The show last night on Jimmy Johnson (A Football Life), and the news articles since, really do isolate the source of the Cowboys' continuing inability to return to prominence on the football field.
Make no mistake. Jimmy Johnson was hired by Jerry Jones to rebuild the Dallas Cowboys. And rebuild it he did. He handled everything, including player contracts. He made the trades. He picked the groceries. He decided who to cut. His philosophy was simple: "I'm going to be very consistent. I'm going to treat everyone differently." So, if you were a star and performed, you were going to catch breaks. If you were on the bottom and screwed up, out you went.
Jimmy was smart enough to hire offensive and defensive coordinators so that he could focus his attention on the overall performance of the team. He knew how to inspire players with fear (and other forms of motivation). He was a hardass who focused, above all, on winning. There was accountability.
But Jimmy was also a great judge of talent, so the drafts he had were tremendous. He didn't always hit, but he was also smart enough to leverage extra picks, with Herschel Walker and later with the QB he took after Troy Aikman first in the supplemental round. (Steve Walsh.)
There is no doubt in my mind that had Jimmy remained, the Cowboys would have won at least 4 SBs in a row. We would not have lost that NFC Championship game in between our three titles to the 49ers.
What has killed the Cowboys is that during Jimmy's and the Cowboys' rise to pre-eminence, Jerry Jones decided he wasn't having enough "fun" just running the financial aspects of the Cowboys. He wanted to start acting like the GM too. And this just didn't sit well with Jimmy Johnson, who was seriously offended that Jerry thought he could bring anything to the table as long as Jimmy was there. (He couldn't.) So, they had a parting of the ways.
The talent Jimmy assembled was enough to win one more Super Bowl, but Barry and Jerry quickly ran it into the ground, and when the salary cap hit, the Cowboys could not just buy their way into more talent -- they needed shrewd evaluation. But they sent that out the door when Jimmy left.
Ever since the Cowboys have had Jerry Jones as GM, with coaches that have never had the kind of control Jimmy had. Bill Parcells came close, but he wasn't the same driven guy he was when he was younger. (It's why Bill Cowher won't ever coach successfully again.)
The Cowboys have also had a succession of weak head coaches. Barry Switzer, Chan Gailey, Dave Campo, Bill Parcells, Wade Phillips, Jason Garrett. Again, Parcells was probably the exception. Yet he just wasn't the same guy he was with the Giants or Jets.
The final jury verdict is not in on Jason Garrett. But we got some new insight into Jason from the Jimmy Johnson show last night, and it wasn't good. Jason Garrett appears several times in the show. In one example, he recounts how he got sea sick going out fishing on Jimmy's boat. He also talks about being the third string QB on the practice field. All the images in contrast to Jimmy Johnson couldn't be more stark. Jimmy Johnson is a very strong leader of men, who can whip them into a frenzy that DOMINATES opponents. Jason Garrett is the kind of guy who seems to expect his players to do that on their own if he just calls the right plays. It leads me to believe that Jason Garrett won't ever get it right, no matter how long Jerry Jones leaves him in place. He just doesn't understand how to mold a team into one where winning games -- and the exhilaration of that -- becomes the only motivation. (In defense of Garrett, I do think he's done better than his predecessors in picking players.)
There are successful coaches who seem soft-spoken. Tony Dungy comes to mind. Lovie Smith seems that way on the surface as well, yet his Bears' teams are just ruthless on defense. I'm just doubtful that Jason Garrett has what it takes to whip the mistake-ridden Cowboys into shape. I also have doubts about Rob Ryan, whose defense turns soft at the first sign of adversity (the Atlanta game, where we switched to zone off one bomb to Julio Jones is a perfect example).
Jerry Jones can't take back what he did almost 20 years ago, when his ego and desire to have more "fun" cost the Cowboys the best head coach they've had since Tom Landry. And he hasn't figured out how to make it work with him and his son more in charge. Meanwhile, all of us Cowboys fans who know all of the teams' glory sit here and suffer, hoping it will somehow, someway turn around.
Frustrating. Just very frustrating.