Irving, Texas (AP) -- Bill Parcells could have returned to the Dallas Cowboys for one more shot at becoming the first coach to lead three teams into the Super Bowl.
He could have come back to try ending the longest playoff drought in the franchise's proud history. Or he could have come back to finish what he started in developing quarterback Tony Romo and a 3-4 defense.
Instead, 15 days after a gut-wrenching playoff loss in Seattle, Parcells decided Monday to call it a career, ending a four-year run in Dallas. Over 19 seasons in the NFL, Parcells led teams to three Super Bowls, winning two championships.
"I am retiring from coaching football," Parcells said in a statement. "I want to thank Jerry Jones and Stephen Jones for their tremendous support over the last four years. Also, the players, my coaching staff and others in the support group who have done so much to help. Dallas is a great city and the Cowboys are an integral part of it. I am hopeful that they are able to go forward from here."
Known for a gruff demeanor and colorful quotes, Parcells leaves with the ninth-most wins in NFL history and a career record of 183-138-1. He was 34-32 in Dallas, counting two playoff losses. He had one year left at more than $5 million on a contract extension signed last January.
"I am in good health and feel lucky to have been able to coach in the NFL for an extended period of time," the 65-year-old coach said.
Although he failed to make the Cowboys champions again, Parcells leaves the Cowboys better than he found it. The club went from three straight 5-11 seasons before he arrived to making the playoffs twice in four years: his first season, 2003, and his last.
Parcells expected big things in 2006 and, thanks to the emergence of Romo, Dallas had a two-game division lead in December. Then the Cowboys lost four of their final five games, including the last three. The capper came against the Seahawks after Romo bungled the hold of a short field goal with a little more than a minute left.
"I did the best I could," Parcells said following that game. "But it wasn't quite good enough."
The going theory was that Parcells wouldn't end his career that way. The longer he waited to make an announcement, the likelier it seemed that he would return - especially since he was going to his office every day.
Then came Monday's statement via a morning e-mail. He didn't even hold one last news conference to entertain with old stories and witty lines.
"I will never leave this game with anything but good feelings about it," Parcells said during a Jan. 3 conference call. "It's been a great experience for me, and it's also been a lot of fun. I've met a lot of good people: players, coaches, owners, personnel guys, guys that I like."
Now team owner Jerry Jones will have to find someone o pick up where the Big Tuna left off. Jones was not immediately available for comment. The team said he, too, would be releasing a statement.
"We're losing one of our all-time great coaches in our profession," Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith said.
The next coach will be only the seventh in team history and the sixth hired by Jones.
He's given no indication of what kind of coach he'd hire next, always saying he wanted Parcells back. While Jones waited for Parcells to decide, four other teams picked new coaches and a fifth, Oakland, is well into its search.
Tom Landry made the Cowboys coaching job synonymous with winning during his 29 years, then Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer kept it up by combining to win three Super Bowls.
But the Cowboys haven't even won a playoff game since 1996, under Switzer. Chan Gailey, Dave Campo and now Parcells couldn't end the skid.
Jones hired Johnson and Switzer because he knew them and they were successful in college. Gailey and Campo were successful NFL coordinators who'd never been a head coach. Parcells was an easy choice once he decided to give up television and get back into coaching.
Jones could go for proven commodities like Tennessee's Jeff Fisher or Bill Cowher, recently resigned from Pittsburgh, but both would require compensation for their teams and massive salaries. He might also chase a big-name college coach, from Notre Dame's Charlie Weis, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops to Southern California's Pete Carroll, who replaced Parcells in New England a decade ago.
Jones also might pursue Chicago defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, or former NFL coaches like San Diego defensive coordinator Wade Phillips or San Francisco offensive coordinator Norv Turner. Turner would be a popular choice locally; he called plays for Dallas' Super Bowl team in 1992 and remains close to Troy Aikman.
All candidates will have to accept Jones being the general manager. That might have driven away others before, but four years of avoiding ego clashes with Parcells likely has changed his reputation.
The next coach also will face a decision of what to do about receiver Terrell Owens, who is due a roster bonus in March. T.O. certainly isn't Parcells' problem any more.
The first time Parcells walked away from coaching, his heart was an issue. The next time he supposedly was content that coaching was out of his system.
He turned down several chances to return before accepting Jones' offer. He said he took it because he liked the challenge of trying to make the Cowboys champions again, comparing it to playing on the main stage instead of being a lounge act.
After four well-paid years, Parcells could be serious about retiring this time. He's already built a home in Saratoga, N.Y., to spend his post-football days near his family and the racetrack.
Parcells' influence will remain because of all the coaches who worked for him, from three-time Super Bowl champion Bill Belichick of New England to New Orleans' Sean Payton, this past season's coach of the year. Tom Coughlin of the Giants and Romeo Crennel of Cleveland also paid their dues under Parcells.
"Bill's an excellent football coach and a very good friend," Coughlin said. "We're going to miss Bill Parcells on the sideline and we'll miss him in the NFC East. I look forward to the continuation of our friendship at a different level now. I think Bill's looking forward to having the opportunity to do some of the things he truly wants to do. I wish him well."
Parcells' specialty in football was defense. His greatest trait as a coach, though, was his ability to turn around downtrodden clubs.
All four teams he coached had losing records before he arrived, but all four were in the playoffs by his second season. No other coach has taken that many franchises to the postseason.
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.