Attempting to speak with Bill Parcells inside Miami Dolphins headquarters this week was a waste of time. He has become something of a public recluse, refusing to speak with the media while trying to stay incognito in his new vice president's role.
I had better odds building a spaceship, flying to a distant planet and wading through a treacherous forest with my lightsaber. Maybe then I could have received an audience with the now-shadowy figure whose wisdom and vision remind one long-time friend of a Star Wars character.
"(Dolphins owner H. Wayne) Huizenga has hired Bill to put this organization in order from top to bottom," Miami offensive coordinator Dan Henning said. "Bill started with hiring his GM, his head coach and then more or less became Yoda."
As that green three-fingered imp might say, "Better off because of it are they."
The Dolphins (2-3) enter Sunday's home game against Baltimore (2-3) having already regained respectability following last year's one-win season. Miami has defeated the Evil Empire — aka the heavily-favored New England Patriots — and lost two games by a combined total of seven points.
A Jedi master's tricks have worked wonders.
Parcells has excelled in transforming other moribund franchises like Dallas, New England, and both New York teams into winners. He is doing the same with the Dolphins, albeit in a different fashion than Parcells' previous successes when he was head coach.
At 67 years old, Parcells had no interest in returning to the sidelines after retiring (again) in Dallas following the 2006 season. He also didn't want the daily rigors inherent in a general manager's job.
No matter. Desperate for a turnaround, Huizenga tendered Parcells a reported four-year, $16 million contract last December with the understanding he would hire others to handle both duties. Parcells, who also was being wooed by Atlanta, raided the Cowboys for his head coach (Tony Sparano) and GM (Jeff Ireland).
They are his Luke Skywalkers.
"He helps them with decisions," Henning said. "They come to him with thought processes. He can give his expertise on coaches, how to manage the money that's involved. He's done all these things so he's a tremendous asset.
"He knows how the plan is supposed to work."
Once an upgraded coaching staff was assembled, Parcells and Ireland embarked upon a massive offseason roster overhaul. Miami acquired eight players at the onset of the free-agent signing period and signed starting quarterback Chad Pennington following his August release by the Jets.
The draft's top overall pick was used on left tackle Jake Long — shoring a long-standing Dolphins weakness — and quarterback-of-the-future Chad Henne was added in the second round. Mainstays Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas were among a slew of Dolphins veterans traded or cut.
The result is a squad that features 27 new faces from 2007 and is still changing. Miami regularly stirs the bottom of its roster, which Sparano said fits Parcells' philosophy of constantly seeking those with the right "make-up."
"He prides himself on having smart players," said Pennington, who was drafted by the Jets in 2000 when Parcells handled the team's personnel decisions. "He doesn't want a dumb player because that gets you beat."
Said Sparano: "I think he's pretty far along in the plan, but (the turnover) never stops."
In some ways, neither does Parcells. He has left the game twice before and become a television analyst, only to return because, as Pennington says, "football is what he's made of."
Parcells has tried taking a step back. He has gotten older and is making a conscientious effort not to overshadow Ireland and Sparano, which is one of the reasons for Parcells' media silence.
Parcells doesn't attend road games because he disdains flying and "says he sees better on TV," Sparano said. Parcells skips draft-themed events like the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine — leaving those tasks to Ireland — and isn't at Dolphins headquarters every day.
But when he's there, Parcells makes his presence felt. He will pull aside a player during practice to offer encouragement or advice. Linebacker Channing Crowder smiled as he remembered Parcells telling him, "Do you think you could cover that (running) back to the flat any time today?"
"Being coach Parcells, the little stuff he says really hits you hard," Crowder said. "For him to notice something and say it, you're going to work on it more. He still has that coach in him."
A little bit of therapist as well. Parcells has spent extensive time talking to Ricky Williams, whose NFL career was derailed by drug use and psychological issues. Parcells has tried to encourage the 31-year-old Williams by referring to fellow running back Ottis Anderson, who led the Giants to victory in Super Bowl XXV at the age of 34.
"He tries to impress upon me that at my age I'm not as talented or fresh as I was before so I have to make up for it through my work ethic," Williams said. "He also said it's important for me to understand what I can and can't do. That's pretty profound. As a player, you're only supposed to think of all the things you do well and not your weaknesses. For me, it's been a challenge to find out exactly where I am."
Williams has responded by teaming with Ronnie Brown as one of the NFL's top rushing duos through Miami's use of the innovative "Wildcat" formation.
"(Parcells) knows when I'm having a good day and to make sure my head is not getting too big," Williams said. "He knows when I'm having a bad day. He always has something to say at the right time that usually pulls me out of that funk. He knows I have a lot of talent and that I just have to persevere through difficulties to come out on top."
Parcells has tried passing along such insight and coaching tips to Sparano, who was one of his top offensive assistants in Dallas for four seasons.
"You look at Tony's mannerisms, his speeches, the way practices are conducted. They have a lot of 'Bill-ness' to them," said Dolphins linebacker Akin Ayodele, who played for Dallas in Parcells' final season. "In the back of my mind sometimes, I can hear Bill talking or saying something just to get you motivated."
Baltimore Head Coach John Harbaugh did his part earlier this week by giving Miami bulletin-board material for Sunday's game. Harbaugh defended Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron — who was 1-15 during his disastrous 2007 season as Miami's head coach — by saying he "did a great job there with what he had to work with."
There is some truth in that statement, as Cameron was working with an injury-wracked roster in the process of being revamped by then-General Manager Randy Mueller. Even now, the Dolphins still field a shaky secondary and arguably the league's worst wide receiver corps. But improvement in the defensive front seven and a more spirited overall effort has helped Miami already double its win total from the Cameron era.
"We haven't won all the games, but even the fans can see the competitiveness and us always going to the last bell," Crowder said. "Last year, you sometimes saw people hang it up. It's not going to be like that with the new regime."
How long Parcells will be heading this regime is "an interesting question," Sparano admitted. Parcells stayed for four years in each of his last three stops.
Just like Yoda in the first Star Wars trilogy, Parcells will eventually fade away—but not before leaving Miami in better shape than when he first arrived.
"I don't really know how much longer he wants to do it," Sparano said. "I know Bill is a football guy and he can't get it out of his blood. He says it's a disease and he's right. I don't know that I could ever think he'd be doing something different. As long as he feels good waking up in the morning and doing what he's doing, I think that he's going to continue to do it. We need him here."
Spoken like a true disciple.
This article originally published on FOXSports.com.
More of Alex's articles can be found here.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!