A lot has changed since 1989. Why is it so hard to believe Jerry Jones has, too?
Perspective. It is hugely important. Different people, looking at the same exact thing from different viewpoints, will come away with wildly divergent opinions of what they saw. It's like the old fable of the seven blind men and the stripper, who all . . .
Wait. I may have a detail or two wrong there.
Anyway, the point of all this is that I am often totally mystified by the things I see in the media, particularly the national media, when they talk about the Dallas Cowboys. I wonder if they are even looking at the same team I am. It can be the constant drone of how Tony Romo is just not an NFL caliber quarterback, which flies in the face of what I can see and what the numbers indicate. It can be how talented and loaded this team was in the past few years, and I look at the roster and just shake my head. (You can see Chris Canty and Stephen A. Smith illustrating these in the video here.) But always, no matter who is on the field for the team, or wearing headsets on the sideline, one story just goes on and on, no matter what else happens:
Jerry Jones is impulsive and insists on running the team himself. He will never give his head coach the power to really take charge. He will never change.
That came up again, and OCC covered it in his article about Jason Garrett being number six on a list of coaches on the hot seat in the NFL. I remember first seeing that headline and wondering what Bizarro world I had fallen into. It was 180 degrees from the understanding I have of the relationship between Jerry, his son Stephen, and Jason. It was an assumption of short-term thinking in an organization that has committed itself to long-term planning and behavior. It assumed an underlying discord on a team that is showing better harmony between owner and coach than it has had since sometime very shortly after Jerry bought the team, and his honeymoon with Jimmy Johnson was still going on.
There is a reason, of course. The national media types, like Eric Edholm in the article OCC was dissecting, cover all 32 teams, which by definition means superficially. We here at Blogging The Boys focus nearly to the point of obsession on the Dallas Cowboys, following every report, tweet, interview, hint, rumor, and wild speculation about our team with avid and unrelenting interest. So it is expected that we would see things that the league-wide reporters would miss.
But, as was evident from reading the comment thread on that article, we don't all see eye to eye here, either. I think I know what is going on with Jerry and Jason, and I have a pretty good theory about how and why their relationship came about. I wanted to lay that out, and see if the readers see things the way I do, or if they have an entirely different perspective.
I'm breaking this into two parts. The first deals with Jerry and his coaches from Jimmy Johnson through Dave Campo.
See what you think after the jump.
First, I want to acknowledge that some of the things I was mulling over in the wee hours of last night when I started thinking about Jerry Jones' history (I had seen that OCC was working on his post, but hadn't read it yet) came up in some of the comments. A lot of people said things very similar to what I want to cover. I can't cover all of them, but ScarletO actually provided a pretty good outline and very similar thoughts in one comment, so I have to acknowledge that. Click the link on his screen handle to check it out.
The thing that strikes me about all the things people say about Jerry is that at one time or another, they were pretty much correct. The problem, of course, is that they were correct in the past, but are not correct now. Before I go over the timeline of Jerry and his head coaches, and how things have developed and evolved to get to the current situation, I have to address one thing that really rankles me.
There is a frequent underlying assumption that Jerry Jones is basically a bumbling, stupid incompetent. I have always suspected that at least part of that is because he still has that Arkansas drawl, and sounds a little like the caricatured portrayals of southern hicks you see in the media. As someone with a bit of a drawl myself (I grew up about 80 miles from Texarkana, so the accent is actually similar), I am used to seeing the stunned look on people's faces when they realize that the bumpkin is conversant with concepts like quantum foam, moving operations to the cloud, the differences between Keynsian economics and the Austrian school, how the Mediterranean Sea was a dry basin until about 10,000 years ago, or some other unexpected bit of learning and competence they find totally incompatible with a Texas accent. And I just think the big, national media types, who are focused on the east and west coasts of the country, hear Jerry talk and just write him off as a fool.
Jerry Jones is a billionaire. A largely self-made billionaire (his dad did run his own insurance company) who has been very successful in two separate fields, and is arguably the most successful sports entrepreneur in the United States. Possibly, even, the entire world. He has resurrected a moribund football franchise, had it win multiple championships, create a staggering cash flow, and leveraged that into one of the greatest multi-use sports venues in existence. He has made huge mistakes, worked on some false assumptions, and blown decisions, but he is not stupid. If someone thinks smart people never make mistakes, then I advise them to spend a couple of days reading a little history.
In addition to some bad, bad moves, Jerry has also accomplished remarkable things. More importantly, I think he has changed his approach and style repeatedly as he tries to find a way to recapture that wild success he had at the beginning of his ownership of the Cowboys. I see each of his head coaches as a separate stage in the evolution of Jerry Jones.
Jimmy Johnson - Jerry and Jimmy came into the NFL as brash upstarts. Dallas, which in the seventies was one of the premier teams in the league, had fallen on hard times. Tom Landry, once one of the great innovators of the league, was seen as out of touch with the players of the day, but was still a widely respected figure in Dallas and the league. Showing him the door made Jerry wildly unpopular, and some never forgave him. But winning championships brought many back to the fold and added a legion of new fans. In turning the team around so fast and achieving so much success, Jones and Johnson were a team, doing things their way. But two things broke the pair up. The first was of course the clash of egos. While there should have been enough credit to go around, both of them tended to claim all of it. And the truth is that Jimmy was the football genius, while Jerry was the financial brains of the pair. Jerry wanted to be seen as more of a football guy than he really was, even though he was more of a football guy than the vast majority of the other owners in the league. (That is why I think he was such friends with Al Davis, because Davis was another owner who was also a football guy.)
The other thing was that Jimmy was very much a short-term guy. He has a style of leadership that is pretty great for short-term motivation and results, but that does not necessarily hold up for the long run. And he plans accordingly. He wanted to ride things to the top, and get out while the getting was good. Jerry, of course, is just the opposite. The Dallas Cowboys are literally his life. The shame is that the two JJs were a damn good team when they pulled together and would have won at least one and quite possibly more additional championships, and it was not an easy breakup. Justified or not, I think Jerry felt betrayed. I don't believe he had realized that Jimmy had a short tenure planned.
Barry Switzer - Switzer was an attempt by Jerry to duplicate the success with Jimmy: Successful college coach, with a history of successfully dealing with the moral ambiguities of a big-time program and players whose maturity level lagged their physical and athletic development.
Superficially, Switzer and Johnson were very similar. Both had won championships, both were brash and a little bigger than life, and both played football at the University of Arkansas. Switzer, however, did not have the ability to ride herd on a pro football team that Johnson did, and showed very little of the ability to evaluate talent or call the game that Jimmy had. But Jerry saw a coach that he could control, perhaps even dominate, and after the way it went with Jimmy, he wanted it that way. He would be the man in charge of personnel, and make sure everyone knew it.
Jerry believed that any coach could win with the talent the Cowboys had. And he was very likely right. But there were a couple of mistakes there, too. First, no matter how good your talent is now in the NFL, you have to restock. I think Jerry thought he was able to handle that part of the business, and his signing of Deion Sanders was his big, splashy move, an approach that Jerry would have to learn the hard way was high risk, and not always high reward. It did work out in the short-term, however, bringing a third Super Bowl to Jerry, but it was not sustainable.
The second one was that Jimmy had built the team, and had their respect. The evidence is that Barry never gained that respect, especially from the real leadership of the team, the triplets. This was compounded by some very questionable coaching decisions, like the one to go for it twice on fourth down against the Eagles when the Cowboys were on their own 29 - that decision wound up costing them the game and control of their division in 1995.
After a few years, the team fell from their lofty perch and Jerry decided it was not working out and cut the ties.
Chan Gailey Jerry decided the colorful, somewhat wild college coach was no longer the way to go, and went a more traditional route, hiring Pittsburgh Steelers Offensive Coordinator Chan Gailey. A low-key individual, he offered the team competence as a coach without threatening to overshadow the owner.
There was a potential for a longer-term relationship here, with Gailey taking the Cowboys to the playoffs in each of his two years at the helm. But he failed to win a playoff game, and here Jerry allowed his impatience to overrule his judgement. Gailey also did not defer to Troy Aikman, and Aikman was the unquestioned leader of the team. Jones dumped Gailey.
At the time, it was a probably a bad move, but it did wind up teaching Jerry a lesson. Since he promoted Jason Garrett, he has expressed his regret over pulling the trigger too soon on Gailey. This is something that influences his thinking more than many outside the Dallas fan base probably realize.
Dave Campo The next hire is probably where the enduring belief that Jerry Jones prefers a figurehead coach comes from. Dave Campo was a promotion from within, something that may resonate when people consider the ascension of Garrett to head coach. Campo was defensive coordinator for the Cowboys last Super Bowl to date. His selection also is a reflection of the loyalty Jerry feels for those he considers his people.
He was also not a very forceful person, even more poorly suited to deal with the strong personalities on the team. It was certainly not an unexpected development, but not one that Jerry seemed to realize would come from choosing a coach he could overshadow. Then he ran into bad luck, losing Jerry's most recent big acquisition, Joey Galloway, to injury. The injury bug also took Aikman out for several games. It would lead to his retirement, and start the long search for another winning quarterback that would not end until Tony Romo emerged to claim the job.
Campo had three consecutive 5-11 seasons, and his dismissal became inevitable. At the same time, talent acquisition was spotty, and the Cowboys became a shadow of the powerhouse Jimmy Johnson had been so instrumental in creating. It was time for a change, and this time, Jerry would do something radical.
In part 2, I look at the hiring of Bill Parcells, Wade Phillips, and the promotion of Jason Garrett, and where all this has brought Jerry Jones to in 2012.