IRVING, Texas -- Five years ago Friday, Bill Parcells coached his last game in the NFL.
As Parcells sat with the pilots of the team's charter flight back to Dallas that night, he knew he was finished but he did not announce his departure until Jan. 22, 2007.
Does it seem that long ago?
"Well, when you get to be my age, they go by pretty quick, so I can't say it seems like it's been that long because it's pretty vivid in my memory," said the 70-year-old Parcells.
Jason Garrett is the Cowboys' second coach since Parcells resigned. Wade Phillips led the Cowboys to a 13-3 record in 2007 but saw home-field advantage in the NFC slip away in a divisional-round loss to the New York Giants.
Parcells went on to become the executive vice president of football operations for the Miami Dolphins, then stepped away in 2010 and is working again for ESPN.
He has replayed his decision to walk away plenty of times.
While it was not stunning to see Parcells leave, he finally had a quarterback in Romo and a roster of ascending players, which was drilled home the following year with the 13-3 finish.
"But, you know, there's a certain energy requirement and I can remember the flight back from Seattle, that was such a big disappointment for me because I really thought we had a legitimate chance to do something," Parcells said. "And we were going to play Chicago next, I believe, and thought we had a chance there, too. Of course it was difficult to leave because you love the game and I did like it there in Dallas very much. I got tremendous support from Jerry and Stephen Jones, had a good support staff, the trainers, the weight coaches and the video guys. I got great support there.
"I'm just sorry it didn't work better all around. We were close there."
Parcells, who had a 34-30 regular-season record, talks to the Joneses occasionally, but he has not been back to Texas since leaving. He hoped to see the Cowboys play in person at one of their East Coast games in 2011, but couldn't work it out with his schedule.
In some ways he helped Cowboys Stadium get built and has a standing invite from the Joneses.
"My daughter's been," Parcells said. "I want to get down there and see the place. Hopefully, I can do it."
Parcells says it wasn't how the Cowboys lost to Seattle that drove him away. It was simply the fact that they lost. And it had nothing to do with Jones, either.
"He was supportive 100 percent of the way," Parcells said. "He really was. We had probably one or two differences of opinion but nothing serious."
Was Terrell Owens one of them?
"That's somebody else's prerogative," Parcells said. "I tried to make the best of it. Terrell had a pretty good year the year I had him if you go and look at it. He was pretty productive. Just tried to make the best of it."
Five years later, the Cowboys' best players largely remain the ones who were brought in when Parcells was the coach: Romo (undrafted, 2003), Jason Witten (third round, 2003), DeMarcus Ware (first round, 2005), Jay Ratliff (seventh round, 2005) and Miles Austin (undrafted, 2006). Others include Terence Newman, Bradie James, Marcus Spears, Jason Hatcher, Mat McBriar and L.P. LaDouceur.
A few years ago, one of Parcells' picks was telling a non-Parcells pick how the coach would make them run a sprint to the fence at training camp as punishment if things weren't going well. The non-Parcells pick said he never would have let a coach do that to him.
That tough-talking player is no longer a Cowboy, but it spoke to the difference in mentality that seeped into the locker room not long after Parcells left.
"Most of them are pretty talented," Parcells said of the players who remain. "You don't play for that length of time in the league without being talented. But I'd like to think that maybe I helped them get started and put a little foundation in a few of them that maybe helped them go forward. That's the only thing you can hope for. I'm not saying I did, but I'm just hopeful."
He watches the Cowboys with a keen eye. He wants Jones to succeed. He wants his former players to succeed.
"When you know the people, you can't help but be interested," Parcells said. "For me, I know I like football, but I don't know any of the Washington Redskins. I don't know any of the Eagles. I really don't know any of the Giants anymore."
Parcells arrived with "his guys" in 2003, and nine years later, the Romos, Wittens, Wares and Ratliffs will forever be "Parcells' guys."
After the Cowboys beat San Francisco in overtime in Week 2, Parcells sent a text message to Romo.
"I was just telling him, 'That's the guy I know,'" Parcells said after Romo played through a broken rib and punctured lung.
It took Parcells some time to find Romo. In 2003, he went with Quincy Carter. The next two years, he called on quarterbacks Vinny Testaverde and Drew Bledsoe. Five and a half games into the 2006 season, he called on Romo.
Parcells still sees a quarterback capable of winning a Super Bowl.
"You don't just need one part," Parcells said. "There may be some guys that could pretty much do it by themselves. Everybody says, 'Look at Peyton Manning.' Well, I don't think Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark and Joseph Addai and Edgerrin James, I don't think they were bad players. You know what I mean? I think Tony's got some good players around him, but they're not all good players. Some of the better players are getting a little older now. So the window of opportunity doesn't stay open forever."
Parcells learned that Jan. 6, 2007, and it's something the "Parcells guys" who remain are figuring out now.
Todd Archer covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.