Jerry Jones' Biggest Mistake Wasn't Firing Jimmy Johnson

Patrick SchusterContributor IIIAugust 25, 2012

18 Jul 1997:  Head coach Barry Switzer (left) and owner Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys speak at a press conference during the Cowboys training camp at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Dunn  /Allsport
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

With the passing of Al Davis, and possibly with the exception of Daniel Snyder, no owner in the NFL is more highly scrutinized than Jerry Jones. Of course, most of it is justified as Jones came into the league and did his own thing without much regard to the established protocol in the NFL.

From replacing a legendary coach in Tom Landry, to hiring a college coach with no pro experience, to attempting to strike his own deals with NIKE and trying to start his own Dallas Cowboys TV channel, the message has always been clear—Jerry does what Jerry wants and lets the chips fall where they may.   

One thing is certain. Jones' No. 1 motive is to win.  When reminded of that, most Cowboys fans can tolerate his antics.  Now, if you ask any Cowboys fan under the age of 60 what was the worst move Jones has ever made, most would say parting ways with Jimmy Johnson, but I disagree.   

Remember Johnson was a builder of super teams, not a maintainer.    His time at Oklahoma State, the University of Miami, the Cowboys and the Dolphins was all similar in length.

So, for the Cowboys fans who nostalgically say “if only Jimmy stayed,” I hate to break it to you, but after two rings he wanted a new challenge.

I contend Jones' biggest mistake was the hiring of Barry Switzer, Johnson's replacement.   This one move set the franchise on a downward spiral that it still has not fully recovered from to this day.

Let’s be honest, Switzer brought very little to the NFL as a coach, talent evaluator or leader.  The only thing he seemed to know how to say was “yes, Jerry.” He unfortunately operated the Cowboys similar to how he operated Oklahoma. He really didn't care what his players did off the field as long as they were there for the game.  

Switzer’s hiring marked the beginning of the end for a Cowboys franchise that might have continued to occupy an unprecedented place if Jones  had the vision to hire the right coach instead of his college friend.

Let us remember the top picks in the draft during the Switzer years included Shante Carver, Sherman Williams, Kavika Pittman and David LaFleur.   Granted, they were likely Jones' calls.  Still, if a coach with more skills was in the war room at least he could have steered Jones away from these guys, none of whom produced much of anything for the Cowboys.

If Jones had only listened once to someone else and looked around the league at qualified assistant coaches who were anxious for a shot at running their own team, the past 18 years could have been very different.

Here are just a few coaches who were ready to assume the head coaching reigns of an NFL franchise around that time.

Tony Dungy

Back when Jones  was looking, Dungy was the hot defensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings just hoping for a chance to become a head coach.   Could Dungy's low-key style have worked with Jones? 

 I think so, especially because it would have been Dungy’s first crack at being a head coach. He would have allowed Jones to be in front of the camera while he molded the team in his image.   One thing is for certain.  I don't think Dungy would have been caught with a gun in his luggage.  

Tom Coughlin

At this point, Coughlin was the head coach at Boston College who was on the verge of taking over the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars.    Coughlin was itching to get back into the NFL. If Jones could have co-existed with Bill Parcells, I don’t think it’s impossible to think he could have lived with Coughlin for a few seasons.  

Nick Saban

Saban was just finishing his time as defensive coordinator with the Browns before taking the reins at Michigan State.

Granted, Saban's time later as a head coach with the Dolphins was an epic failure. But after what he's done at Alabama, there's no denying his credentials as a head coach.

So, after hearing one too many Cowboys fans say we still miss Johnson,  I had to add my own two cents on the matter. Had Jones made the right hire, Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith may have had another ring or two.

Oh well, it appears Jason Garrett at least stands his ground with Jones and is using his immense football knowledge to run the team the right way. 

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