Parcells, Allen did it their own way

Bill Parcells and Larry Allen had Hall of Fame careers despite their lack of success together in Dallas. AP Photo/Donna McWilliam

OXNARD, Calif. -- A decade ago, offensive lineman Larry Allen wanted to train the way he'd always done it.

And it didn't matter whether the coach was Barry Switzer, Chan Gailey, Dave Campo or the new guy, Bill Parcells.

Can you blame him? Allen had earned a Super Bowl ring with the Dallas Cowboys and been to numerous Pro Bowls by stacking 45-pound plate after 45-pound plate on a bar and bench-pressing it an obscene amount of times.

Year after year.

Allen was Superman strong, once bench-pressing 700 pounds. Disbelievers can check it out on YouTube, where the video lives forever.

Parcells, who had two Super Bowl victories with the Giants on his résumé, wanted Allen to train his way. Parcells wanted clean and jerks -- not bench presses -- because they're exercises that work the entire body while increasing strength and power. Parcells' teams had always used clean and jerks as the foundation of their offseason workouts.

Parcells saw no reason to change. Conflict between the two NFL icons was inevitable.

"Yes, there was a lot of good debate about the way to train," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "Each of them took it very seriously because it was very important to them. Some of the stuff Larry did just didn't seem human."

Allen and Parcells clashed -- publicly and privately -- during the three years they worked together, each fighting for control of the relationship. Now it's just a footnote in the illustrious histories of two men who will enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday.

"Bill wants to make you better, no matter who you are," Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said. "It might not have been perfect, but it was Bill Parcells' shop."

If we're honest -- since we have hindsight -- neither Parcells nor Allen emerged as a winner in their fight.

Allen tarnished his reputation as the consummate professional just a tad by being the only veteran to challenge Parcells in his first season. Considering the Cowboys were coming off a three-year stretch in which they were 15-33, Allen should've been willing to adapt.

Allen skipped Parcells' "voluntary" offseason program for a couple of weeks in 2004, and the Cowboys even let him talk to the Oakland Raiders and the Detroit Lions about working out a trade. Nothing ever came of it.

The next summer, Allen flunked the conditioning test and Parcells forced him to lead the team when they ran sprints and nicknamed him Secretariat. In the process, Parcells damaged his own legacy because he couldn't find a way to motivate the prideful Allen without humiliating him.

Then again, Parcells loved confrontation. He'll tell you it's a trait he inherited from his mom, and it made him one of the most successful coaches in NFL history. It's among the reasons he built the Giants, the New York Jets, the New England Patriots and the Cowboys from scrubs into winners.

The only thing Parcells liked more than confrontation was players who fought back. His disputes with former Giants quarterback Phil Simms are legendary.

Allen, though, is a man of few words. And when he's angry, even fewer. The more Parcells pushed, the more resistance he received. It was one of the few moves Parcells made with the Cowboys that didn't make much sense.

If not for the six-year, $37 million contract extension Allen signed in 2002, the Cowboys probably would've let Allen go the way they let Emmitt Smith leave. When a high-profile coach such as Parcells arrives, one of the first things he must do is change the culture and show players his way is the only way. That's hard to do when an influential veteran rules the locker room. So if Parcells could break a player as respected and revered as Allen, what would he do to others?

Fear is quite a motivator. Parcells used Allen as an example that he could break any player.

Ultimately, Parcells' approach affected his relationship with the team. Many players viewed him as a bully, a coach more intent on shaming them than helping them. Not every player, but enough to erode some of his locker-room influence.

"Larry was as physical, tough and nasty as they come, but he always respected his coaches and management," Stephen Jones said. "A lot of great players come across coaches that can be hard on you, whether it's Jimmy [Johnson] or Bill or New England's Bill Belichick.

"But the great players eventually conform because they know the coach ultimately just wants to win."

Both men have a Super Bowl ring (two, in Parcells' case). Both are Hall of Famers. And both are winners, even if they struggled to win together.