Dallas Cowboys' Jerry Jones: The Owner, the GM

Christian Blood@@cowboysguruContributor IIIDecember 22, 2010

Jerry Jones has owned the Dallas Cowboys since 1989.
Jerry Jones has owned the Dallas Cowboys since 1989.A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images

There is no doubt that Jerry Jones is not just the most visible owner in the National Football League but in all of professional sports. This has been the case since he bought the franchise in February of 1989 and immediately began making waves.

For some, the unceremonious firing of the legendary Tom Landry was inexcusable and I have to agree. Nonetheless, Jones made every effort to make that situation right by repeatedly pursuing Landry’s willingness to enter the Ring of Honor at Texas Stadium. Eventually this happened and at some point we have to let go and assume that those two made their peace.

A known risk taker, Jones has taken more than his share of risks, starting with the purchase of the Dallas Cowboys to begin with. He followed that action by firing Landry and bringing in Jimmy Johnson as head coach from the University of Miami. Sure, Johnson had won a national championship in 1987 but what indication did Jones have at the time that this would translate into success in the NFL? He had none whatsoever.

Being somewhat conservative myself, I agree with Jones’ philosophy on taking a risk. I also understand that staying the course with what works is more often the better approach. The key word there is “works”.

I believe that Jones is among the top three to four owners in football. My evidence for that statement is the fact that no other owner puts as much of himself into his franchise as Jones does. He has the passion and the money to make just about anything happen. In other words, he puts his money where his mouth is and you just can’t knock him for that. I would take Jones, the owner, over any other in the NFL. He brings in the talent. He builds stadiums. He keeps the Dallas Cowboys at the front and center of the NFL universe.

Having said that, Jones also has a darker side that is beginning to emerge over the last decade plus. In a word, it’s ego.

We’re talking about a billionaire that still is not satisfied with who he is as a person. We’ve all heard the term “money alone won’t make you happy”, right? Well, Jones personifies this statement in several ways and it’s a snapshot of others just like him which acquired or inherited unimaginable wealth.

Jones has family. Jones has numerous business interests. Jones has hobbies. Jones has assets galore. So what exactly is missing for this man?

It’s hard to imagine there could be anything missing. After all, Jones, aside from his wealth, bought a dying franchise that was likely years and years away from contending again unless something awfully dramatic happened, and it did.

We all remember the Herschel Walker trade and all that this brought to the Cowboys, especially with a head coach like Johnson in place and a future Hall Of Fame quarterback already drafted. Let’s not forget a future Hall Of Fame wide receiver also acquired in Michael Irvin just prior to Jones’ purchase of the team. In less than four years following that landmark heist from the Minnesota Vikings, the Cowboys had their third Super Bowl win and were on the way to winning more. In some ways this was the best thing to ever happen for America’s Team, at least in the short term. But I’m not sure it wasn’t the worst for the long term.

Success in the NFL came awfully fast for Jones as an owner. Looking back, it seems like Jones’ purchase of the franchise all the way to Johnson’s departure following the second Super Bowl win in 1993 happened in a flash. From where we sit right now it did. That was a span of only days beyond five years.

About that departure of Johnson in March of 1994: Many still blame Jones for essentially firing Johnson immediately following the second of back-to-back Super Bowls from 1993-94. Essentially Jones did just that but it’s also quite clear that Johnson was certainly jockeying for a ticket out of Dallas. Johnson wanted to go home to coach the Dolphins and then-head coach Don Shula was going to be retiring soon. The most that Cowboys fans could have hoped for is that Johnson would coach one more season in 1994 and make a better push for the “three-peat” than his replacement did.

In short, there was blood on both the hands of Johnson and Jones and it is unfair to assume that it was all Jerry. I still believe Johnson completely played Jones for a way out much sooner than his contract would allow but there is some blame to place at Jones. Amidst the success, Jones let his ego get the best of him. You’re probably aware of Johnson’s provocative press comments late in 1993 and his snubbing of Jones’ proposed toast following Super Bowl XXVIII. Jones, like most humans, got his ego bruised and he got pissed and lost composure. His next move following Johnson’s release was proof.

If Jones had realized that winning in the NFL was not easy, there is no way that he turns to Barry Switzer, of all people, to replace a two time Super Bowl winner as head coach. I wouldn’t think Switzer could replace anybody doing anything for this organization at the time. But Jones was taking an additional parting shot at Johnson, especially considering the history of Johnson and Switzer as college coaches. In doing so, he likely cost the Dallas Cowboys four straight Super Bowl wins.

Perhaps the only other landmark decision ever made by Jones was the signing of free agent cornerback Deion Sanders following the start of the 1995 regular season. If ever Jones’ ego was a good thing for Cowboys fans this was the time. The season prior, Sanders had ended up being arguably the difference maker in the NFC power struggle between the Cowboys and the soon-to-be-fading San Francisco 49ers. But the team of the 80’s was not quite done yet and called in everything but the United States Armed Forces in order to beat the Cowboys. The plan worked as Dallas was denied that third straight appearance in the Super Bowl by Sanders and the 49ers who would end up beating San Diego in a blowout.

Well, like that Herschel Walker trade several years before, how hard was it to realize that you had to prevent San Francisco, essentially without any cap room to sign Sanders to a long term contract following his one year rental in 1994, from having the league’s best cover corner? Take nothing away from Jones on this one but it wasn’t exactly a tough call. After all, Dallas had just lost top corner Kevin Smith in the ’95 season opening blowout win over the New York Giants which essentially left the Cowboys with Larry Brown as the only starting quality cornerback.

The Walker trade and Sanders acquisitions were the kind of moves a kid playing Madden 2010 could and would make. Again, this is not to take anything away from Jones since he had to make those things happen and also sign a big check, at least to Sanders. But I’m not sure that this made Jones the general manager he thinks he is. In fact, Jones’ son Stephen is known to have been highly opposed to the Sanders signing just on the basis of financial considerations given the relatively new era of the salary cap.

But just like the immediate future following the Walker trade, Jones again saw success as the Cowboys won a third Super Bowl under his tenure as owner and general manager. He had also stolen back the  thunder that San Francisco had briefly stolen from him.

Since that Super Bowl win in January of 1996, Jones has not been able to bring back that magic of old despite his best efforts. Up until just last January, the Cowboys had not even won a playoff game since one year following that victory in Super Bowl XXX. If you’re keeping up, that’s two playoff wins spanning 12 seasons. In Jones’ first seven years as owner the Cowboys had 12 playoff wins.

There’s a definite mixture of success and huge failure concerning Jerry Jones, the owner, and Jerry Jones the general manager. Jones has had championship caliber coaches and also some highly questionable names that did not pan out at all. He’s made huge trades, such as the Walker deal for all those draft picks, but has also taken the opposite strategy of giving up too many premium draft picks for just one player. Shouldn’t Jones know better having been on the right end of that kind of a thing the first time?

So why doesn’t he? Again, it’s ego.

The Joey Galloway acquisition in 2000 was proof that Jones thought his team was a lot better than it was. It also proves that he wasn’t highly in tune with the status of his franchise quarterback Troy Aikman. A seasoned and experienced general manager would have been I believe. The Roy Williams trade of 2008 was another indicator that Jones wasn’t really looking at his team very objectively. That 13-3 mirage of 2007 really had Jones thinking that his team was close. They didn’t even make the playoffs that year.

So here we are coming up on 2011 and the Cowboys seem like a team that is probably better than its record indicates, but not very much better. Jones is now realizing that taking that absolutely blind risk in hiring Wade Phillips as head coach just four years ago was a bad gamble. Just the same, passing on Norv Turner, his former offensive coordinator on a Super Bowl winner in 1992, was simply ignoring what he knew works. Granted, Turner’s record as a head coach has been lacking anything resembling the success he had in Dallas but he also never had quarterbacks following Aikman. In Tony Romo, Turner would have had an eventual multi-Pro Bowl quarterback that today sports a career passer rating of 95.5.

Instead, Jones got a green quarterback coach for an offensive coordinator that doesn’t like to run the football too much. Turner has to snicker over that decision occasionally.

Speaking of Romo, just this week the Cowboys finally announce that he’ll be placed on injured reserve, thus placing him on the shelf for the remainder of the season. Why did that take this long? Even if he was healing quick enough to return just in time to save a losing season, if you can even do that, what for? And why not make that decision weeks ago so practice squads could be raided in search of possible contributors for the future?

For as long as Jerry Jones is alive, he will be the owner of the Dallas Cowboys. We also have to assume that he will also be the GM as well. This can probably work too, so long as Jones can make one big adjustment: drop that ego.

Anyone who claims Jones is the worst owner in football is just plain ignorant and has no real facts with which to back that up. They also have never heard of Daniel Snyder, megalomaniac owner of the Washington Redskins, at least until retired Redskins running back John Riggins finds him alone somewhere.  

One who claims that Jones is the worst GM in the NFL is closer to being accurate but is still ignoring too many other good decisions and signings in addition to his three Super Bowl wins. But yes, history now shows that there have been too many mistakes as well.

But if you believe that the ego of this billionaire that has everything he needs and should have everything he wants is the true heart of his problem, you’re spot on.

Jones needs to leave the ego at the door. At this point it has definitely done more harm than good and given the history of Jones’ involvement with the Cowboys, that is saying an awful lot.     

In just a matter of days we will see exactly how big of a priority the ego of Jerry Jones really is.