Does Jerry Jones Need New Friends?

Mike Fisher once said Jerry Jones needs to start listening to the 40-year olds in the building, and not the 70-year olds on the beach. Do the Cowboys look to the past too much as they try to fix the present?

Jerry Jones receives a lot of criticism every day from every imaginable source. Some of it is deserved, some of it is born out of the frustration over the current state of the Cowboys, some of it comes with the territory of being the owner of America's (most hated) team. Very little of the criticism rises beyond the level of "Jerry sucks, the Cowboys need a new GM." Entire careers have been built around the endless repetition of this simple premise, and it's exactly the simplistic nature of this argument that makes it so appealing.

One of the more interesting phenomena in sports these days - and really, all of society - is that more and more people are looking for simple answers in an increasingly complex environment. A player or a team was either good or bad on Sunday. There is little room, and little tolerance or patience, for an assessment that includes a little bit of both.

Beavis and Butthead would be proud of the public discourse (not just in sports) these days, because everything is neatly categorized in things that suck and things that rock. And while that kind of over-simplification can provide a great deal of comfort, particularly because it doesn't require a lot of reflection - and how much reflection can there really be if more and more of our news is offered up in little increments of 140 characters? - it hardly ever leads to any type of constructive discussion.

H.L. Mencken, an American writer from the first half of the twentieth century once coined the following phrase:

For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

So repeating old message board mantras like "Jerry only cares about the money", "Jerry only wants to sell seats", "Jerry Jones is the death of the Cowboys" or "Jerry Jones needs to fire himself as a GM" is a gross oversimplification that may sound good, but isn't going to solve anything.

To understand Jerry Jones, you have to understand where he's coming from: In 1989, Jerry Jones bought a football team that had just finished 3-13 (and would finish 1-15 in his first year of ownership). Seven years later, Jones' Dallas Cowboys had won three Super Bowl rings.

And regardless of who you want to credit for those three rings, the fact remains that no owner in the history of the league before or since has come even remotely close to duplicating that feat. To this day, Jones draws great pride from that fact and that stretch of greatness in the early 90s.

And in some ways, that's a problem.

Because for Jerry Jones, that success in the 90s has defined a template, or a business model if you will, of how to be successful in the NFL. Many of the decisions Jones takes, the way he runs the organization, even the people he listens to, is defined by that halcyon period in the 90s when the Cowboys and their maverick owner ruled the NFL.

In December last year, when things started going south again for the Cowboys, Jones drew on a quote from former head coach Barry Switzer:

"He used to tell the team," Jones said, "that ‘I’m your wagon master. We are back in the covered-wagon days and we are going to California. We’ve got to cross the Mississippi to get there. A lot of you are going to die. We are going to have news faces a long the way. We are going to burn some of these wagons for firewood and float the Mississippi with the others. (But) this train is going to get to California. I’m going to try to be on it. I hope you are on it."

Everywhere you look, you'll find examples of how Jerry Jones and the Cowboys look to the past to help fix the present.

Here's the latest example from a very astute article written by David Moore of the Dallas Morning News: Moore describes Jones' management style as one in which Jones is "a damn good listener" and in which he makes many of his decisions after extensively consulting people he trusts, both inside and outside of the organization. And he does that, as the following quote shows, because that's the way it worked for him when he initially started running the Cowboys:

"I’m less afraid of asking a dumb question than probably most general managers are," Jones said. "In fact, I’ll ask it naively and dumb. I don’t mind sounding dumb because I’m not worried about the person thinking, ‘What the hell he’s talking about?’

"I did my best work with the Cowboys when I didn’t mind sounding stupid asking the question. That was early." [emphasis added]

See how he references his "early days" in the NFL? That's just another example of how his success in the 90s continues to define the way Jones operates.

What may be of concern, and Moore also touches on that in his piece, is that Jones concedes that he listens to those outside the organization more than most general managers. In November 2012, Mike Fisher put together a "Top 10 List of Jerry's Confidential Cowboys Consultants." That in itself is an article well worth reading, but here's a summary of those top ten "consultants" that's enhanced with the current age of each of those ten guys.

Mike Fisher's Top 10 Cowboys Consultants
Name Role
Current Age
Jimmy Johnson Former Cowboys head coach ('89-'93)
Les Miles
Former Cowboys assistant coach ('98-'00)
Ron Wolf
Packers GM scout ('91-'01)
Bill Parcells
Former Cowboys head coach ('03-'06)
Charles Haley
Former Cowboys player ('92-'96)
Mike Holmgren
Former Packers head coach ('92-98)
Barry Switzer
Former Cowboys head coach ('94-'97)
Lou Holtz Former college head coach / TV Analyst
John Madden
Former Raiders coach / TV Analyst 77
Joe Gibbs Former Redskins head coach ('81-'92, '04-07)

Seven of these ten "confidential consultants" are over 70 years old, most had the peak of their NFL careers sometime in the 90s, and only one guy, Charles Haley, is under 60 years of age. Conspicuosly absent from that list is former Cowboys scouting director Larry Lacewell (77), who lobbied hard to get the Cowboys to sign defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin (74) and apparently also still has Jerry's ear. That's a lot of people who were big in the league in the 90s, but who don't have the relevance in today's NFL that they used to have.

On Friday last week, Stephen Jones (49) clarified that he and his father work closely together with head coach Jason Garrett (47) and director of player personnel Will McClay (47) on all personnel decisions. It's probably fair to say that those are the three guys in the organization Jerry Jones listens to the most.

Allow me a little detour here: The prevailing storyline in Dallas is that what the Cowboys really, really, really need is a head coach who is strong enough to "stand up to" Jerry Jones. I think that's total baloney.

What Jerry Jones needs above all else is a coach who can formulate a long-term strategy that Jones can buy into. Because when it comes to football decisions, Jerry Jones is a short-term thinker, a win-now type of owner. In many ways, this is pretty remarkable because in his business dealings, in his role in the NFL and in building the new stadium, Jones has shown that he can be an outstanding strategist. But when it comes to football, not so much. Perhaps this is a result of his early socialization into the NFL where he took a 1-15 team and turned it into a 3-time Super Bowl winner. Which is why Jones remains convinced to this day that winning can be a short-term thing.

The perfect antidote to that short-termism are Stephen, Garrett, and McClay and their long-term plan for the Cowboys, and Jones is buying into that. As we saw earlier, Jones is a good listener, and if he likes what he's hearing from his head coach and his staff, he'll start parroting many of the themes and strategies that head coach espouses, if there's anything worth repeating. And if you think about it, there really are only three coaches whose concepts, verbiage and mantras have made it into Jones's vernacular: Jimmy Johnson, Bill Parcells and Jason Garrett.

In a different context, Mike Fisher once said Jerry Jones needs to start listening to the 40-year olds in the building, and not the 70-year olds on the beach. What do you think, does Jerry need new friends?

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