Rich Hofmann | Birds might have helped push Parcells

ANDY REID WON his first game as the Eagles' coach on Oct. 10, 1999. Doug Pederson was his quarterback and he led a fourth-quarter rally that day at the Vet. The afternoon is really only memorable now because it was the day Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin suffered a neck injury and the fans infamously cheered the arrival of a stretcher brought onto the field by paramedics.

After the game, doing the happy/chubby/celebratory thing for the first time, Reid said, "I'm going to get a big cheeseburger tonight."

The Cowboys' coach was Chan Gailey.

Gailey begat Dave Campo, who begat Bill Parcells, who begat a successor to be named later when he retired yesterday after four seasons. Amid all of the begatting, the Cowboys won 57 regular-season games and zero playoff games in all of that time. Meanwhile, Reid has won 80

regular-season games and eight playoff games.

The NFL is a cyclical business, they say. It is just a matter of time and it is true for everyone - that is the common wisdom. Yet the cycle has yet to run over Reid. It is something none of us would have predicted the day they hired him.

I mean, the guy just outlasted Bill Parcells. If the Eagles had dived off of a cliff this season, as it sure appeared they might on the weekend after Thanksgiving, do you think Parcells would have retired? If the Eagles had imploded, and if the Cowboys had won the division and hosted a playoff game and maybe won it, do you honestly think Parcells would have walked away?

As someone who has watched Parcells from a safe distance for a long time, it certainly seemed as if the losses were wearing on him more than ever - and that last one, on Tony Romo's botched hold of the potential game-winning field goal against Seattle, had to have been the worst. Seeing as how he was handed The Whole Terrell Owens Experience last season, that had to have made the whole season tough. He was obviously worn down. There is no doubt that this is a lot more about him, and his feelings, and his age (65), than anything.

But doesn't it make you wonder, on some level, what he might have done if the cycle had finally caught up with Reid? What he might have thought if a good, well-coached, outrageously stable team from Philadelphia weren't still standing there in front of him? If he might have stayed had the perception been that the Eagles were sinking and the division was wide open?

We'll never know, of course. On the day he left Dallas, Parcells left only this statement behind:

"I am retiring from coaching football. I want to thank Jerry Jones and Stephen Jones for their tremendous support over the last 4 years. Also, the players, my coaching staff and others in the support group who have done so much to help. Dallas is a great city and the Cowboys are an integral part of it. I am hopeful that they are able to go forward from here.

"I am in good health and feel lucky to have been able to coach in the NFL for an extended period of time. I leave the game and the NFL with nothing but good feelings and gratitude to all the players, coaches and other people that have assisted me in that regard."

Parcells doesn't leave behind a shambles - the Cowboys have some ability on their roster, clearly - but the timing is a real problem. Coaches and staffs - Reid and the Eagles among them - have flown to Mobile, Ala., this week for the annual Senior Bowl. They arrive with lists and priorities and such in place, at least somewhat, as they grind toward the draft. The Cowboys can do none of that. Their staff has already seen several departures, and now the head listmaker has retired.

It is hard to see the Cowboys contending this year, whoever the coach turns out to be (unless it is somehow Bill Cowher). This will be the fourth turnover for them in Reid's time. The Redskins have had five coaches - Norv Turner, Terry Robiskie (for three games), Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier and Joe Gibbs - and the oncoming tire tracks can be seen on Gibbs' heels.

With the Giants, there have been only two coaches - Jim Fassel and Tom Coughlin - but Coughlin is officially dancing as fast as he can. (Yesterday, he hired Eagles linebacker coach Steve Spagnuolo to be his defensive coordinator, completing a sudden changeover on both sides of the ball.) The Giants either will throw a big punch at the rest of the NFC East next year or they will throw it at Coughlin; hard to know.

And the Eagles? Yes, they have issues. But here is the truth, on the day that Bill Parcells retired: While stability might not win you any games in the NFL, instability will lose you games - and Andy Reid continues to stay ahead of that cycle. *

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