In personality and professional demeanor, they are as different as the wing-T and the wishbone.
Joe Gibbs is a homespun, Bible-reading North Carolinian who has coached one team, the Washington Redskins, for 15 seasons over the past 26 years. Bill Parcells is an in-your-face, burger-eating Jersey guy who has coached four teams for 19 seasons over the past 24 years.
Collectively, they have won 337 of the 557 games they have coached in the NFL. They have led their teams to seven Super Bowls, winning five. Gibbs, with three Super Bowl rings, is in the Hall of Fame, and Parcells, with two, will be headed to Canton as soon as he retires long enough to be nominated.
Today, when the Redskins play the Dallas Cowboys at FedEx Field, they will coach against each other for the 23rd time. Given their respective ages, their teams' records and the speculation that Parcells might retire once the season ends, it could be the last time they coach on the same field.
It has been a difficult season for these 65-year-old men, perhaps among the most trying of their respective careers. While the health issues that contributed to their earlier resignations have not resurfaced, each has had to contend with mediocrity - or worse in Washington's case.
Gibbs has watched a team picked by many to be an NFC contender struggle to a 2-5 record that includes three straight defeats. Parcells has been a reluctant participant in the soap opera that has followed the Cowboys (4-3) since Terrell Owens arrived last spring.
"I'm not speaking for Joe, but this is a humbling game and both of us know it," Parcells said. "We've both been in it long enough to know that there are going to be, from time to time, things that don't go well. When you get to be our age and things don't go well, you get to hear how the game's passing you by."
Parcells has come to another realization since returning, which was driven home after the Cowboys won at Carolina last Sunday night in quarterback Tony Romo's debut as a starter. As much as it helped Dallas stay in the playoff picture, the win did little to uplift its coach.
"One of the things I can confess to you is that winning is more of a relief now and losing is probably even worse now that I've gotten older," said Parcells, 29-26 since his return in 2003, the only season in which he guided the Cowboys to the playoffs.
There has been much speculation about Parcells quitting after this season, with a recent story in one of the New York tabloids stating as much. Parcells, who spent eight seasons coaching the Giants and three more coaching the New York Jets, loves the fodder he provides for the media there.
"Eventually, they're going to be right," Parcells joked.
So why keep coaching?
"That's a question I just can't answer," Parcells said. "It's something that just gets in your blood. It's hard to get it out. You know it's coming to an end someday. Some of us are reluctant to let that happen. No matter what happens, I've been one of the very fortunate people in this business."
Parcells is also one of the few coaches with a winning record (14-8) against Gibbs, and at one point his Giants teams dominated the Redskins with six straight wins. Gibbs has admitted that Parcells has had the upper hand in their rivalry.
Never close friends, they have gained a mutual admiration over the years.
"I know he's been one of my biggest rivals, but also a very strong contributor to the NFL," said Parcells, whose biggest win over Gibbs came in the NFC championship game in January 1987. "I think it's a great game and he's added a lot to it. He's been innovative, he created a change in this league with his offensive system."
When Gibbs returned from running a successful NASCAR team to become president and coach of the Redskins in 2004, he said he wanted a five-year window to reinvigorate a franchise that had run through four coaches and endured six losing seasons in the 11 years he was out.
After reversing the team's record from 6-10 in 2004 to 10-6 last year, most figured he had things turned around.
But every decision Gibbs has made this season has seemingly backfired, from shortening the training camp to not showing much of the team's new offense during an 0-4 preseason to sticking with kicker John Hall, whose recent history of injuries continued when he was lost for the season last month.
"For me personally, it's tough to deal with," said Gibbs, now 19-22 since coming back. "You also know if you're being realistic, it can go year to year, it can go game to game. I think all of us are competitive; nobody wants to lose football games.
"Every game is something you treat as something special because you don't know how many you get."
There have been whispers about Gibbs, who'll turn 66 in a few weeks, retiring for good after this season, but those who know him say that he would much rather do that if the team made a run toward the Super Bowl instead of being one of the biggest disappointments in the league.
"When things aren't going well, he works harder," said Hall of Fame quarterback Sonny Jurgensen, an analyst on the team's radio broadcasts. "That's been the secret in the past, things that have got him out of bad times. Parcells is the same way. They take it very personal."
Jurgensen said that the equation has changed for both coaches with the advent of free agency.
"I don't think they get the opportunity to get their type of player that they want to build around and keep year in and year out," Jurgensen said. "He had the Hogs [offensive line] here the whole time he was here. Everybody that comes in now is a hired gun."
Longtime Redskins assistant coach Joe Bugel said that his boss is no different than he was in their first regime together, still capable of going into a tirade behind closed doors but never publicly pointing fingers at anyone but himself.
"I think he learned a lot from Don Coryell," Bugel said of Gibbs' NFL mentor. "He would never blame a coach or blame a player. He would watch a tape and say, 'This is what we have to correct.' You know when [Gibbs is] mad. I've seen him rip a few shirts off at a meeting. He's not comatose, believe me."
Still, Bugel can see that Gibbs believes he has let everyone down this season.
"After 12 years, I never thought he'd get back, it had to be something special, and that's why it's hurting him inside right now, the way things are going right now," Bugel said. "He has a lot of pain in his heart. He doesn't wear it on his sleeve, but it's there."
Gibbs vs. Parcells, Redskins coach Joe Gibbs has faced Bill Parcells 22 times, with Parcells holding a 14-8 advantage as coach of the Giants and now the Cowboys:
Year Score Host
1983 Redskins 33, Giants 17 N.Y.
Redskins 31, Giants 22 Wash.
1984 Redskins 30, Giants 14 Wash.
Giants 37, Redskins 13 N.Y.
1985 Giants 17, Redskins 3 N.Y.
Redskins 23, Giants 21 Wash.
1986 Giants 27, Redskins 20 N.Y.
Giants 24, Redskins 14 Wash.
Giants 17, Redskins 0* N.Y.
1987 Redskins 38, Giants 12 N.Y.
Redskins 23, Giants 19 Wash.
1988 Giants 27, Redskins 20 N.Y.
Giants 24, Redskins 23 Wash.
1989 Giants 27, Redskins 24 Wash.
Giants 20, Redskins 17 N.Y.
1990 Giants 24, Redskins 20 Wash.
Giants 21, Redskins 10 N.Y.
2004 Cowboys 21, Redskins 18 Wash.
Cowboys 13, Redskins 10 Dallas
2005 Redskins 14, Cowboys 13 Dallas
Redskins 35, Cowboys 7 Wash.
2006 Cowboys 27, Redskins 10 Dallas
*-NFC championship game
Keys to the Game
Winning back the crowd
The last time the Redskins played at home, three weeks ago, they were booed off the field after losing to the previously winless Tennessee Titans. If the home team doesn't get off to a good start today, in particular quarterback Mark Brunell, it could get a little ugly.
There has been much discussion about whether the Redskins have become more of a passing team under new offensive coordinator Al Saunders. While coach Joe Gibbs insists that's not the case, giving the ball to Clinton Portis 25 times (unless Dallas jumps out to a big lead) might be the only way to prove otherwise.
New Cowboys QB
He might have a great name for Hollywood, but new Dallas starting quarterback Tony Romo won't be confused with Peyton Manning, or Vince Young for that matter. However, given the way the Redskins have been lit up this season, Romo could be in for a career day.