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Monday, September 4, 2006
Jones will pick T.O. over Parcells

By Skip Bayless
Page 2

If you know Jerry Jones, and I do, the only surprise would have been if he hadn't signed Terrell Owens.

And if you know Jones, it will be no surprise if he fires Bill Parcells, maybe even before the season is over, for the way his head coach appears to be sabotaging a move that Jerry obviously forced on him -- T.O., which now also stands for Tuna Overload.

Here's what you must understand about Jerrel Wayne Jones, the excessively proud owner of the Dallas Cowboys and three Super Bowl rings: He hasn't experienced winning a playoff game since Barry Switzer's Cowboys beat Minnesota in a wild-card game at Texas Stadium following the 1996 season.

For Jerry, nearing 64, that's going on 10 years of dining out among Big D's J.R. Ewings and knowing they're questioning his manhood. That's year after year after year of NFL owners' meetings at which he could order little more than humble pie.

After Jerry fired Switzer, he basically tried to coach the team himself -- after all, he once told Vanity Fair that he could "coach the bleep" out of the Cowboys. With puppets Chan Gailey and Dave Campo, Jerry tried (and failed) to do just that.

And he had to know that every J.R. and rival owner out there was wondering if he could ever win without the teams that Jimmy Johnson built. Jerry, of course, fired Johnson after Johnson's Cowboys won their second straight Super Bowl -- a move I defended during my days writing books about those teams. I knew how frequently and viciously Johnson had insulted Jerry in front of assistant coaches and front-office staffers.

Jerry did make some crucial moves that helped build three championship teams -- foremost pulling off the trade that brought quarterback-stalker Charles Haley from the 49ers. And after all, Jerry did hire Jimmy. But Johnson despised Jerry for getting any Super Bowl credit, because Johnson considered him no more than a geeky wannabe who bought his way onto the biggest stage in pro football.

You do not openly challenge Jerry Jones' manhood in front of other men and keep your job with him, even if you're Jimmy Johnson.

Did you get a load of how steamed Jerry was last week in front of the cameras? It reminded me of the night he decided to fire Johnson after Jimmy refused to lift a glass to a toast that Jerry had proposed to a table of assistant coaches and their wives.

This time, Jerry was seething over who leaked the fact that Owens had been fined $9,500 for already being late to a meeting and missing a rehab session for his sore hamstring. Jerry said: "They will not be around this damn place if I find out how that type of information got out. I can tell you that much -- I don't care who it is."

That shot was fired over Parcells' expanding bow. Who benefited the most from the leak? Parcells. Suddenly, the national perception was that Owens was already causing trouble, and it was still August.

I have no proof Parcells was the source of the leak, but several coaches I've talked to around the league figure Parcells had to have something to do with it.

And they don't blame Parcells.

Yet in this case, I again defend Jones. Four years ago he was either humble or desperate enough to give up and go out and hire the best coach available, a New York legend who had coached in three Super Bowls and won two. Jerry finally ignored the philosophy of his NFL mentor, Al Davis, who taught him coaches should be paid as if they're a dime a dozen.

Jerry Jones paid top dollar for Bill Parcells.

And in three seasons, Parcells has won Jones zero playoff games. Only his first Cowboys team even made the playoffs -- and promptly got blown out at Carolina.

So Jerry said hell with it, he was going to pay top dollar for America's favorite game-breaking, team-wrecking receiver. And if Parcells didn't like it, hell with him.

Right now, Owens is more valuable to Jerry than is Parcells. Now, Owens at least gives Jerry's team a chance to be great. Even with the Big Tuna at the helm, the Cowboys were in danger at the end of last season of becoming something Jerry can't stand -- irrelevant.

So for Jerry, signing Owens was as inspired as it was predictable. Hurry, hurry, step right up: Terrell Owens returns to the scene of his first crime, when he posed on the Texas Stadium star after scoring a touchdown for the 49ers. Even if the Cowboys don't lead the NFC East, they'll always lead "SportsCenter."

Of course, Jerry immediately buddied up to Owens the way he did to Deion Sanders after buying him (and a third Super Bowl) out from under the 49ers in 1995. Jerry basically told Owens, {I've given you the money you always wanted. Now give me a playoff run."

Yet Parcells has given Owens almost nothing but hell. I'm obviously no Owens fan, but I've actually felt a little sorry for the guy. To the media, Parcells won't even speak Owens' name, referring to him only "this player" and repeatedly refusing to say anything positive about his presence.

Why not just toss a match on the 225 gallons of gas that is Terrell Owens? You could almost hear members of Owens' posse saying, "T.O., you gonna take this from this dude?"

Parcells is either trying to 1) break Owens and make him a yes, sir-no, sir Parcells worshipper, which is insanely impossible; or 2) detonate Owens before he blows up the locker room and force Jerry to admit now he made a mistake and get rid of No. 81 … which also will not happen.

Early in camp, Owens said he pulled his hamstring, and I believed him. I also know Owens: Faking injuries isn't one of his many flaws. Yet Parcells immediately pushed him through the media to get back on the practice field and learn the new offense and develop rapport with Drew Bledsoe.

Yet if I know Owens, he already knows the offense almost as well as Bledsoe. Former 49ers coach Bill Walsh, the one true football genius, once told me that Owens is as football-smart as any receiver he ever tutored. As a 49ers advisor, Walsh presided over meetings in which he said Owens "knew his assignments and everyone else's."

And after all, Owens is going on 33. So why wouldn't Parcells just let him go at his own pace? Of course, Owens tried to come back before he was ready and said he aggravated the hamstring.

And naturally, he pushed Parcells to the brink by upstaging the start of a camp practice by pedaling a stationary bike while wearing a Lance Armstrong outfit. The media swarmed Owens. I don't know Parcells, but several other coaches have told me they couldn't believe he let Owens get away with this.

Yet, when Owens said he wanted to play in the final exhibition game, Parcells cut off his nose to spite his face. He punished Owens, making him wait until the third series to play. Result: He caught no passes from Bledsoe and one from backup Tony Romo.

Afterward, Parcells bristled at every T.O. question. How'd he look, Bill? "I've gotta look at the film." Couldn't he once have said something like, "It was nice to see him out there running at full speed"?

You wonder how much longer Jerry can reassure T.O. that, "That's just the way Bill is."

At some flashpoint this season, Jerry will have to pick a side: coach or star? Jerry will back Owens. Jerry already has a soft spot for T.O., telling him they've both risen above as much criticism as any two men in sports.

And Parcells will have to make a choice: Take it, quit or be fired. He will not take it.

Jerry fired Tom Landry, Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer. Parcells will make it Jerry's personal Mount Rushmore.

Skip Bayless can be seen Monday through Friday on "Cold Pizza," ESPN2's morning show, and at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN's "1st & 10." His column appears twice a week on Page 2. You can e-mail Skip here.