Let's not sugarcoat it: Bill Parcells and Joe Gibbs never should have returned to coaching and should get out as soon as they can to preserve their dignity and reputations.
Their teams, the Cowboys and Redskins, are embarrassments at 3-6 and aren't getting better. All their coaches can do by staying is to tarnish their deserved place in football history.
Blame the owners, Jerry Jones and Daniel Snyder, who certainly have had a hand in the failures, messing things up long before Parcells and Gibbs got there. But also blame two of the three best coaches of the 1980s for failing to adjust well to the 21st century NFL, with free agency, a salary cap and a different breed of players.
But it's not the era that's hurt as much as it is the difference in how their teams are being run now and the way they were run two decades ago.
When Gibbs was winning Super Bowls with the Redskins, Bobby Beathard and Charley Casserly were finding his players.
And Jack Kent Cooke was paying them well in a system without free agency and without a salary cap.
When Parcells was winning with the Giants, George Young and Tom Boisture were getting the players and Wellington Mara was paying them well, and like Cooke staying out of the football operation.
Parcells often quarreled with Boisture and occasionally with Young, but he couldn't argue with the results.
Now Parcells, with Jones' help and acquiescence, is ''finding'' elders such as Vinny Testaverde, Keyshawn Johnson and Eddie George in Dallas.
And Snyder, with no real personnel department, is ''finding'' Mark Brunell and paying him more than $8 million up front to throw for under 100 yards in three of his last four starts. The QB of the future, Patrick Ramsey, has five interceptions in 55 passes, an awful rate that probably means the Redskins, with little salary cap room, have to start all over again.
Gibbs coached the Redskins from 1981-1992, winning three Super Bowls and losing a fourth. He then retired, was voted into the Hall of Fame, and had an almost equally successful career as a NASCAR owner.
Then last January, he was wooed back after Norv Turner, Marty Schottenheimer and Steve Spurrier all failed in large part because Snyder tried to run the team like a fan calling a talk radio station, spending big money on big names who never meshed.
Parcells coached the Giants from 1983-1990, winning two Super Bowls.
He coached the Patriots from 1993-96, reaching the Super Bowl and losing it in that final season.
He coached the Jets from 1997-99, reaching the AFC title game in 1998.
Last year, his first in Dallas, he reached the wild-card round of the playoffs.
Notice the trend? A step back each time. Certainly nothing to be ashamed of better, in fact, than most coaches but an indication that the magic is wearing thinner.
The low point for Dallas came when it was embarrassed by Philadelphia on Monday night. The Cowboys demonstrated in that game they are the worst kind of team, bad AND old.
Washington was just as embarrassing, losing at home to Cincinnati in a game in which Gibbs finally benched Brunell after he went 1-of-8 for 6 yards. Ramsey came on and was sacked four times and threw two interceptions against one of the bottom-level defenses in the league.
That doesn't cut it.
What Parcells and Gibbs (and Jones and Snyder) should have done was to call Don Shula, who won more games than any coach in NFL history.
In the 1970s, Beathard and Young were Shula's personnel men. Beathard left in 1978 to become general manager of the Redskins and Young left for the Giants the next year.
Both were known for finding nuggets, not big names.
Gibbs won Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks, none close to being a Hall of Famer (Joe Theismann, Doug Williams, Mark Rypien).
And with Beathard dealing constantly, the team had only two first-round choices during Gibbs' tenure: Mark May and Darrell Green. Art Monk was taken in 1980, the year before Gibbs got there.
May and Russ Grimm, a third-rounder, were the only high picks on the offensive line (''The Hogs'') that formed the heart of the team.
Young, like his friend Beathard, understood that supporting players were as important as stars. He used the USFL to get them for Parcells, signing four guys who turned into starters on the 1986 championship team: guard Chris Godfrey, center Bart Oates, fullback Maurice Carthon (now the Tuna's offensive coordinator) and punter Sean Landeta.
Back to Shula.
He had success into the early '80s with players discovered by Beathard and Young, like the ''Killer Bs'' who led the defense that helped the Dolphins to the Super Bowl after the 1982 and '84 seasons.
He got lucky when Dan Marino fell to the bottom of the first round of the 1983 draft. But most of Miami's first-round picks during the '80s were flops, and even with Marino, the Dolphins never got back to the Super Bowl in Shula's last 11 seasons.
In the early '90s, Shula was asked if that was the result of losing Beathard and Young.
''Did I work for them or did they work for me?'' he snapped, typical of a proud coach who ran the overall operation.
They worked for him. But when they left, Shula couldn't replace them.
Nor can Parcells and Gibbs find another Young or Beathard.
''Maybe my expectation is too high for us,'' Parcells said after Monday night's debacle. ''I don't know, I just don't know. It's mind-boggling.''
No, it's not.
It's just a sign that the end should be near.
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