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THE INSIDE TRACK

Parcells Lays Down Law

March 05, 1997|RICHARD OLIVER | NEWSDAY

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — Coach Bill Parcells needed roughly an hour Monday morning to say hello to his new team. Saying goodbye to many of the New YorkJets, however, isn't taking nearly as long.

Parcells, in a businesslike address to approximately 40 players at Weeb Ewbank Hall, laid out his game plan for success, much of which kicks off March 17 with a rigorous offseason workout program that may last up to three months. That's two months longer than last year's schedule under then-coach Rich Kotite.

"Everything's going to be different," defensive end Marvin Washington said Monday. "No more Camp Kotite."

Added fellow end Hugh Douglas, "It's a new beginning. But I kind of knew that when we walked in the room."

That message wasn't meant for everyone, however. After Parcells' talk, veteran quarterback Frank Reich was told that his contract, scheduled to bruise the Jets' salary cap for $675,000 next season, had been terminated. Including six unclaimed free agents and the retirement of linebacker Kyle Clifton, 18 players have been trimmed from the roster Parcells inherited.

The status of another, strong-side linebacker Bobby Houston, is in serious question. Houston, who likely lost his starting position when veteran middle linebacker Pepper Johnson was signed yesterday, pushing Marvin Jones into the strong-side spot, notified Parcells Friday that he would not be at Monday's meeting.

"Bobby didn't come for personal reasons," Houston's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said Monday from his Florida office. "I have no further comment."

Houston, thought to be a prime candidate for the waiver wire after successive underwhelming seasons, was more forthcoming with Parcells. The six-year veteran could not be reached yesterday.

"He told me he didn't intend to come to this meeting and didn't want to play here any longer," Parcells said. "He said it had nothing to do with me, but I'm not concerned with that. He's not here, and we'll go on from there.

"Bobby didn't quit the team. He's just in limbo, and he will stay there."

The Jets, already crunched tight under the league's $41.5-million salary cap, have economic reasons to hold onto Houston, 29. If he is released before June 1, Houston will deliver a $550,000 hit to the cap; after June 1, he'll cost the team only $325,000.

The Jets added 6-foot-6, 270-pound defensive end Jeff Cummins, a three-year veteran of the Canadian Football League, and 6-3, 315-pound guard Lonnie Palelei, a former fifth-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Monday. Additionally, Johnson, a starter for Parcells with the Giants and for assistant head coach Bill Belichick with the Browns, finally put his signature on a two-year contract worth a reported $700,000.

The release of Reich, 1-6 as a replacement starter for injured Neil O'Donnell last season, and yesterday's signings leave the Jets about $1 million under the salary cap. More salary-driven moves are expected, including the restructuring of some weighty contracts.

"Coming back to New York, everyone was talking about Pepper Johnson winding down his career, but I'm still trying to make my mark in the league," said Johnson, 32, who played for the Lions last year. "I'm not thinking about winding down. I've come to a time in my career when you stop playing games. There's no time for rebuilding stuff or trying to build character."

That task, instead, rests squarely with Parcells, who didn't shy away from the challenge yesterday. Whether what's left of the Jets' roster is as resolute, however, remains to be seen.

"I told the players that things don't have to change much," said Parcells, only 36 days removed from his third Super Bowl berth. "If we win, we all get to stay. If we lose, none of us gets to stay."

But, he added, "I'm not looking over some rainbow down the road ... Knowing what to do and being able to accomplish that is kind of different."

The first stop on that road is the rigorous offseason program currently being formulated by Parcells and new strength and conditioning coach John Lott. As players milled around the parking lot at the team's Hofstra complex Monday, work continued on the extensive renovation of the team's workout facilities.

Seeing the activity, running back Adrian Murrell commented, "I think guys are going to come here and get places to live instead of getting hotels (for one month)."

That would be preferable, said Parcells, who blamed the club's history of injury problems, in part, on its previous conditioning programs. He was clear about that, and other expectations, to a rapt audience Monday.

"I mentioned some things that are important to me: to be a smart team, be able to do certain things well," he said. Parcells also told the Jets to forget the past. "I don't talk about history in football; it means absolutely nothing to me."

When he was finished, Parcells opened the floor for questions. "But there weren't any," he said, smiling.

"I told them that the job was here, and it starts March 17."

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