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Tuna remains hard to catch


The only thing that jumps to mind is that I've seen this movie before -- several times actually -- and I know how it ends. Some how, some way, even though the story is painfully familiar, "The Return of Bill Parcells'' always has a surprise plot twist or two before it's over.

He's at it again, folks. The man they call the Tuna isn't going to Atlanta to be the Falcons' football czar after all. After being confident enough to say in recent hours that he was "pretty sure'' he was going to take the team's vice president of football operations job, and that he didn't see any "deal-breakers,'' Parcells-to-Atlanta is kaput. Naturally.

That's because Parcells is reportedly headed to Miami. But don't you dare call it a done deal. That would be like ignoring history and being doomed to repeat it. For a guy who has such a rich and long history of flirting with, but ultimately spurning job offers, could this latest Parcells saga have gone any other way?

Never one to focus on one opportunity when he can entertain two, Parcells had both the Falcons and the Dolphins pursuing him Wednesday, even after Atlanta owner Arthur Blank thought he had an agreement in principle with ex-Dallas head coach Tuesday night.

Last week, Blank said he felt "betrayed'' by his former head coach BobbyPetrino, who abruptly resigned last Tuesday to accept the University of Arkansas coaching job. Now Parcells reneges. It's like déjà vu all over again.

Reading between the lines, it sounds a little like the deal with Atlanta fell apart when Blank started to get the feeling that Parcells was playing the Falcons in order to get the best possible offer out of Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga. Blank is idealistic enough that maybe he wanted Parcells to grant the Falcons exclusivity in their negotiations, and when that wasn't offered, both sides in essence walked away.

Sources near the situation say that Parcells has been talking to Huizenga, at least informally, for a matter of weeks now. Unable to get Parcells to commit to heading the Dolphins football operations, Huizenga is said to have grown frustrated and so fed up that he wasn't even certain that he wanted to continue to own the team going forward. That seems to jibe with the reports last week that Huizenga had been contacted by potential buyers of the team, even though he said he wasn't "actively'' shopping it.

Then came Wednesday, when Parcells' agent, Jimmy Sexton, contacted Huizenga to let him know that Atlanta was close to cementing a deal with his client. In other words, let's hear your best offer, if there's one to be made. Somewhat surprisingly, Huizenga came after Parcells hard at the 11th hour, and the deal with the Falcons quickly went from almost done to not happening.

Which, to repeat, is not the same as saying Parcells has an agreement to join Miami. One goes down that journalistic road too far at their own peril.

As the Falcons recoil from yet another disappointment in their spectacularly lost season, I can't help but remember how Parcells not once, but twice before did this dance with Tampa Bay, before leaving the Bucs empty-handed. I covered the Bucs as a beat writer for the St. Petersburg Times when Parcells seemed poised to be hired as head coach in January 1992.

On Sunday morning at the team's One Buc Place complex, we were all inside and seated, awaiting the start of a press conference to announce Parcells as the team's next head coach. Instead, just before owner Hugh Culverhouse was to take the podium, NBC reporter Will McDonough, standing outside doing a live shot on his network's pregame show, broke the news that Parcells had had a last-minute change of heart.

"Bob, I just talked to Bill Parcells and he's not coming,'' said McDonough to BobCostas, in his memorably thick Boston accent. A few moments later, Culverhouse stood up and said he felt like he had been "jilted at the altar.''

Parcells actually got Tampa Bay leaning into the wind again after the 2001 season, before spurning the head coaching offer made by a different Bucs owner, Malcolm Glazer. The irony, of course, is that current (but not for long) Falcons general manager Rich McKay was on hand in Tampa Bay for both of those Bucs-Parcells flirtations, and thus has recorded something of a dubious hat trick with Wednesday's developments.

If the Fish do land The Tuna, what I wrote earlier Tuesday regarding Parcells' suitability for Atlanta's floundering situation has some viability for Miami as well (almost comically so if I plug in the word Dolphins everywhere I wrote Falcons). For a team that has had as much constant change as Miami in recent years, hiring Parcells represents more of the same, because you know he's not staying for long.

Parcells is the ultimate quick fix in the NFL, and as desperate as the Dolphins are, quick fixes are not necessarily advisable for a team that's as far away from contending for a Super Bowl title as you can be in this league. What Miami needs more than any thing else is a sense of stability and direction. A plan that has long term written on it somewhere.

Parcells and the words long term don't really belong in the same sentence. Recent history tells you he'd give Miami two or maybe three years filling the role of primary personnel man. But then the Dolphins would likely be right back where they are now, looking to start over and build something lasting in terms of their football operations department.

We all know the Parcells track record. He's a serial flirter. He absolutely loves the process of being wooed. His ego needs it, even craves it. When he's on the job, he'll give you the full Parcells, a leader who's opinionated, decisive, and unafraid to fail.

But then, sure as the arrival of hiring/firing season in the NFL, he'll tire of the challenge before him, and like he has so many times before, he'll step aside to await his next wooing. By now, it's in his DNA. The man goes through NFL jobs like Larry King does marriages.

As I said in the case of the Falcons earlier, Parcells is not a bad choice. He's just not the right choice for where the Dolphins find themselves right now. He's the easy choice, in one of those cases when the easy choice isn't best.

Miami would be far better off to hire the best, young, still-on-the-way-up general manager or personnel chief that it could land -- say, Patriots personnel V.P. Scott Pioli, who happens to be Parcells' son-in-law? -- and let him grow in the job. Hiring Parcells would be the short-term desperation move. Putting someone and something in place that has a chance to last would be the shrewder call.

Not that I expect Miami to resist the urge to jump if Parcells says yes. Getting the Tuna on the line is apparently a very seductive thing in the NFL. It's always far easier said than actually done.