The debate over whether Jerry Jones is one of the NFL's best owners or one of its worst has raged in these parts (these parts being Cowboys country) for at least 15 years.
Ever since the brash Arkansas oilman stormed into Big D like a mule on crack, heehawing and smash-kicking his way around the hallowed grounds of the beloved Dallas Cowboys, he has frustrated, amused, irritated, enraged and (on the rare occasion) delighted the faithful.
Under Jerry's direction—and make no mistake, this thing is under Jerry's direction—these past 22 years, the Dallas Cowboys have reached the highest of highs and the lowest of lows in franchise history. They have won three Super Bowls in a four-year span, and they have posted three 5-11 seasons back-to-back-to-back.
They have been the model of success and the butt of the joke.
Jerry Jones is Dr. Jekyll, a genius mad scientist who challenged the standard operating procedure of NFL marketing and taught an already-successful group of stodgy sports businessmen how to really sell their product and capitalize on their marketing cash cow. He helped oversee the greatest television contract coup in sports history, shooting the Fox network into orbit and resulting in the professional football-viewing cornucopia we enjoy today.
Jerry Jones is Mr. Hyde. He is the raving lunatic who cannot manage a truly coherent public statement to save his life. His stream-of-consciousness speaking has caused many a confused listener to question his own sanity.
Jerry Jones is also the jerk that treated Tom Landry, the greatest legend in Dallas history, like a bumbling employee who could just be let go without notice or explanation. He is the ego-maniacal idiot who sabotaged his own franchise by firing Jimmy Johnson, the man who made him a football success in the first place, after they had won a second-consecutive Super Bowl.
He is the sloppy drunk who gave us gold nuggets like the slurred declarative, "Rrrrommmmoooo was a mirrracle." And the bold pronouncement, "Parcells isn't worth a (expletive). I love him. but he isn't worth a..."
So, the question remains: is Jerry a good owner or a bad one? Is he Dr. Jekyll, who just happens to have the baggage of Mr. Hyde, or is he at heart Mr. Hyde and Jekyll is just his cover?
We like to think that history will decide these things. I think maybe not. I think our interpretation of history will decide them. I propose, therefore, to offer a list of things that point to Jones being a good owner and then a list of things that point to him being a bust.
I am like Fox News: I report, you decide.
Jerry Jones Is a Good Owner
Fact One: He took over the Dallas Cowboys when the team was in decline, made a bold and unpopular (at the time) move, hiring college coach Jimmy Johnson, a man who had won a national championship at the college level but had never coached or been on any coaching staff in the NFL.
Fact Two: He pulled the trigger on the biggest—and most rewarding—trade in franchise history.
Hershel Walker was the best player on a bad Cowboys team. He was also their only real bargaining chip. The Cowboys received four players and six draft picks. Jones and Johnson used those draft picks to acquire Emmitt Smith, Darren Woodson and Russell Maryland. The trade essentially provided a shortcut to success for the Cowboys.
Fact Three: Under his ownership, the Dallas Cowboys became the first team in NFL history to win three Super Bowls in four years, and were but one NFC championship win away from making it four straight.
Fact Four: Jerry Jones has expanded the Dallas Cowboys brand.
Tex Schramm, shrewd promoter that he was, built the Cowboys into "America's Team," with the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders; the glamorous team image; the high-profile positioning in the NFC East, which makes no logistical sense but exposed the Cowboys to the largest media markets and the nation on a regular basis; and the Thanksgiving Day game.
Jones took that brand and expanded it. Under his leadership the Cowboys became simultaneously the most loved and most hated team in the league and managed to remain so, even through down years, when most franchises would simply be ignored. Jones himself is a lightning rod. Many people hate the Cowboys because they cannot stand Jerry Jones.
Jones laughs all the way to the bank. He understands that there is hardly any such thing as bad publicity.
Fact Five: Jerry hired Bill Parcells.
When the Cowboys were at their lowest point (well, prior to 2010), Jerry knew he had to act. He had suffered through three straight seasons, during which his team won a total of 15 games. He had to do something significant. And he did.
Jerry shocked the football world when he managed to land the biggest fish in the coaching pond, the magnificent, giant Tuna, Bill Parcells.
Fact Six: Against all odds, with an economy teetering on the brink of disaster, Jones built the 1.4 billion dollar state-of-the-art Cowboys Stadium, instantly making the Cowboys' home the center of the sporting world universe. He said that if we would build it, they would come.
They are coming. Big-time college football games. Huge boxing matches. The biggest names in entertainment. And Super Bowl XLV.
Jerry Jones Is a Bad Owner
Fact One: He bungled the firing of Tom Landry.
Many people in the Dallas/Fort Worth area remain former Cowboys fans to this very day, refusing to forgive Jerry Jones for firing their beloved coach the way he did, with such indignity and crassness.
Fact Two: Jerry Jones fired Jimmy Johnson.
Only God knows for sure how great the 1990s Cowboys could have been. Jimmy and Jerry won two Super Bowls in a row, and then, angry that Jimmy was getting all the spotlight and not sharing the credit for the success, Jerry fired him and said that Johnson was one of 500 coaches who could have won a Super Bowl with that team.
Apparently, he was right. Barry Switzer managed to stay out of the way enough to milk one more Super Bowl win out of them. But that was Jimmy's team. he had put them together. He had evaluated the talent, made the tough calls on cutting dead weight, orchestrated the big trades, assembled the coaching staff.
Jerry could not long maintain what Jimmy had built. The team declined.
Fact Three: Jerry let Bill Parcells get away prematurely.
It is well-chronicled how miserable Jerry Jones was when Parcells was in Dallas. Parcells was a necessary evil to Jones. He needed a genuine football man to put the team back together, to resurrect it, to rebuild the roster into a competitive one again.
Bill did that, and in short order. His team went 10-6 his first year, returning to the playoffs for the first time in four seasons. Bill only stayed in Dallas for three seasons. He had had enough of Jerry and Jerry had been in Bill's shadow long enough. They were both ready to call it quits.
Fact Four: Jerry's Cowboys have never really returned to the glory of the early '90s.
Before their first-round win over the Philadelphia Eagles last year, the team had gone 13 years without a single playoff win, a staggering fact no Cowboys fan would have ever believed possible for the team they had come to expect to at least compete for a championship most every year.
Since Johnson's departure, Jerry's Cowboys have been above .500 10 times in 17 years. Compare that to Landry's 20-year run of winning seasons. Since their last Super Bowl win in 1995, they have won exactly two playoff games.
During that time, the Cowboys have had five (now six, counting Jason Garrett) head coaches, but only one general manager: Jerry Jones.
Fact Five: Jerry Jones the owner keeps renewing the contract of Jerry Jones the general manager.
The owner of a football team has an obligation to his team's fans to do the best he can to put the best product on the field, year in and year out. That is how one defines a great owner, ultimately.
Jerry Jones has never, ever done that, because he has always insisted on making himself the general manager. Consequently, he has never placed the team's football operations into the most capable hands available.
Fact Six: Jerry built Jerry World and now is over-obligated and stretched too thin.
Recent financial decisions—like going with a completely unproven, out-of-position cornerback at the free safety spot while passing on a free agent who would have shored up that position; like staying out of the offseason free agent market almost entirely and entering the season with an aging, ailing offensive line; like electing to go with a rookie fullback who gets your quarterback killed—have vaguely suggested that Jerry might be pinching pennies.
Even if that is not the case, the fact remains that Jerry the owner now has his plate fuller than ever with the need to sell and promote stadium events, so Jerry the general manager has no choice but to be distracted, pulled, stretched thin.
There you have my list. Jerry is a good owner. Jerry is a bad owner. Jerry is a good owner gone bad.
You tell me. You be the judge and jury judging Jerry.