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by Mike Fisher    Thu, Jan 5, 2006, 10:22 AM

Cleverly, Bill Parcells has puppeteered this situation in a way that has rocketed the cart waaaay past the horse: Before the Cowboys decide if InfalliBill wants them, shouldn't the Cowboys decide if THEY want HIM?

Ever wonder if anybody inside Valley Ranch has paused to even become aware of Parcells' demeaning style, his egomaniacal manipulation of the issue of his "retirement'' and, most of all his supervision of a team that collapsed in a way unprecedented in Cowboys history? Ever wonder if anybody inside Valley Ranch thinks the way you might think, that Parcells should be treated here like any other coach who is around .500 in his three seasons, has yet to win a playoff game and just followed a 7-3 start with a bumbling 2-4 finish?

Ever wonder if anybody inside Valley Ranch doesn't worship at The Altar of Bill?

Wonder no more. Some of the people at Valley Ranch who show up for work every day at 6 a.m. -- and roll their eyes when I mention to them that Parcells is claiming he shows up by 3:45 a.m. -- are aware.

A great summation from one Cowboys staffer: "He's the greatest actor I've ever seen. And yes, that includes Jimmy Johnson.''

What Parcells is doing to your Cowboys now is not unlike the con job Jimmy pulled back in '94. Never honest about his plans to depart Dallas on his terms, Johnson first sneakily volunteered himself for a job with expansion Jacksonville -- and did so with a backstab to boot, since Jags owner Wayne Weaver had phoned Jimmy to ask about Norv Turner's candidacy, not Jimmy's. Then Johnson put a scare into Cowboys Nation by pretending to be offended by Jerry Jones' innocuous "500 coaches'' remark. When Jones finally bucked up by telling Jimmy that he wanted the coach to stay but that he should "Commit or Quit,'' Johnson's bluff was called.

He quit -- and still somehow persuaded Jones to write him a fat severance check.

Along comes Bill Parcells, who is now whoring on that same side of the street.

If Bill wanted to motivate his team into beating Washington in Game 14 (and for that matter, the Rams in Game 16), he could have told them that he was retiring, and to therefore "Win One For The Tuna.'' If he wanted to "avoid the distraction'' of him considering retirement, he could have comforted him team (and his stockholders, the fans) by denying the rumors and promising to remain in Dallas to finish the job he was hired to do. And if he wanted a contract extension to ensure the security of his staff, he could have simply said that, publicly or privately, as well.

Instead, he planted the retirement rumor (and yes, what was once my speculation is now widely believed to be fact among Cowboys staffers). He CAUSED the distraction. He IS the distraction.

If Parcells does take his sweet time to decide to depart, prime candidates to replace him might have been gobbled up. Already, his two coordinators are prepping to interview elsewhere, when rightfully, Sean Payton and Mike Zimmer should have the opportunity to be elevated in Dallas. (Sound familiar? Yes, when Jimmy stiffed Jerry back in '94, he also stiffed Norv. Jimmy's timing was so perfectly evil that it forced Turner to go to Washington rather than take over here, where an Aikman-Turner marriage would likely have thrived more than the Aikman-Switzer relationship did. Oh, that Jimmy, so considerate of his friends. ...)

What does Bill Parcells really do at 3:45 a.m.? Maybe that's when he phones his media buddies and plants stories of his retirement. Stories that will get the court of public opinion on his side. Stories that will worry his owner. Stories that will increase his paycheck.

And then at 3:46 a.m., Bill scripts how he'll tersely explain to the rest of the reporters that he has no idea where "you guys'' come up with these stories. And how "you guys'' are distracting his team. "Bleep That!''' begins the script.

I've written this before in this space. I'll write it with more muscle here: My friend Chris Mortensen IS "you guys.'' I'm told Mort and Bill talked before the ESPN "NFL Countdown'' show that featured Mort's "contemplating retirement'' scoop. Talked THAT MORNING. I'm also told Mort and Bill have discussed the coach returning to the network at some point. And by the way, even if you question my accuracy here, again understand this: Employees at Valley Ranch -- Bill's employees -- believe it.

How do you ask loyalty when you don't show loyalty? How do you demand commitment when you don't practice commitment? And after you ask your wife if she wants to remain married to you, how long do you wait while she "contemplates''? How badly do you want to stay in a partnership to someone who claims to be uncertain he wants to be in it at all?

It is pathetic and sad that Parcells' "recent losses'' are being included as part of this story. When you are a 62-year-old person, family members die. Divorces occur. There is cancer and suicide and heartbreak and it sucks. S--- happens.

Death and divorce and s---, that is not what this is about. This is, at its purest, Parcells contemplating his navel but making damn sure the navel contemplation is leaked through media friends in case there was a way to get his $4.25-mil-a-year salary bumped and extended.

This is, at its dirtiest, Parcells bullying more than just a defenseless kicker or a faceless assistant coach or a dorky media suck-up. This is Bill Parcells bullying and manipulating and puppeteering everyone at Valley Ranch, from the owner on down, and everyone who follows the Cowboys, you included.

Did you know that some members of the front office have not been allowed to see the team practice for the last two years?

Did you know that a legendary ex-Cowboy was once kicked off the field at training camp because, as Parcells barked, "this is MY field''?

Did you ever wonder why a loyal Parcellian named Maurice Carthon skipped town to make a lateral move to Cleveland (Cleveland!) with nary an explanation?

Did you know that not long ago, one long-time Valley Ranch employee was chased away from the otherwise empty trainer's room by a Parcells henchman for committing the crime of simply wanting to fetch an aspirin for his kid?

I want Bill Parcells to be the coach of the Dallas Cowboys. But having lived through the Jimmy Johnson debacle, I also say I want Bill Parcells to WANT to be the coach of the Dallas Cowboys. And that if he doesn't, he cannot leave soon enough.

Buffalo's Marv Levy used to say that once a person starts thinking of retirement, he might as well fully say goodbye. Parcells has the option of doing just that. He's free to pack for Saratoga Springs or Briston, Conn., or the Jets or the Lions.

Or. ...

He can quit lifting his skirt every time ESPN calls. He can drop the puppeteer strings. He can subject himself to the same rigorous grading system as he does other Cowboys. He can show up at 2 a.m. or 3:45 a.m. or 6 a.m. or, for all I care, 9 a.m., and not bother holding a press conference to announce it. He can ask Jerry what the owner wants to him to do, contractually, and say, "yessir, Mr. Jones, because I've underperformed so far anyway.'' He can re-earn the respect of his employees by treating them like human beings, which would go a long way to raising morale and dropping those rolling eyeballs. And right before he gets his butt back to work -- real work, not ego-feeding bullying and fraudulent image-making and money-grubbing posturing -- he can distribute much-needed aspirin to all of us.

Because he's given all of Cowboys Nation a collective headache.

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