It is the week before a big game, and Bill Parcells has minds to mold and focus on the task at hand. If the New York Giants defeat the Washington Redskins Sunday at Giants Stadium, it will give them a three-game lead in the NFC East and a season sweep of their main rival in the division. At 7-0, the Giants then could set their sights on keeping pace with the San Francisco 49ers until they meet Dec. 3 in a game that may well decide home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
But Parcells can't afford to let his players, or a media corps eager to put his team in at least the NFC title game without playing the rest of the schedule, look that far ahead. So, he's busy working the big room, where the players live, as well as the press lounge. He's setting a tone for the week, giving everybody something to think about.Parcells starts early in the morning, spending time with the players in the locker room. That's something veteran safety Dave Duerson noticed right away when he came over from the Chicago Bears.
People are also reading…
``It's a joy to come to work,' Duerson said, despite being a former Pro Bowl player in a backup role.
``Bill's here in the locker room, having coffee and laughing and joking,' Duerson explained. ``There's not the division you expect between coaches and players, and that's why guys are willing to go the extra mile. Bill is constantly aware of where individual players are mentally. He wants to know how you're doing, how you feel about your own play. Keeping the troops together is a coach's toughest job, but Bill has found a way to motivate the entire cast.'
Motivation might have been a problem last Sunday against a Phoenix team rated 13 1/2-point underdogs. The Giants had to hang together after quarterback Phil Simms went down with an ankle injury and pull out a 20-19 squeaker on Matt Bahr's last-second field goal. The problem when playing the Redskins is simply channeling the emotion.
Parcells doesn't have to say anything to fire up his team. He lets them feel his enthusiasm as he circulates through the locker room all week.
``He lives for big games,' nose tackle Erik Howard said. ``Every Washington game fits that billing. He knows we'll be emotionally ready. He tries to get us mentally ready, alert and aware.'
Preparation is the basic criterion for judging coaches. Players don't like surprises because that leads to confusion during a game. Outside linebacker Lawrence Taylor said he was surprised two weeks ago at RFK Stadium when the Redskins had success running outside after luring him inside. Expect Taylor to stay at home more Sunday rather than try to guess where the play is going.
It seems Parcells, who claims the Redskins' outside running came as no surprise to him, has been talking to Taylor about playing more team defense. After the locker room was opened to the media Wednesday morning, Taylor spoke about the days of ``renegade football,' his term for freelancing, being over for him. Parcells elaborated later at his noon news conference.
``In an attempt to make big plays, you give up things you would've done (by playing solid team defense),' the coach said. ``You don't want to get in that trap.'
Great players, such as Taylor, have helped the Giants make four playoff appearances and win one Super Bowl in seven previous seasons under Parcells. But if talent alone were the answer, the Minnesota Vikings, Los Angeles Rams and Houston Oilers would have won Super Bowls in recent years. Coaching is a major factor, not just in the design, but in the way the whole operation is run.
``He lets everyone know he's in control; it's his domain,' inside linebacker Gary Reasons said. ``He has a firm grip on the media. He answers only what he wants to. He is the focal point of the club. When everything runs smoothly with a firm hand, you can be successful.'
There are times when Parcells appears in the press room in the evenings after practice and takes the beat writers into his confidence, explaining his thinking in some detail, in an attempt to educate and maybe stave off some criticism. But his task Wednesday in front of a battery of cameras, tape recorders and writers who are not part of the daily coverage of the team is to slow down the crowded bandwagon before it careens out of control at midseason.
To suggestions that a victory over the Redskins would put the Giants in a commanding position, Parcells said, ``It's too early. I keep telling you that. Remember the Vikings last year at this time? They were going to the Super Bowl. It was just a question of time.'
Parcells then answered questions about diminished production by the Giants' pass rush, the problems Eric Moore had moving to left tackle and the likelihood the Redskins will run at John Cooks, who is replacing injured outside linebacker Carl Banks. But in each case, Parcells came up with a positive to offset a potential negative perception.
In answer to a question about the outstanding play of inside linebacker Pepper Johnson, Parcells let everyone know exactly why Johnson has begun to emerge as a more complete player.
``You see the subtleties on film, and you know he's prepared,' Parcells said. ``He's looking for things (opponents) aren't even running, and you know he's ready for them. I try talking to him each week about how I saw how he's doing. Just a couple of sentences; that's all it takes. With some guys, it takes a whole book.'
Reporters clustered around Johnson following the afternoon practice to learn how he developed this subtle understanding of the game, and he explained he's studying harder because Parcells has high expectations for him, and he doesn't want to let the coach down.
``He tells me he notices that I'm aware of everything that's happening around me,' Johnson said. Later, he added, ``You know if you let down one given week the wrath will come down on you.'
Knowing when to be hard on players and how far he can push also is part of Parcells' approach. He's not trying to be buddies with the players. Parcells wants to get inside their heads for the purpose of winning football games.
As one player said, ``Everybody in this room has a 'good' Bill story and a 'bad' Bill story.' The key is that whether they are upset with Parcells or are basking in the glow of his praise, the players all respect his position and his knowledge.
A season is a building process, and the 6-0 Giants know the construction is just getting started. The house isn't finished if they beat the Redskins, and it won't fall down if they lose to the Redskins.
Here is what Parcells has the Giants thinking right now: ``We haven't played a complete game yet,' said fullback Maurice Carthon, one of the valuable role players who contributes to the Giants' team concept. ``Special teams have been tremendous, and that's a big edge. But Bill senses we have to play a complete game to know where we're at.'
It could be this week, but probably not. This is just Game 7. Parcells will continue to find things to pick at, things to praise and reasons to keep playing hard, as he builds toward earning a playoff berth and tries to have his team primed to go on the kind of roll they will need to get past the 49ers and reach the Super Bowl. He will keep working at the little things in an effort to lead 47 different personalities in the same direction for the next three months.
``I once told him, 'Bill, you have a minor in psychology,'' said Reasons.
As they were coming off the practice field Wednesday night, Reasons upgraded that view. ``I told him, 'I think you graduated to a major in psychology.''