “I know from my end, any time we play the Patriots, there’s nothing but the utmost respect in that way. We really respect the type of football team they are, and that’s what we want to be here.

“So I think that a large part of that has to do with the way you’ve been raised in this business, and I owe all that to Coach Parcells. And I feel safe to say that a lot of other people on that tree would say the same thing.’’

Sparano’s team is another living, breathing piece of proof that this way works. Parcells has done it again.

Albert R. Breer can be reached at abreer@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @albertbreer.

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