Parcells' leadership driving Cowboys' fast start

Updated: October 22, 2003, 6:09 PM ET

IRVING, Texas -- Every player on the Dallas Cowboys seems to have a story about Bill Parcells' tricks or motivational ploys.

That's fast work considering he's been their coach for only six games. It's also a bit of insight into why Dallas has won five of them.

"He's the Vince Lombardi of this era," cornerback Mario Edwards said. "He's getting players to buy into his system and you see results in wins."

Rookie tight end Jason Witten is among those who have their own unique tale, complete with the lesson it taught them.

During his first practice after breaking his jaw in three places, Witten thought he'd angered the defense when they came at him full speed. He later discovered Parcells was behind it.

The coach wanted to see how tough Witten was -- physically and mentally -- before deciding whether to play him a few days later. Witten was up to the challenge, in practice and on game day.

"Really, the only way you can find out is if you go out and test it," Witten said. "So it was good for me to get hit a little bit."

With players gladly doing whatever Parcells asks, the Cowboys have won five straight. That's their best roll since 1994, and their best start since going 8-1 in 1995, their last Super Bowl season. They even have a two-game lead in the NFC East; in the other seven divisions, only Minnesota has a wider margin.

What makes this turnaround so impressive is that the players are mostly the same ones who went 5-11 each of the last three seasons. The biggest change is the person calling the plays.

"We've always thought we had the talent. Now we've got the coaching to go along with it," quarterback Quincy Carter said.

Carter's emergence from castoff to leader is the highest-profile example of the impact Parcells has had. It's not the only one.

The best might be Willie Blade and Daleroy Stewart, a pair of defensive tackles who drew NFL paychecks the last two years but never played a down. Now they're big contributors on a defensive line that hasn't allowed anyone to run for more than 64 yards this season.

Overall, mistakes are down and big plays are up. The Cowboys have avoided letdowns after emotional wins, mostly because the more success they have, the more critical Parcells gets.

"You can't get caught up in that, `We've made it. We're 5-1. Oh, we're there," defensive tackle La'Roi Glover said. "It doesn't work that way."

On Monday, coming off a 38-7 victory over Detroit, Parcells offered "a litany of what's wrong," grumbling about penalties, carries that lose yards and a lack of yards on punt and kickoff returns.

What he didn't say is that those are nice problems for the Cowboys to have. Six games into the last few seasons, fans have been clamoring for youngsters to play more and practically rooting for losses so Dallas would have a better draft pick.

Now, the spin from Valley Ranch is trying to damper optimism. Even Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who seemed to make a hobby out of hyperbolic predictions, is trying to take it one game at a time.

He's sticking by preseason comments about Parcells not being "a miracle worker" and that he doesn't expect a quick fix, even though he said those things when a .500 record seemed a longshot.

"We've got a long way to go," Jones said. "We were 3-3 this time last year with a good look ahead. We thought we saw some games there where we could make some good things happen, then our wheels come off."

Although Parcells keeps talking about waiting for a crisis to see how his team will handle it, he's also doing a good job of avoiding it.

After winning two straight, players were greeted by mouse traps around team headquarters to remind them what they were facing.

It's typical of the tactics he used to win two Super Bowls with the Giants, return again with the Patriots and get the Jets within a game two seasons after they went 1-15.

Players are picking up on his ways. They now know about "hidden yardage," can tell you that excuses are "exit doors in pro football," and they're careful not to "eat the cheese" -- otherwise known as positive publicity.

Then there are the personal examples:

-- Two games ago, Troy Hambrick went to the sideline fuming after being taken out after five straight productive runs. Parcells told Hambrick to shut up, stay put and watch. The next play was a halfback pass that put Dallas on the 3-yard line.

"Nice call, coach," Hambrick said sheepishly, then returned to the field and got the next two carries, scoring on the second.

-- Safety Darren Woodson has played for every coach in team history except Tom Landry. Despite having won three Super Bowls under Jimmy Johnson, he "didn't know one man could come in and change the confidence of this team."

"Parcells," he said, "has done that."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index